How Many People have been Killed in US Wars?

Share

Hits: 1312

How many people have been killed in the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia? On Nov. 18, a UN press briefing on the war in Yemen declared authoritatively that it had so far killed 5,700 people, including 830 women and children. But how precise are these figures, what are they based on, and what relation are they likely to bear to the true numbers of people killed?

Throughout the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the media has cited UN updates comparing numbers of Afghans killed by “coalition forces” and the “Taliban.” Following the U.S. escalation of the war in 2009 and 2010, a report by McClatchy in March 2011 was headlined, “UN: U.S.-led forces killed fewer Afghan civilians last year.” It reported a 26 percent drop in U.S.-led killing of Afghan civilians in 2010, offset by a 28 percent increase in civilians killed by the “Taliban” and “other insurgents.”

 

This was all illustrated in a neat pie-chart slicing up the extraordinarily low reported total of 2,777 Afghan civilians killed in 2010 at the peak of the U.S.-led escalation of the war.

Neither the UN nor the media made any effort to critically examine this reported decrease in civilians killed by U.S.-led forces, even as U.S. troop strength peaked at 100,000 in August 2010. Pentagon data showed a 22 percent  increase in U.S. air strikes, from 4,163 in 2009 to 5,100 in 2010, and U.S. special forces “kill or capture” raids exploded from 90 in November 2009 to 600 per month by the summer of 2010, and eventually to over 1,000 raids in April 2011.

Senior U.S. military officers quoted in Dana Priest and William Arkin’s book, Top Secret America, told the authors that only half of such special forces raids target the right people or homes, making the reported drop in resulting civilian deaths even more implausible.

If McClatchy had investigated the striking anomaly of a reported decrease in civilian casualties in the midst of a savagely escalating war, it would have raised serious questions regarding the full scale of the slaughter taking place in occupied Afghanistan. And it would have revealed a disturbing pattern of under-reporting by the UN and the media in which a small number of deaths that happened to be reported to UN officials or foreign reporters in Kabul was deceptively relayed to the world as an estimate of total civilian war deaths.

The reasons for the media’s reluctance to delve into such questions lie buried in Iraq. During the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, controversy erupted over conflicting estimates of the numbers of Iraqis killed and details of who killed them. If more UN officials and journalists had dug into those conflicting reports from Iraq and made the effort to really understand the differences between them, they would have been far better equipped to make sense of reports of numbers of people killed in other wars.

The critical thing to understand about reports on numbers of civilians killed in wars is the difference between “passive reporting” and scientific “mortality studies.”

When I was investigating the conflicting reports of civilian deaths in Iraq, I spoke with Les Roberts, an epidemiologist at Columbia University’s School of Public Health and one of the co-authors of two comprehensive mortality studies conducted in occupied Iraq in 2004 and 2006.

Les Roberts had conducted mortality studies in war zones for many years, including studies in Rwanda in 1994 and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2000 that are still widely cited by the media and Western politicians without the taint of controversy that was immediately attached to his and his colleagues’ work in Iraq.

In 2004, Roberts and his colleagues conducted a scientific epidemiological study of mortality in Iraq since the U.S. invasion. They concluded that “about 100,000 excess deaths, or more” had resulted from the first 18 months of U.S.-led invasion and occupation. They also found that, “Violent deaths were mainly attributed to coalition forces,” and, “Most individuals killed by coalition forces were women and children.”

Both Nancy Youssef of McClatchy (then Knight Ridder) and John Simpson of the BBC also reported that U.S.-led forces, not Iraqi resistance fighters, were probably responsible for most civilian deaths in Iraq, based on figures published by the Iraqi Health Ministry.

On Sept. 25, 2004, the Miami Herald carried a report by Youssef under the headline, “U.S. attacks, not insurgents, blamed for most Iraqi deaths.” A Health Ministry official told Youssef, “Everyone is afraid of the Americans, not the fighters. And they should be.”

