US Struggles to Explain Soaring Civilian Toll in Iraq, Syria Strikes

Pentagon Spokesman Concedes Killings Are Hurting US Image

While the Pentagon’s “official” civilian death toll for its air war in Iraq and Syria is preposterously low, less than 10% the estimate of credible NGOs in the area, there is no denying that the deaths are soaringĀ  in recent weeks, with incidents like the March 17 Mosul attack killing hundreds of civilian bystanders at a time.

The Pentagon’s narrative has jumped all over the place, from denial to defiance, but the big problem is that they’re struggling to explain why the civilian death toll is rising so precipitously despite claiming that there has been no policy change related to the air war.

This is fueling speculation that President Trump’s promises of a more aggressive air war, and campaign talk of killing terrorists’ families, are behind the spike, and talk of increased freedom of operation for commanders in both countries, which started coming just ahead of the rising toll, means the denial of a policy change isn’t credible.

Whatever the case, military spokesman Col. Joseph Scrocca conceded that the death toll has “a negative impact on our image at least throughout the region and the world.” One former general warned it was adding to the perception that the US has a disregard for civilian life.

And while that’s something the Pentagon at least theoretically wants to dispute, the massive death toll in Mosul was followed with a shocking level of official ambivalence, with the Pentagon even conceding that they had video of huge numbers of civilians being herded into those buildings ahead of the US attacking and killing them.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.