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civilian harm, Pentagon, 1057 report

The US Undercounts Civilian Deaths Again

In this year’s 1057 report, the Pentagon misrepresents the number of civilian deaths again.

Words: Marc Garlasco
Pictures: Graham Krenz

Last week the Pentagon released its annual report on civilian casualties in US military operations, with this one covering Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria for 2021. In the report, the United States accepted responsibility for 12 civilian deaths in Afghanistan and five injuries combined in Afghanistan and Somalia, representing a significant undercount of civilian harm documented by the nongovernmental organization Airwars.

This time around, however, the United States provided amends to a single victim, unlike last year when none were provided. Yet, as my colleague Annie Shiel notes, the United States has a $3 million annual fund to provide amends to victims and survivors of all US military operations, including drone strikes. But this year’s report is not simply another bureaucratic paperwork drill that rubber stamps the civilian harm caused by US military operations.


The annual report on civilian casualties is called the “1057 report” because Congress required it in section 1057 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This reporting was a significant step by the Department of Defense (DoD) to publicly account for instances of civilian deaths and injuries caused by lawful US military operations. Before Congress mandated the 1057 reports, reports on civilian casualties either didn’t happen or else were dependent upon the largess of the combatant commands, or COCOMs, which represent the 11 highest level military organizations leading operations worldwide (think Central Command or Special Operations Command).

We owe it to the thousands of victims of the past 20 years to improve how we treat those harmed in conflicts, and the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan is a step in the right direction.

Each COCOM has its own policies on how they investigate and report on civilian harm. For example, US Central Command released a monthly report on civilian casualties, including deaths and wounded (called CIVCAS) during Operation Inherent Resolve, a set of targeted operations to counter the Islamic State. But these reports were never standardized, nor were they required. Until 2008, when civilian deaths in Afghanistan had doubled due to US and NATO airstrikes, there was no systematic attempt to account for civilian harm at all — a striking fact with major implications for military operations. This lack of reporting on civilian deaths meant that critical information wasn’t being fed back into the “lessons learned” processes that could help minimize civilian casualties.

Over the last 20 years, the Pentagon has taken steps to improve how it accounts for such harm, even going so far as to post a website with links for people in war zones to report directly to DoD. But imagine how hard that must be for a civilian in a war-torn country with little or no access to the internet or for those who are not proficient in English (the website is in English).

Finally, the data released in the 1057 reports are terribly basic, with only the date, location, and number of civilians harmed noted — and nothing else. The new NDAA will hopefully expand 1057 reporting requirements. Still, until that happens, it is clear that the data NGOs report to the Pentagon is far more detailed than the department collects, or at least releases to the public.


In this report, we have seen the same underreporting as in prior years and a similar lack of redress for those injured; so, what makes this year’s 1057 report different from prior reports?

The most significant nugget buried in the report is the expansion of sources DoD considers when investigating civilian harm. Until recently, the only piece of information DoD relied on was its own classified reports, creating a self-licking ice cream cone effect whereby the information used to target the site was the same information used to assess the status of those harmed. This resulted in massive undercounts of CIVCAS and the COCOMS reinforcing their own findings without independent data sources. Moreover, while they have recently opened to some NGO reporting — like those from Airwars — they too often respond to outside reports as “non-credible” without explaining why. Yet, in the new 1057 report, DoD indicates an opening of the aperture on data sources.

The report states, “In assessing the report, the command or entity seeks to review all readily available information from a variety of sources, and may seek additional information that is not readily available, for example, by searching social media and conducting interviews.” Unfortunately, DoD hadn’t conducted systematic interviews of victims and witnesses since 2014, when NATO’s International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan ended. This note on interviews could be significant depending on how widespread and systematic they are. NGOs like Human Rights Watch and the UN, such as the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, have been highly critical of DoD’s lack of basic investigative protocols for years. Hopefully, this represents more than a throwaway line in a report.

The report is also a lens into how the newly released Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMRAP) is already affecting DoD — even before it has become official policy. The 1057 report leans heavily on the new action plan, released in August 2022 as a response to two decades of failed focus on civilian casualties. The CHMRAP is an 11-point phased plan that, if implemented, will dramatically reform how DoD deals with civilian harm, changing everything from planning operations to how DoD considers the civilian environment to how investigations are conducted.

The 1057 report notes that the new requirement will significantly change how these 1057 reports are conducted, and hopefully, their quality will improve. NGOs also hope to see the basic concept of civilian harm changed from civilian casualties to the broader reverberating effects of conflict, such as infrastructure destruction, loss of livelihood, and mental trauma. To paraphrase a colonel at a NATO exercise I recently participated in: if we aren’t protecting civilians in conflict, why are we here?


This year’s 1057 report continues a rather disappointing accounting of civilian harm by the DoD. Incidents remain dramatically undercounted, and it’s difficult to grasp why the United States can’t provide amends to all it admits it harmed. Moreover, the quality of data released publicly is poor.

Criticism aside, there is reason to hope for improved outcomes when the new action plan is implemented. Among the more exciting parts of the plan is the creation of a Civilian Protection Center of Excellence. In this one-stop shop, both operators and academics can come together to learn from best practices while creating a cadre of trained civilian harm specialists that can deploy to the COCOMS to improve civilian protection.

We owe it to the thousands of victims of the past 20 years to improve how we treat those harmed in conflicts, and this is a step in the right direction.

Marc Garlasco is the military advisor for the Dutch NGO “PAX” and former Chief of High Value Targeting on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff from 2002–2003.

Marc Garlasco

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