But after John Simpson noted the same pattern in the next Health Ministry report on the BBC’s flagship Panorama news program, the BBC received a phone call from the occupation government’s Health Minister disavowing his own ministry’s published data on who was killing who in Iraq. The BBC retracted its story and subsequent Health Ministry reports no longer assigned responsibility for civilian deaths to either party in the conflict.

Les Roberts and his colleagues completed an even larger mortality study in Iraq in 2006, by which time they found that an estimated 650,000 Iraqis had died in the first three years of the war. Both their studies revealed much higher mortality rates than had been reported by Iraqi hospitals, the Health Ministry, the Western media or “Iraq Body Count”, a much-cited Western compilation of data from such “passive” sources.

As each of their studies was released, Roberts and his colleagues became targets of blistering campaigns by U.S. and British officials to dispute and dismiss their findings. The critics didn’t make educated critiques of their methodology, which was state-of-the-art in their field, but mostly just insisted that they were out of line with other reports and so must be wrong.

These campaigns were so successful in throwing mud in the water and confusing the media and the public that corporate media became very reluctant to attach any credibility to this otherwise solid evidence that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was far more deadly than most people in the West had realized.  Corporate media took the easy way out and began referring to numbers of civilian deaths in Iraq only in vague, politically safe terms, if they mentioned them at all.

In reality, the huge discrepancy between the results of these mortality studies and “passive reporting” was exactly what epidemiologists expected to find in a conflict zone like occupied Iraq.

As Les Roberts and his colleagues have explained, epidemiologists working in war zones typically find that passive reporting only captures between 5 percent (in Guatemala, for example) and 20 percent of the total deaths revealed by comprehensive mortality studies. So their finding that passive reporting in Iraq had captured about one in 12 actual deaths was consistent with extensive research in other war-torn countries.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed the “Lancet survey ” out of hand, claiming that, “Figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Health, which are a survey from the hospitals there, are in our view the most accurate survey there is.”

But in 2007, the BBC obtained a set of leaked documents that included a memo from Sir Roy Anderson, the chief scientific adviser to the U.K.’s Defense Ministry, in which he described the epidemiologists’ methods as “close to best practice” and their study design as “robust.”

The document trove included emails between worried British officials admitting that the study was “likely to be right” and that “the survey methodology used here cannot be rubbished, it is a tried and tested way of measuring mortality in conflict zones.” But the very same official insisted that the government must “not accept the figures quoted in the Lancet survey as accurate.”

Other mortality surveys conducted in Iraq have produced lower figures, but there are legitimate reasons to regard the work of Les Roberts and his colleagues as the gold standard, based on their experience in other conflicts and the thoroughness of their methods.

Other surveys were conducted by the occupation government, not by independent researchers, inevitably making people reluctant to tell survey teams about family members killed by occupation forces. Some studies excluded the most war-torn parts of Iraq, while one was based only on a single question about deaths in the family as part of a lengthy “living conditions” survey.

The authors of the most recent study, published in the PLOS medical journal in 2013, a decade after the invasion, have acknowledged that it produced a low estimate, because so much time had elapsed and because they did not interview any of the more than 3 million people who had fled their homes in the most devastated areas. They made adjustments to compensate for such factors, but those adjustments themselves were deliberately conservative. However, their estimate of 500,000 violent civilian deaths is still four times the highest numbers passively reported.

Gilbert Burnham, a co-author of both the Lancet studies and the PLOS study, does not find the results of the three epidemiological studies incompatible, emphasizing that, “These represent estimates, and that’s what we’ve always said.”

In 2015, Physicians for Social Responsibility co-published a report titled Body Count: Casualty Figures After 10 Years of the “War on Terror,” with a new estimate of 1.3 million total war deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2001 and 2011.

This 97-page report meticulously examines and evaluates mortality studies and other evidence from all three countries, and the authors conclude that the studies published by the Lancet are still the most accurate and credible studies conducted in Iraq.

But what can all this tell us about the figures cited by the UN and the media for civilian deaths in other war-torn countries since 2006?

