US drone and air strikes have killed over 22,000 civilians – possibly as many as 48,000 – across the Middle East and North Africa since the 9/11 attacks in 2001, according to UK watchdog Airwars.
The London-based civilian harm monitoring group released its report on Monday ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda that triggered what became known as the amorphous “war on terror”.
The analysis – based on the US military’s own claim that it conducted almost 100,000 air strikes (including drones) since 2001 – showed that at least 22,679 civilians were killed in US strikes across various theatres that comprised the war on terror: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen and Pakistan.
“The US has declared a minimum of 93,527 air strikes over the 20 years. The peak was with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the US declared 18,695 strike sorties,” the report said.
While Airwars’ minimum estimates put the death toll from the two decades at 22,679 – it’s a number that could be “potentially as high as 48,308” it added.
“It’s important to note that Airwars has examined only direct harm from US strikes since 9/11 – with many of our sources providing conservative casualty estimates. We are therefore looking at a fraction of the overall civilian harm in these countries.”
Dubbed the “forever wars,” the conflict was not clearly demarcated and spread out over three broad categories: the full invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (2001-2021) and Iraq (2003-2009); major bombing campaigns against Daesh (ISIS) in Iraq (2014-2021), Syria (2014-2021), and Libya (2016); targeted drone and air strike campaigns against militant and terror groups in Somalia (2007-2021), Yemen 2002-2021), Pakistan (2004-2018), and Libya (2014-2019).
The deadliest year for civilians was 2003, when a minimum of 5,529 deaths were reported, almost all during the invasion of Iraq. The next deadliest was 2017, when at least 4,931 civilians were likely killed, the majority from the US coalition bombings in Iraq and Syria.
However, 2017 would be the deadliest overall if going by its maximum estimates – 19,623 deaths – mostly connected to the bombing campaign against Daesh.
The US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the campaign against Daesh in Iraq and Syria accounted for 97 percent of civilian harm overall, the report highlighted.
According to Brown University’s Cost of War Project, an estimated total of 387,000 civilians are believed to have been killed by all parties during the so-called war on terror. Another 207,000 killed were members of national military and police forces, and a further 301,000 opposition fighters were killed by US-led coalition troops and their allies. Around 15,000 US military service members and contractors are estimated to have been killed overall.
In total, the US’ global war on terror has taken between 897,000-929,000 lives and cost $8 trillion, according to the study.
US President Joe Biden, the fourth to manage the “forever wars” after his predecessors George W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, ended the 20-year war in Afghanistan last week, but US drone strikes are expected to continue.
“The threat from terrorism continues, but it’s changed. Our strategy needs to change too,” Biden said, vowing action against the Daesh branch in Afghanistan (Daesh-K) after the group claimed responsibility for the August 26 attack at Kabul airport that killed over 160 Afghan civilians and 13 US service members.
The US military, from CENTCOM to the Department of Defense, does not provide official estimates of civilian deaths nor have they published such findings. Airwaves cites its data from sources like the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, The Iraq Body Count NGO and The Nation.
The US and its allies have repeatedly insisted that extensive efforts have been made to minimise civilian deaths and injuries during their multi-pronged offensives. Problems associated with civilian casualty data usually is a result of limited media access to locations where targeting occurs.
The Pentagon’s Central Command (CENTCOM) did not respond to TRT World’s request for comment. ( TRT World )
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