In Battle against ISIS, U.S. Reverts to Not Counting Civilian Casualties

Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Syrian children look over rubble of home bombed by US-led coalition (photo: Sami Ali, AFP/Getty Images)

Perhaps the most questionable statistic to come out of the air war against ISIS so far is one that actually doesn’t exist, officially.


To date, no civilian casualties have been recorded, according to the U.S. military. That’s because American commanders aren’t counting them.


Lieutenant-General James L. Terry, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, has said that his people were “tracking no civilian casualties.”


It’s not the first time the U.S. has ignored the deaths of non-combatants resulting from U.S. military action. In the early stages of the wars last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. took the same blind-eye approach to civilians, pretending their toll didn’t matter and wasn’t worth registering.


The U.S. eventually reversed that policy once Iraqi and Afghan leaders became incensed at the indiscriminate nature of the American strategies that resulted in wedding parties and other groups of civilians obliterated during airstrikes.


The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Stuart Jones, has said publicly that U.S. and coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria have killed 6,000 ISIS fighters.


“That no civilians could be among that figure strikes observers and even military officials as all but impossible,” Nancy Yousef wrote at the Daily Beast.


Particularly when the air campaign so far has totaled more than 2,300 strikes and delivered 8,200 missiles and guided bombs.


In their examination of the U.S. military’s attitude toward the collateral damage of civilian deaths in recent wars, The Conversation’s Tom Gregory and Alex Edney-Browne state that the objectification of civilian casualties as “strategic setbacks” has focused on  “winning the war rather than waging it more humanely. Their deaths were not mourned because they were recognized as genuine losses, but regretted because they undermined the success of military operations. Also, the idea that wars can be fought in a more humane and less violent manner has the paradoxical effect of hiding much of the pain and suffering caused.”


“The announcement that the U.S. is not counting the dead in the battle against [ISIS] is a step backwards,” they added. “Not only does it reinforce the view that the lives of ordinary Iraqis and Syrians are not counted because they do not matter, it flies in the face of the military’s own recommendations about the strategic importance of tracking civilian casualties. As well as being questionable on moral grounds, the refusal to count civilian casualties could be seen as a strategic mistake on the military’s own terms – fanning the flames of resentment in a region already in the midst of a violent war.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

The Politics of (Not) Counting: Why War on Terror’s Civilian Toll Matters (by Tom Gregory and Alex Edney-Browne, The Conversation)

U.S. Won’t Admit to Killing a Single Civilian in the ISIS War (by Nancy Yousef, Daily Beast)

U.S. Military Denies Claims of Civilian Deaths in Targeting Islamic State (by W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times)

Air Force Doctored Statistics about Friendly Fire and Civilian Deaths to Get Rid of A-10 Attack Jet (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.S. Bombing in Syria Kills Dozens Imprisoned by ISIS for Violating Sharia Law (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

U.N. Report Demands “Public Explanation” of 30 Drone Strikes by U.S. and its Allies Resulting in Civilian Deaths (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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