News   Defense News

DOD Sends Annual Civilian Casualty Report to Congress

May 6, 2020 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

The Defense Department has sent Congress the annual report on Civilian Casualties in Connection With U.S. Military Operations.

The report is a requirement of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

DOD assessed 132 civilians were killed and 91 were injured during 2019 as a result of U.S. military operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The report did not identify any civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations in Yemen or Libya. 

Soldiers wearing face masks practice social distancing in formation on a desert flight line.
In Formation
Members of Delta Company, 82nd Aviation Regiment practice social distancing as they stand in formation May 3, 2020, to recognize fellow service members who were presented the Purple Heart medal for their injuries suffered during Jan. 8, 2020, missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq.
Photo By: Army Sgt. Sydney Mariette
VIRIN: 200503-Z-KO357-959M

"Over the past 19 years, we, alongside our allies and partners, have fought to protect our homeland, liberate millions of people from tyranny and safeguard civilians from terrorism," said James Anderson, who is performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for policy.

"While our forces have taken unprecedented steps to prevent civilian suffering in these conflicts, we recognize that U.S. military operations, at times, inadvertently injure and kill innocent civilians. It is a sobering fact that we take very seriously," he said. The report emphasizes that U.S. forces take extraordinary efforts to reduce the harmful impact of military operations on civilians. From planning to operations, the military routinely evaluates targets to minimize the potential for civilian casualties.

DOD evaluates all reports of civilian casualties, including reports provided by individuals who were present during the operation, including military personnel and local civilians, non-governmental sources, the news media and social media. DOD also reevaluates reports of civilian casualties when new information is presented, according to the report.

Afghan soldiers wearing face masks stand in formation.
In Formation
Afghan National Army commandos stand in formation waiting to be greeted by Afghan Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid and Resolute Support Commander Army Gen. Scott Miller in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 28, 2020. Resolute Support is a NATO-led (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan national defense and security forces and institutions.
Photo By: Army Spc. Jeffery Harris
VIRIN: 200428-A-NN123-7496M

In 2019, DOD made 611 payments in response to property damage, personal injury or death that was assessed to have been incident to U.S. military operations in foreign countries even though there was no liability or obligation to do so, the report states.

These payments, known as "ex gratia" payments, help to express condolences, sympathy or goodwill, and are used to support mission objectives. Ex gratia payments are one of several actions DOD may take when U.S. military operations injure or kill a civilian, or damage or destroy civilian property. 

Other options include providing medical care, or other appropriate measures that might be consistent with mission objectives and applicable law, according to the report. 

Two kneeling soldiers train in loading an ammunition magazine.
Load Training
A coalition trainer shows a commando-in-training cadet how to load a rifle magazine quickly in Syria, July 20, 2019. Coalition partners in northeast Syria are actively engaged in the consolidation of gains and increasing security to enable stabilization activities.
Photo By: Army Spc. Alec Dionne
VIRIN: 190720-Z-EJ372-925M

DOD continues to identify how the actions it takes — from allocating resources to developing weapon systems and training its forces — can better protect civilians, while continuing to defend U.S. national interests and support key partners. 

"The U.S. military has long sought to go beyond our legal requirements, to further protect civilians through a variety of practices," Anderson added. "However, we will not be complacent — there is more that we can and should do," he said.