As noted in Body Count, the only reports on civilian mortality in Afghanistan, including those published by the UN, are based on passive reporting. To accept these figures as actual estimates of war deaths would be to believe that the most heavily bombed country in the recent history of warfare (over 60,000 air strikes in 14 years) has been a safer place to live than most Western cities, with only 5.9 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year, compared to 6.9 in Frankfurt and 48 in Detroit.

As the authors explain, “The problem in determining the number of killed civilians is the ‘passive’ research method itself. It can capture only a fraction of all cases. In order to get more reliable approximations, on-site research and scientific polls would be necessary. In Afghanistan, these simply do not exist.”

The authors of Body Count very conservatively estimate the number of Afghan civilians killed at 5 to 8 times the number passively reported, giving an estimate between 106,000 and 170,000. At the same time, they acknowledge the conservative nature of this estimate, noting that, “compared to Iraq, where urbanization is more pronounced, and monitoring by local and foreign press is more pronounced than in Afghanistan, the registration of civilian deaths has been much more fragmentary.”

If the ratio of actual deaths to passively reported deaths in Afghanistan is in fact somewhere between those found in Iraq (12:1) and Guatemala (20:1), the true number of civilians killed in Afghanistan would be somewhere between 255,000 and 425,000.

As in Guatemala, the UN and Western reporters have little access to the remote resistance-held areas where most air strikes and special forces raids take place, so the true number of Afghan civilians killed could well be closer to the higher of these numbers.

Paradoxically, the Syrian government’s role as an “information victim” of U.S. information warfare may have led to more comprehensive reporting of civilian deaths in Syria than in Iraq or Afghanistan, by the UN, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other human rights groups.

But even without Western political pressure to under-report civilian deaths (except in U.S.-led air strikes), passive reporting in Syria is still just passive reporting. The ratio of actual deaths to the numbers being reported may be lower than in Iraq or Afghanistan, but even the most thorough passive reporting is unlikely to capture more than 20 percent of actual deaths.

As in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala and Iraq, only serious, scientific mortality studies can expose the full scale of the slaughter endured by the people of Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and other war-ravaged countries.

The politically contrived controversy surrounding mortality estimates in Iraq has deterred the U.S. corporate media from making any attempt to gain a more accurate picture of the scale of the slaughter in these other wars.

This has left average Americans in almost complete ignorance of the human cost of modern war, and has served to shield our political and military leaders from accountability for appalling decisions and policies that have resulted in catastrophic losses of human life.

Deaths counted by “passive reporting” cannot be an estimate of total deaths in a war zone because they are fragmentary by nature. But serious researchers have developed scientific methods they can use to make realistic estimates of total war deaths.

As with climate change and other issues, UN officials and journalists must overcome political pressures, come to grips with the basic science involved, and stop sweeping the vast majority of the victims of our wars down this Orwellian “memory hole.”


Originally published on 2016-01-17

About the author: Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

Source: Consortium News

Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection, Public Domain & Pinterest.

Read Our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!

We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.

[wpedon id=”4696″ align=”left”]

 

