According to a report — the first of a two-part series — published by the New York Times on Saturday, a trove of confidential documents covering more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties undercuts Washington’s claims of aerial raids with “all-seeing” drones, precision strikes and smart bombs.
The Times said US forces carried out more than 50,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria over a five-year period.
In compiling its report, the daily newspaper said its reporters had “visited more than 100 casualty sites and interviewed scores of surviving residents and current and former American officials.”
While several of the cases mentioned by the Times have been previously reported, it said its investigation showed that the number of civilian deaths had been “drastically undercounted.”
Among three cases cited was a July 19, 2016 bombing of purported strongholds of the Daesh terrorist group in northern Syria. Initial reports alleged that 85 militants were killed in the strikes. The fatalities were, instead, 120 farmers and other villagers.
Another example was a November 2015 attack in the central Iraqi city of Ramadi, located about 110 kilometers (68 miles) west of the capital, Baghdad, after a man was seen dragging “an unknown heavy object.” The “object,” a review found, was a child, who died in the aerial assault.
The report added that poor or inadequate surveillance footage often contributed to deadly targeting failures.
Before launching air raids, the US military should navigate elaborate protocols to estimate and minimize civilian deaths.
“In the report of the investigation, targeteers and weapons experts describe the ultimately disastrous calculations taken to win approval for the strike,” the paper said.
For instance, when a crowd of people rushing to the scene of a bomb attack could possibly be mistaken as militants, not would-be rescuers.
Sometimes, the Times said, “Men on motorcycles moving ‘in formation,’ displaying the ‘signature’ of an imminent attack, were just men on motorcycles.”
The paper added that the promises of transparency and accountability regularly were not fulfilled.
“Not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action,” the paper reported.
Trying to justify the civilian deaths, Captain Bill Urban, spokesman for the terrorist US Central Command (CENTCOM), told the Times that “even with the best technology in the world, mistakes do happen, whether based on incomplete information or misinterpretation of the information available. And we try to learn from those mistakes.”
Last month, the New York Times, citing anonymous sources and classified documents, published a report that said a previous American air strike in March 2019 hit “a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank” near the town of Baghuz, and may have resulted in the Pentagon’s largest civilian casualty incident in Syria.
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors,” the Times wrote.