Is America Fudging the Numbers of Syrian Casualties?

Other counts put chemical weapons deaths much lower


But is it real?
Credit: FreedomHouse / Foter / CC BY

When Secretary of State John Kerry picked up his mallets to beat the drums of war he told us all that the Syrian government had killed nearly 1,500 people in a chemical attack in August, more than 400 of which were children.

But is it true? The Los Angeles Times went hunting and discovered the United States is nearly alone in thinking the numbers are that large:

Britain and France have cited far lower numbers of confirmed deaths, raising questions about the intelligence the White House is using to make its case to launch missile strikes against Syria.

U.S. officials say they can't disclose how they derived their figure without compromising intelligence, but they say it is based on a variety of sources and they stand by it.

British intelligence organizations said last week that they believed at least 350 people had been killed. French intelligence said Monday that it had confirmed at least 281 deaths through open-source videos, although its experts had created models that were consistent with as many as 1,500 deaths.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, generally regarded as one of the most reliable sources of information on casualty figures in Syria, says it has confirmed 502 deaths, including 80 children and 137 women. Rami Abdul-Rahman, a Syrian expatriate who runs the organization from his home in Britain, said he was shocked by the White House's count.

"I don't know where this number came from," Abdul-Rahman said in a phone interview.

Abdul-Rahman theorized the United States got these numbers from opposition groups within Syria who exaggerate the numbers in the hopes of getting us involved in the war. Anonymous officials defended the estimate and say it may actually be even higher.

Read the Times story here, and kudos to Ken Dilanian and Shashank Bengali for actually investigating the numbers.