The Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs released a study on the Human Cost of the Post-9/11 US Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Syria was not included in the study. Neta C. Crawford carried out the research.
Overall, according to the study between 480,000 and 507,000 people have been killed in all of the conflicts. These include counts and estimates of direct deaths caused by war violence. The deaths in Syria, so far, are near 500,000 more, since 2011, with the US officially joining in August 2014.
From the table it becomes apparent that even with the highest estimations in Iraq, the US and its allies have lost more troops than the “enemy.” However it should be noted that there are massive civilian casualties in all conflicts, with the one in Iraq outnumbering soldier deaths by a fair margin.
Thus, the chances of being killed in a war if a person is a civilian in the Middle East is higher than they are a soldier or a militant. That is despite constant US claims that it protects civilian life. Naturally, not all deaths were caused by the US, the opposition are also surely to blame.
It is also important to note that the wars are still on-going, despite not being as intense as in the past. However, the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan appears to be the highest death toll since tracking began.
According to the study, the tally is also incomplete, since efforts to account for all war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan by the UN are still on-going. In Iraq, the UN publishes monthly reports, and in Afghanistan, the UN makes annual and semi-annual reports.
The deaths of US soldiers are the most certain value presented in the study, since other numbers are significantly more difficult to track.
The tally also does not include “indirect deaths.”
“Indirect harm occurs when wars’ destruction leads to long term, “indirect,” consequences for people’s health in war zones, for example because of loss of access to food, water, health facilities, electricity or other infrastructure,” the study explained.
According to the report most civilian deaths in the conflicts were caused by militants, however US and allies also caused many. “Since the start of the post-9/11 wars, the Department of Defense has not been consistent in reporting on when and how civilians have been harmed in US operations,” the report said.
Reportedly the US has been attempting to avoid civilian casualties in its air strikes and other uses of force. In July 2016, the Presidential Executive Order on Measures to address Civilian casualties stated the US intent to avoid killing civilians.
“The protection of civilians is fundamentally consistent with the effective, efficient, and decisive use of force in pursuit of U.S. national interests. Minimizing civilian casualties can further mission objectives; help maintain the support of partner governments and vulnerable populations, especially in the conduct of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations; and enhance the legitimacy and sustainability of U.S. operations critical to our national security,” the order stated.
The executive order from the Obama administration and the 2018 National Defense Authorization act required reporting on civilian casualties. The US Department of Defense was required to report on May 1st each year. The first report was released in June 2018 and it claimed that in 2017, 499 civilians were killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, with 167 more injured in US operations. Reports of 450 civilian casualties for 2017 “remained to be assessed.”
However, according to NGO observers the numbers reported by the Department of Defense are a significant understatement. In June 2018, a spokesperson for the US military said, “We acknowledge differences exist between U.S. military assessments of the number of civilian casualties and reporting from NGOs.”
Furthermore, the total number of US caused civilian deaths is growing in some regions. According to Air Wars, in Operation Inherent Resolve, the Coalition has killed at least 6,575 civilians since August 2014 in air strikes and the Russians may have killed between 12,000 and 19,000 civilians in their war in Syria.
In Afghanistan, for example US “efforts” to reduce civilian casualties appear to be ineffective. The number of civilians killed in pro-government forces airstrikes is going down, however the over-all number of civilian casualties is increasing.
Another large issue is displacement, according to the report, so far there have been more than 12.59 million displaced people, with Syria included.
This is a major issue and affects countries from the entire region. According to report, half of the 2.6 million Afghan refugees are in Pakistan. More than 900,000 Afghans are living in Iran.
Most refugees from the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria are currently in Turkey, at about 3.5 million people. Iran is also hosting nearly a million Syrians and Iraqis.
There is also a growing number of victims to improvised explosive devices and other mines.
The institute also claimed that the budgetary cost of all Post-9/11 Wars up to Fiscal Year 2019 amount to $5.9 trillion.
Amnesty International in October 2018 also reported that civilian casualties in Syria, and especially in Raqqa were downgraded.
“In a letter to Amnesty International on 10 September 2018, the US Department of Defense – whose forces carried out most of the air strikes and all the artillery strikes on Raqqa – made clear it accepts no liability for the civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind strikes that killed and maimed civilians.”
Prior to an Amnesty International report in June 2018, titled War of Annihilation: Devastating Toll upon Civilians in Raqqa – Syria the US-led coalition had admitted to 23 civilian deaths in its entire 4-month Raqqa campaign.
Following denials of the deaths, at the end of July, the Coalition admitted to causing 77 more civilian deaths, almost all of the ones documented in the report.
Despite admission of guilt, the Coalition refuses to provide any additional information surrounding the civilian deaths.
Amnesty International gathered proof for hundreds of civilian deaths, however in its “final response” the US Department of Defense said that “it does not consider itself bound to answer further questions about the circumstances and reasons behind launching strikes which killed and maimed so many civilians.”
According to Neta C. Crawford, the study just scratches the surface of the issue. Legislators, NGOs and media are however often inhibited by the attempts of governments “to paint a rosy picture of perfect execution and progress.” There is still a severe lack of transparency, as it becomes painfully apparent from the Amnesty International report.