The US vastly undercounted civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in the Middle East, NYT investigation finds

Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014.
Debris are seen following a US-led coalition airstrike hits Headquarters of al Nusra Front in Aleppo, Syria on November 06, 2014.

Ahmed Hasan Ubeyd/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

  • The US military said between 7 to 24 civilians were killed in a 2016 airstrike in Syria. 
  • A New York Times investigation found that over 120 civilians were actually killed. 
  • The Times found the military had undercounted civilian death tolls in many airstrike incidents. 

The US military vastly undercounted civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in the Middle East since 2014, according to a New York Times investigation published Saturday. 

The Times reviewed a hidden Pentagon archive comprised of the military's confidential assessments of over 1,300 reports of civilian casualties in airstrikes, finding there was "flawed intelligence, faulty targeting," and a lack of accountability for wrongdoing.

While the official military count says 1,417 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Syria, the investigation found many more civilian deaths, citing multiple examples, though it did not provide an exact count.

After a 2016 bombing in Tokhar, Syria, the military said only seven to 24 civilians died, but The Times investigation found over 120 civilians had actually been killed in the strike. American Special Operations forces were targeting what they believed were ISIS "staging areas," but The Times said the airstrike actually hit homes where civilians were taking cover.

The Times found several other examples of US forces not disclosing the mistaken killing of civilians during airstrikes. In 2017, a family of four in a car that were fleeing West Mosul, Iraq, and three other civilians were killed after the vehicle was mistaken as a car bomb.

The Times reported that despite the prevalence of these misjudgments and casualties, there were no records with a finding of wrongdoing or disciplinary action, and that despite civilians suffering tremendous medical issues and costs as a result, there were less than a dozen condolence payments made.

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Last month, The Times revealed that military leaders hid a 2019 airstrike in Syria where as many as 64 civilians were killed.

Earlier this year, a report compiled by an independent monitoring group found that US airstrikes have killed as many as 48,000 civilians since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Insider's Charles Davis reported.

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The US vastly undercounted civilian deaths caused by airstrikes in the Middle East, NYT investigation finds