Flawed intelligence has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths from US air strikes in the Middle East, confidential military documents have revealed. Documents obtained by the New York Times from the US Department of Defence reveal over 1,300 reports which show that strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — caused more civilian casualties than were previously admitted, as a result of "deeply flawed intelligence". The documents were obtained following a freedom of information request.
The NYT report revealed that "not a single record provided includes a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action" in the aftermath of civilian casualties. Moreover, the number of civilian deaths was "drastically undercounted" by at least several hundred.
Examples provided include a strike on Ramadi in Iraq in November 2015, which targeted a position allegedly held by the Daesh terror group towards which a man was seen dragging "an unknown heavy object". A review of the strike later found that the "object" in question was a child, who was, inevitably, killed in the attack.
On 19 July 2016, US Special Forces struck three staging areas allegedly held by Daesh. While it was initially reported that 85 militants were killed, it was found that the casualties were actually 120 farmers and villagers.
According to the report, such incidents were due to poor or inadequate surveillance footage which resulted in the failure to hit desired targets accurately. Footage taken from above, for example, does not show people in buildings, or under natural or synthetic cover such as foliage or tarpaulins, and when people are seen running towards a recently bombed site, they are often assumed to be militants. However, "Men on motorcycles moving 'in formation', displaying the 'signature' of an imminent attack, were just men on motorcycles."
The strict protocols required by the US military before a strike is conducted, the report said, are often foiled by such data, which is able to be misinterpreted.
The spokesperson for US Central Command, Captain Bill Urban, told the New York Times: "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."
Strikes are always carefully considered, he claimed, but "in many combat situations, where targeteers face credible threat streams and do not have the luxury of time, the fog of war can lead to decisions that tragically result in civilian harm." Urban insisted that "We work diligently to avoid such harm. We investigate each credible instance. And we regret each loss of innocent life."
The documents and the numerous deaths which have been added to the already-recorded casualties contradict the supposed safety and effectiveness of drone warfare which has been propagated since the administration of former US President Barack Obama. Pledges of transparency and accountability appear to have fallen by the wayside.
It is estimated that since the 9/11 attacks and the launch of the global war on terror, between 22,000 and 48,000 civilians have been killed by US air strikes. Civilians who are left disabled from attacks, as well as the families of those killed, have been promised financial compensation by the US over the years, although very few are reported to have received anything.