Save

 
READ MORE!
The Complete History of Monsanto, “The World’s Most Evil Corporation”
First published by Waking Times, posted by Global Research in May 2014, this article provides a historical viewpoint. It is of particular relevance in relation to the Monsanto-Bayer merger. Of all the mega-corps running amok, Monsanto has consistently outperformed its rivals, earning the crown as “most evil corporation on Earth!” Not content to simply rest upon its throne of destruction, it remains focused on newer, more scientifically innovative ways to harm the planet and its people. 1901: The company is founded by John Francis Queeny, a member of the Knights of Malta, a thirty year pharmaceutical veteran married to Olga Mendez Monsanto, for which Monsanto Chemical Works ...
READ MORE
Don’t Romanticise the Kemalist Legacy!
The political situation in Turkey is clearly dramatic, but it is also equally complicated. Turkish President Erdogan has succeeded in securing levels of power unique in the nation′s history. But is this situation really unique? No – for 15 years, the father of the nation Ataturk ruled alone over the early Republic, which was a one-party nation at the time. Only his untimely death in 1938 deprived him of that power.Up to that point, Ataturk alone ruled over every conceivable dimension of domestic and foreign policy. Even clothing and music were tailored to his ideas. The aim was the creation ...
READ MORE
The Name ‘Macedonia’ cannot Work
Although my grandfather, Josip Broz Tito, “gave” the name “Macedonia” to one of the six constituent republics of Yugoslavia, it is obvious that this act did not aim to create irredentist claims with its neighbors, with which Yugoslavia developed friendly relations and fruitful cooperation.For many years Skopje’s authorities had been presenting maps of “Greater Macedonia,” extending “the geographical and ethnic border of Macedonia” into Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia and Greece. Is that the model of regional cooperation that our friends in Skopje preach to follow?The European Union, the United Nations and the international community have invested considerable political and economic capital ...
READ MORE
Why America is a Dictatorship
America is a country in which dollars count far more than voters do, and that’s what all of the data shows. And that’s a dictatorship by the richest. This kind of country, this kind of country, and this kind of country, get this kind of President. And the rulers blame it on the public, instead of on the billionaires, the actual rulers themselves (the behind-the-scenes rulers). These rulers selected the politicians and offered those to the public to select from in ‘elections’ — and they then blame the public for the choices that the public make, from amongst these bad final ...
READ MORE
NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden”
During the final years of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the US reached a verbal agreement whereby Moscow would allow for the reunification of Germany in exchange for the US agreeing to never expand NATO further East. As history attests, the US shamelessly reneged on its guarantee the moment the Soviet Union collapsed and was powerless to effectively stop it, swallowing up almost the entirety of Eastern Europe (save for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine) and all the Baltic States by 2004. What’s less studied by observers is NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden” (Drive to the South), which represents one ...
READ MORE
Pax Americana: Who are the Neocon Imperialists?
Neocon 101: What do Neoconservatives Believe?“Neocons” believe that the United States should not be ashamed to use its unrivaled power – forcefully if necessary – to promote its values around the world. Some even speak of the need to cultivate a US empire. Neoconservatives believe modern threats facing the US can no longer be reliably contained and therefore must be prevented, sometimes through preemptive military action.Most neocons believe that the US has allowed dangers to gather by not spending enough on defense and not confronting threats aggressively enough. One such threat, they contend, was Saddam Hussein and his pursuit of ...
READ MORE
Rapefugees Invasion of Europe
Who are the repefugees coming to Europe as the "immigrants"? Or at least some of them:No comment!Origins of images: Facebook, Twitter, Wikimedia, Wikipedia, Flickr, Google, Imageinjection, Public Domain & Pinterest.Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement!Donate to Support UsWe would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations.[wpedon id="4696" align="left"]SaveSave
READ MORE
The Idea of a Greater Croatia by Pavao Ritter Vitezović (I)
