Air strikes coordinated by the U.S. resulted in the deaths of 12 civilians and injuries to five more in 2021, during the final days of the war in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department’s annual civilian casualties report, released Tuesday.
Ten of those deaths were the result of an errant bombing in Kabul a day before U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan for good, an attempt to prevent another attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport as a noncombatant evacuation wrapped up.
Though no one was formally punished for the mistaken targeting in that attack, which killed Zamarai Ahmadi and nine members of his family, it did provide a reckoning for DoD’s handling of not only air strikes but their aftermath, prompting attempts at further transparency going forward.
In line with that, the Pentagon made public its latest annual civilian casualty report to Congress on Tuesday. Beyond the Kabul attack, the U.S. accounted for 2 more civilian deaths, one in Herat on Jan. 8, 2021, and one in Kandahar on Aug. 11, 2021, as well as three civilian injuries in Barrow, Somalia, on Jan. 1, 2021, and two in Kandahar on Jan. 18, 2021.
“As a matter of policy, U.S. forces routinely conduct operations under policy standards that are more protective of civilians than is required by the law of war, and we are committed to continuing to improve our approach to civilian harm mitigation and response,” according to the report.
Still, U.S. forces are not immune to mistaken targeting or unanticipated collateral damage.
Soon after the Kabul strike in 2021, the New York Times reported that a U.S. strike improperly targeted a group of women and children during operations in Syria, prompting an internal review which found no wrongdoing.
In January, a Pentagon-commissioned study by Rand Corp. deemed the U.S.’s civilian casualty tracking framework a “hot mess.”
The 2021 casualty report also includes reported potential casualty events, including those still under investigation, as well as reports from earlier years that were verified in 2021.
“Of those 6 reports, 3 continue to be under assessment. The 3 other reports have been assessed not to be credible, i.e., the available information did not support concluding that civilian casualties more likely than not resulted from U.S. military operations,” the report found. “For example, a report of civilian casualties would be assessed as not credible if U.S. military operations were not conducted at the reported time or place or if the reported casualties related to the incident were assessed to be enemy combatants rather than civilians.”
Recent verified reports include 10 civilian deaths in Syria between 2018 and 2020, in addition to 18 civilians injured.
Following multiple reviews, the Pentagon in August announced it would stand up a “center of excellence” to deal with civilian harm mitigation and to coordinate compensation for survivors and their families.
As of earlier this month, according to Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, the department is still working with the family of the victims of the Kabul strike to provide payouts or safe passage out of Afghanistan.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.