The U.S. Military Says It Killed About 500 Civilians Last Year. Outside Groups Put the Count Far Higher.

A lot of people are dying in unauthorized wars.


Brett Critchley/

The U.S. military killed 499 civilians and injured another 169 in 2017, according to a new report from the Defense Department. The government is still investigating 450 other potential civilian casualties from 2017, so the official total may eventually move higher. Since 2014, the U.S. and its allies estimate that they've killed 896 civilians while fighting ISIS in Iraq, Syria, and Libya.

Those may be severe undercounts.

The British nonprofit Airwars estimates that the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition was responsible for anywhere between 3,923 and 6,102 civilian deaths last year, and a minimum of 6,259 since 2014. It does not have a U.S.-specific total, but given that the United States is responsible for a majority of coalition airstrikes it is reasonable to assume that a good portion of those 6,000+ deaths are on America's hands.

The Defense Department acknowledges that other groups put the number of casualties far higher than it does, chalking up the disparity to differing methodologies.

According to the Pentagon's new report, U.S. military gets its tally on civilian casaulties by comparing outside reports from non-governmental organizations, local media, and social media with its own information on the location and activity of its forces, as well as any intelligence it has on the site of alleged civilian casualties.

Airwars depends on a mix of Arabic-language media and social media sites, along with reports from local casualty monitors, NGOs, international agencies, and international media. It is obviously unable to draw on U.S. intelligence.

The big problem, according to Daphne Eviatar of Amnesty International, is that American government, whatever its informational advantages, fails to follow up on most reports of civilian casualties.

"The Defense Department has deemed that the vast majority of claims of civilian casualties are not credible without ever investigating them. Its numbers therefore likely severely undercount the actual civilian death toll," Eviatar said in a statement. She added that "the investigations that do occur by the Defense Department also do not appear to involve interviews with witnesses nor survivors, nor visits to the locations of the strikes."

Whatever the ultimate death toll may be, it is unsettling that so many innocent people are being killed by U.S. forces, especially in wars that are not authorized by Congress and have an increasingly tenuous connection to American security.

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  1. Government is just another word for the hundreds of foreign civilians we choose to ‘splode together.

    1. I loved that song

  2. The military has to stay in practice until a real war comes along.

    Do they have a death count for people that they actually wanted to kill?

    1. Practice doesn’t seem to be doing much good. We haven’t won a war in 70 years. Instead, we settle for vague draws with ragtag irregulars (after paying for massive victories).

      1. Doesn’t help that we haven’t defined a clear win scenario in that amount of time either.

        1. So what you are saying is that we haven’t lost a war in 70 years either…

  3. There’s a difference between innocent civilians and unarmed enemy combatants. Did these so-called innocent civilians attempt to flee the moment they saw the approaching missiles? That’s a sure sign of guilt, an innocent person knows if he’s done nothing wrong he has nothing to fear.

    1. Anyone who runs, is an ISIS terrorist; anyone who stands still, is a well-disciplined ISIS terrorist… then something about women and children.

      1. You got to lead them more….

        1. No, you don’t lead the women and children as much.

          1. That’s right. haha. I haven’t seen that movie in forever.

            I was thinking that because you have to lead the shot more on people running. But yea, kids and women dont run as fast.

    2. You can bet plenty of these are innocent civilians. The death toll goes even higher when you add in effects like when we destroy infrastructure and people can get healthcare, food, or other necessities and then expire.

    3. If they just obey orders, they’ll be fine!

  4. Far less civilian casualties than under Obama?

    1. Even fewer too.

    2. Nope.

      Don’t fret, Trump’s fulfilling his campaign promise to do just this!

      1. I am not paying for WaPo.

        I guess I just won’t take your word for it.

  5. It is incredible how callous we are with trading off the lives of other people like that when they are brown and in foreign countries. “Well it was for their own good that we dropped those bombs…”. It would be considered scandalous for us to make such tradeoffs and have such light-hearted views of American deaths.

    1. It would be considered scandalous for us to make such tradeoffs and have such light-hearted views of American deaths.

      I don’t know about that, how many American deaths are there each year due to the War on Drugs the no one seems to give a shit about?

      1. He meant WHITE people deaths.

  6. Seems like a good return on investment to me.

  7. How many of the truly innocents were being used as human shields at the time. A practice that is common with those we are fighting. Ever watch the Palastinian’s carrying their babies while attacking Isralie’s

    1. Oh, that makes it okay then.

      1. I did not say that. I’m fine with knowing how many were killed by our actions but I also want to know how many innocents were killed by their actions. the evil done in war is done by both sides not just our side as so many would like to make it out to be.

        1. What are we fighting a war for, again?

  8. From M*A*S*H, probably quoting some real person:
    Rule number one in war is good young men die.
    Rule number two in war is doctors can’t change rule number one.

    Sooner or later, (looks like much later) the US and the rest of the world will have to make a firm determination about Islamic terrorists. Either they are civil criminals to be pursued by police, or they are a military enemy to be eliminated as as effective fighting force. The real trouble is that the rest of the world, the non-terrorists, has not come to grips with the concept of war by and against a non-nation-state. The old rules about borders, treaties, and the Geneva convention do not apply effectively against religious based terrorist group(s).
    And, oh by the way, they declared war, we did not.

  9. If justice is an eye for an eye, a life for a life, then who owes those lives?

    Those who pushed the button and pulled the trigger. “I was only following orders” isn’t a valid excuse.

  10. They’re still behind the US cops by 50% or so.

  11. Meh, Hihn said these wars were constitutional, which clearly means they’re okay.

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