The report is a requirement of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.
DOD assessed 132 civilians were killed and 91 were injured during 2019 as a result of U.S. military operations in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia. The report did not identify any civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations in Yemen or Libya.
"Over the past 19 years, we, alongside our allies and partners, have fought to protect our homeland, liberate millions of people from tyranny and safeguard civilians from terrorism," said James Anderson, who is performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for policy.
"While our forces have taken unprecedented steps to prevent civilian suffering in these conflicts, we recognize that U.S. military operations, at times, inadvertently injure and kill innocent civilians. It is a sobering fact that we take very seriously," he said. The report emphasizes that U.S. forces take extraordinary efforts to reduce the harmful impact of military operations on civilians. From planning to operations, the military routinely evaluates targets to minimize the potential for civilian casualties.
DOD evaluates all reports of civilian casualties, including reports provided by individuals who were present during the operation, including military personnel and local civilians, non-governmental sources, the news media and social media. DOD also reevaluates reports of civilian casualties when new information is presented, according to the report.
In 2019, DOD made 611 payments in response to property damage, personal injury or death that was assessed to have been incident to U.S. military operations in foreign countries even though there was no liability or obligation to do so, the report states.
These payments, known as "ex gratia" payments, help to express condolences, sympathy or goodwill, and are used to support mission objectives. Ex gratia payments are one of several actions DOD may take when U.S. military operations injure or kill a civilian, or damage or destroy civilian property.
Other options include providing medical care, or other appropriate measures that might be consistent with mission objectives and applicable law, according to the report.
DOD continues to identify how the actions it takes — from allocating resources to developing weapon systems and training its forces — can better protect civilians, while continuing to defend U.S. national interests and support key partners.
"The U.S. military has long sought to go beyond our legal requirements, to further protect civilians through a variety of practices," Anderson added. "However, we will not be complacent — there is more that we can and should do," he said.