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Is the Pentagon underreporting civilians killed by the US army?

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna urge the Secretary of Defence to “take a more serious look”.

Is the Pentagon underreporting civilians killed by the US army?

Two US lawmakers have urged the Department of Defense to review the report on civilian casualties caused by the US army overseas and accused the Pentagon of underreporting the civilians killed during US military operations.

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In a letter to Lloyd J Austin, the US Secretary of Defence, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna called for further investigation into the number of civilian killings cited in the Pentagon’s annual report.

The Defence Department last month submitted its annual report on civilian casualties during US military operations spanning across continents last year. According to the report, only 23 civilians were killed and 10 injured in the US operations.

However, two lawmakers disputed the official death toll in the letter, saying “estimates from credible civilian casualty monitors and the United Nations suggest that number is almost as likely five times higher.”

US Senator Elizabeth Warren during the Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington DC, US, June 8, 2021
US Senator Elizabeth Warren during the Senate Finance Committee hearing in Washington DC, US, June 8, 2021 (Reuters)

Various researchers and human rights groups said that the actual toll is significantly higher and estimated 102 fatalities, almost five times higher than the US military admits.

For instance, while the US Defence Department reports only 20 deaths resulted in American operations in Afghanistan, UNAMA, the UN agency in Afghanistan claimed international forces, of which the US made up the majority, killed at least 89 and injured 31 others.

In Somalia, despite the report of one civilian killed by the US, other estimates suggest that at least seven civilians had been killed.

Lawmakers Warren and Khanna urge the Secretary of Defence to “take a more serious look”.

“As a first step, we request that you review why these significant discrepancies in civilian casualty counts persist, and take steps to ensure that US military investigations into civilian casualties give greater weight to external sources of information rather than relying solely on its own internal records and sources when assessing third party reports of civilian harm,” said the lawmakers in the letter.

They also criticised the Defence Department for not using the $3 million “ex gratia payment” which was authorised and allocated by Congress in order to be given to the families of victims who survived the US military attacks.

“This is unacceptable and not how we uphold our nation’s values and advance our interests overseas. We urge you to take a more serious look at both of these issues,” the letter reads.

“Strengthening investigations, accurately and transparently reporting on civilian harm, expressing condolences for harm when it happens, and learning from these incidents to prevent harm in the future are all essential steps that reinforce the importance of protecting civilians as a national security priority and as a moral and ethical imperative,” the lawmakers added.

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