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Ahead of the May 1 deadline for the United States Department of Defense to report back to Congress on civilian casualties from US military operations, Daphne Eviatar, the Director of Security With Human Rights at Amnesty International USA said:

“We hope to finally see an honest assessment of the devastating impact that U.S. lethal strikes have had, and a truthful recognition of civilian deaths and injuries as a result of U.S. actions. The survivors, families, and community members have a right to that acknowledgement.

“Our recent research on the ground in Syria and in Somalia demonstrates why this is so critical. Effective public scrutiny is more important now than ever as we face a dramatic increase in civilian casualties from U.S. operations. It’s time for the U.S. to lift the veil of secrecy shrouding the actual numbers of civilians harmed, and how these casualties are investigated.

Amnesty International USA is calling on the U.S. military to thoroughly investigate all credible claims of civilian killings and injuries, as well as whether the U.S. made sufficient efforts to prevent them, as required under international humanitarian law, and to provide compensation where appropriate.

Background and context

Last week, Amnesty International released the findings of a comprehensive investigation into civilian casualties caused by the U.S.-led Coalition in Raqqa, Syria. The investigation – which lasted more than 18 months, including more than two months on the ground in Raqqa, more than 200 site visits and more than 400 interviews – documented how U.S., U.K. and French forces killed at least 1,600 civilians during the military campaign from June-October 2017. The U.S.-led Coalition has acknowledged only about 10% of those, and while it is believed that U.S. forces carried out the overwhelming majority of the strikes, the lack of transparency around reporting means it is impossible to know which forces are responsible for which strike. Our investigation suggests that U.S. forces and allies did not do all that they could and should have done to minimize civilian harmor to investigate the consequences of strikes afterwards.

In a March report, Amnesty International uncovered compelling evidence that U.S. air strikes killed a total of 14 civilians and injured eight more, in five attacks that may have violated international humanitarian law. Reports of more civilian casualties from other strikes could not be sufficiently corroborated for inclusion in the report. The research covered just five of the more than 100 air strikes the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) conducted in Somalia in the previous two years, during which time it claimed it killed and injured zero civilians. It has since admitted responsibility for two civilian deaths, prompted in part by Amnesty’s report. U.S. air strikes have increased dramatically in the past two years, increasing from 16 in 2016 to 36 in 2017 and at least 47 strikes in 2018. AFRICOM has conducted at least 33 air strikes in the first four months of 2019 alone.