The U.S. military under former President Barack Obama quietly hid “potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes” from the American public that likely killed hundreds of civilians in war-ravaged Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan, the Military Times has found.
An investigation by the news outlet reveals:
The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.
The data in question is maintained by the U.S. Air Force. American allies, military analysts, researchers, the media, and independent watchdog organizations seeking to evaluate the conflict’s taxpayer cost, manpower, and casualties rely on these numbers.
A U.S. Air Force-sponsored database available to the public “quietly excluded” at least 456 airstrikes in Afghanistan last year alone.
According to the United Nations, of the 8,397 conflict-related civilian casualties that occurred in Afghanistan between January 1 and September 30, 2016, aerial airstrikes caused at least 292 deaths.
Moreover, the Military Times notes that the Pentagon’s public summaries of operations in Iraq and Syria, current as of the end of January, exclude nearly 6,000 strikes dating to 2014 when Obama launched the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
While the most recent U.S. Air Force data tallies 23,740 coalition airstrikes between the time when the anti-ISIS offensive began and the end of 2016, the Pentagon counts 17,861 through January 31 of this year.
There has long been a discrepancy between Pentagon casualty figures and independent tallies.
Human rights watchdog group Amnesty International reported in October 2016 that, in Syria alone, U.S.-led coalition airstrikes had killed at least 300 civilians since the anti-ISIS offensive began in 2014.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the ongoing conflict in Syria using sources on the ground, reports that coalition airstrikes killed 470 civilians in Syria, including 108 children and 60 women, last year alone.
Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), charged with overseeing military activity in the Middle East and Afghanistan, conceded in November 2016 that airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria had killed at least 119 civilians since 2014.
The government may have been hiding airstrike data from the war on terror since before the Obama administration, concedes the Military Times, noting that CENTCOM is “unable to determine how far back the Army’s numbers have been excluded from these airpower summaries.”
The Military Times notes:
Most alarming is the prospect this data has been incomplete since the war on terrorism began in October 2001. If that is the case, it would fundamentally undermine confidence in much of what the Pentagon has disclosed about its prosecution of these wars, prompt critics to call into question whether the military sought to mislead the American public, and cast doubt on the competency with which other vital data collection is being performed and publicized.
“I can tell you, unequivocally, we are not trying to hide the number of strikes,” the U.S. military official told the Military Times on condition of anonymity. “That is just the way it has been tracked in the past. That’s what it’s always been.
Various analysts have found that the number of airstrikes and associated civilians deaths under Obama reached unprecedented levels, particularly in 2012 and 2016. According to data from the Britain-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, “there were ten times more air strikes in the covert war on terror during President Barack Obama’s presidency than under his predecessor, George W. Bush.”
“A total of 563 strikes, largely by drones, targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen during Obama’s two terms, compared to 57 strikes under Bush. Between 384 and 807 civilians were killed in those countries,” notes the bureau.