Introduction The article will examine the model for the creation of a Greater Croatia designed by a Croatian nobleman, publicist and historian Pavao Ritter Vitezović (1652–1713). The article will offer a new interpretation of the substance and significance of Vitezović’s political ideology. Many historians have viewed Vitezović’s political thought and his developed ideological framework of a united South Slavic state as part of a wider pan-Slavic world. According to the prevailing notion, Vitezović was a precursor of the idea of Yugoslavism (a united South Slavic nation-state) and even Pan-Slavism - a pan-Slavic cultural and political reciprocity. Yet a closer look at ...
READ MORE
Pearl Harbor Day and the Fantasy of US Victimhood
The United States is indisputably the world’s most frequent and extensive wager of aggressive war, largest occupier of foreign lands, and biggest weapons dealer to the world. But when the United States peeps out from under the blankets where it lies shivering with fear, it sees itself as an innocent victim. It has no holiday to keep any victorious battle in everyone’s mind. It has a holiday to remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor — and now also one, perhaps holier still, to recall, not the “shock and awe” destruction of Baghdad, but the crimes of September 11, 2001, ...
READ MORE
Great Powers Rivalry and the Emergence of Albania in 1912-1913
The Great Powers installed a German army officer, a German Prince William, Wilhelm of Wied, Germany, as the first recognized ruler of an “independent” Albania, a puppet or proxy regime or government set up by the Great Powers. In many ways, the conflict between the Great Powers and Serbia over Albania in 1912-1913 prefigured and foreshadowed and was the precursor of the open conflict over Kosovo beginning in 1998. Albania achieved independence only because Serbia and the other Balkan League powers were able to defeat Ottoman Turkey militarily. The Great Powers immediately established a protectorate in Albania and planned to use ...
READ MORE
“Collateral Damage” from America’s De-Stabilizing, Endless, Post-9/11 “Wars On Terror”
“Show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care.” – Popular conservative Sun (a British daily newspaper) commenting on the homeless war refugees from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc. who are fleeing their militarily de-stabilized and devastated countries after their homes and homelands had been reduced to bloody rubble by soldiers obeying orders from their commanders (including NATO and American “interventionism” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc, etc). Hopkins appears to be in good company. But she was probably just paraphrasing what she had been hearing from a multitude of ultra-nationalist ...
READ MORE
The Syrian War of Imperialism
Read our Disclaimer/Legal Statement! Donate to Support Us We would like to ask you to consider a small donation to help our team keep working. We accept no advertising and rely only on you, our readers, to keep us digging the truth on history, global politics and international relations. [wpedon id="4696" align="left"]
READ MORE
An Albanian family around 1910
The topic to be addressed in this text is the basic misconception on the question of the Balkan Albanian ethnogenesis and national identity that was framed by extremely geo-politically coloured German-based “Illyrian” theory of the Albanian ethnic and cultural origin. This (quasi)theory, unfortunately, has very deep and negative regional political-security consequences. The implementation of the “Illyrian” theory of the Albanian ethnogenesis was accepted firstly by the Rilindja, (the Renaissance) – the Albanian nationalistic and chauvinistic political movement in 1878–1913 for the sake to create the ethnically pure Greater Albania as a national state of all Balkan Albanians composed by self-interpreted ...
READ MORE
Khashoggi vs. 50,000 Slaughtered Yemeni Children: Europe has no Morals, no Ethics no Nothing
The European Parliament has asked yesterday (25 October) for an immediate embargo on the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, hence sanctioning the Kingdom of rogue Saudi Arabia which is joining the United States and Israel as the main purveyor of crime throughout the Middle East and the world. France still said they will apply sanctions only if it is proven that Riyadh was indeed involved in the killing of the controversial Saudi journalist. Madame Merkel at least days ago said that Germany would no longer supply the Saudis with arms – as a result of the heinous crime committed ...
READ MORE
Jürgen Elsässer: “The CIA Recruited and Trained the Jihadists”
In his latest book, “How the Jihad Came to Europe”, German journalist Jürgen Elsässer unravels the Jihadist thread. Muslim fighters recruited by the CIA to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan were used successively in Yugoslavia and Chechnya, still supported by the CIA, but perhaps sometimes out of its control. Basing himself on diverse sources, mainly Yugoslavian, Dutch, and German, he reconstructed the development of Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants at the side of NATO in Bosnia-Herzegovinia.Silvia Cattori:Your investigation into the actions of the secret services makes a frightening report. We discover that since the 80’s the United States ...
