Afghanistan, Iraq Wars Killed 132,000 Civilians, Report Says
by Noah Shachtman at Wired’s Danger Room June 29, 2011
Rarely does a report warn its readers to take its data with a grain of salt. But that’s exactly what a new Brown University study does with what they say is a deliberate undercount of the civilian deaths from ten years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least 132,000 civilians have died since 2001, say researchers at Brown’s Watson Institute for International Studies. Between 12,000 and 14,000 of them died in Afghanistan — the most recent of which came from Tuesday’s audacious insurgent attack on Kabul’s most famous hotel. Another 120,000 died in Iraq. If you want to include Pakistan in that mix — and since the U.S.’ shadow war there is an adjunct of the Afghanistan conflict — add another 35,000 deaths, although the report says it can’t “disaggregate civilian from combatant death” there, which is kind of a big deal.
No one can say with certainty how many civilians have died in these wars. But even by the Institute’s own admission, the death toll is far higher. The Institute only counts direct violence that killed civilians — bombings, gunshot wounds, missile strikes, whatever. It doesn’t include indirect deaths, as occur when war creates refugees that can’t find food, clean water or adequate medical care. Nor does it include the lost limbs and emotional suffering that are a part of every war. Nor does it attempt to count civilian deaths in U.S. shadow wars like Yemen or Somalia.
And its data is reliant on existing tallies from the U.S., the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations and media reports. Some of them lack precision and aren’t able to go where conditions are most dangerous. Many of them disagree about exactly who is a civilian non-combatant: the National Counterterrorism Center, for instance, categorizes Afghan police and security contractors as civilians killed by terrorism. (The U.S. doesn’t officially keep body counts — at least not for U.S.-caused civilian deaths.) Think of the Institute’s data as a tally of civilian-death tallies.
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