READ MORE
Here’s Why France Should Be Blamed for the Destruction in Syria
Why is France so interested in Syria? According to the Guardian, France’s policy in Syria has been “more forward than any other Western country”: “[France] was early in calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down, still insists he must go, and recently joined airstrikes inside Syria against the Islamic State.” France joined the United States in bombing Syrian territory (without a U.N. mandate) even before the United Kingdom did. In 2013, France stood by Obama’s side despite the fact the United Kingdom’s parliament voted not to join Obama’s efforts to “punish” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for crossing Obama’s imaginary red line. ...
READ MORE
Independence on Nakba Day – Accountability and Healing as an Israeli Aggressor
I am an Israeli-American. I was raised in a middle-class academic ‘Liberal Zionist’ household (aligned with the Israeli Labor Party and Meretz), which is an inherent contradiction. Liberal Zionism maintains a belief in universal human rights yet it supports a Zionist ideology that endorses and promotes Israel as a Jewish state – one that has been systematically carrying out a project of apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian people. Since I can remember, my birth town of Jerusalem has been highly segregated. Growing up, I never interacted with Palestinians other than Abed the soft-spoken gardener from Hebron (aka El ...
READ MORE
American Capitalism is Based on Plunder
American capitalism is based on plunder. With the continental USA plundered, American capitalism hoped to continue enriching itself by plundering Russia as it did under Yeltsin, carefully including the Russian “Atlanticist Integrationists” in the spoils in order to have support from the liberal, progressive forces in Russia for stripping Russia of its assets. But Putin more or less put a halt to the American/Israeli rape of Russia, although it still continues through the neoliberal economics that Harvard brainwashed into the Russian central bank and economics profession. Brainwashed Russian economists are the main reason Washington is able to punish a powerful ...
READ MORE
NATO – 70th Anniversary of the Most Murderous – and Legal – Organization on our Planet
On 4th of April 2019 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) “celebrated” the 70th Anniversary of its murderous existence. This horror organization was born sort of as a “Rosemary’s Baby”, signed into life in Washington DC, as the North Atlantic Treaty. Its creation was absolutely unethical but also absolutely “legal” – meaning what we, the west, have made the law, a man-made law for war, was applied by the Washington-Pentagon driven NATO. Estimates have it, that NATO and its ‘allies’, cronies, proxies and mercenaries killed more than 20 million people since NATO’s existence, basically since the end of WWII. Compare this with ...
READ MORE
Book Review: Robert Fantina, “Empire, Racism and Genocide: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy”, 2013
In its entire history, there has been very little time when the United States has been at peace. As it wages its many wars and ‘interventions’, the stated goal is always something few people could argue with: fostering democracy when a struggling people are resisting tyranny, removing threats to U.S. security, or punishing a cruel dictator for unspeakable misdeeds. Yet on closer scrutiny, these reasons are seldom valid. They simply hide the true purposes of U.S. military involvement, which are power and wealth. Starting with the barbarous destruction of Native American culture in order to gain farmlands, right through to the ...
READ MORE
The Complete History of Monsanto, “The World’s Most Evil Corporation”
Don’t Romanticise the Kemalist Legacy!
The Name ‘Macedonia’ cannot Work
Why America is a Dictatorship
NATO’s “Drang Nach Suden”
Pax Americana: Who are the Neocon Imperialists?
Rapefugees Invasion of Europe
The Idea of a Greater Croatia by Pavao Ritter Vitezović (I)
Pearl Harbor Day and the Fantasy of US Victimhood
Great Powers Rivalry and the Emergence of Albania in 1912-1913
“Collateral Damage” from America’s De-Stabilizing, Endless, Post-9/11 “Wars On Terror”
The Syrian War of Imperialism
Albanian Ethnogenesis and Kosovo-Metochia
Khashoggi vs. 50,000 Slaughtered Yemeni Children: Europe has no Morals, no Ethics no Nothing
Jürgen Elsässer: “The CIA Recruited and Trained the Jihadists”
Here’s Why France Should Be Blamed for the Destruction in Syria
Independence on Nakba Day – Accountability and Healing as an Israeli Aggressor
American Capitalism is Based on Plunder
NATO – 70th Anniversary of the Most Murderous – and Legal – Organization on our Planet
Book Review: Robert Fantina, “Empire, Racism and Genocide: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy”, 2013
FOLLOW US ON OUR SOCIAL PLATFORMS
Share