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The US is struggling with war victims compensation

U.S. military operations keep civilian casualties and deaths, and survivors are compensated. According to what criteria, is inconsistent, non-transparent and not standardized, victim support organizations have been criticizing for years. The casualty figures presented by the media and civilian organizations, and those of the US military, are still far apart.

Since 2018, the Pentagon has been trying to change that. Not least because the US Parliament has been made aware. For example, the U.S. Department of Defense has had to report the nature and scope of compensation payments to Congress since last year. In May 2020, it published the first report.

More heroes than victims – and only in two countries

This includes so-called “Ex Gratia Payments” for 2019. The list includes 611 items, including 65 “condolence payments” in Afghanistan and six in Iraq, 336 compensation payments for property damage in Afghanistan and 204 so-called “hero payments”. These go to relatives of slain fighters whose organizations were involved in the operation together with the US, such as the Afghan military or the Afghan police. The list does not include entries for Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia, although the US is also waging war there.

The United Nations blames more than 500 civilian casualties in Afghanistan for 2019. The Airwars organization estimates that at least 8,200 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Syria since 2014 in the fight against the so-called Islamic State. In Somalia, the Organization counted between 6 and 13 civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes in 2019, two of which the U.S. has claimed responsibility. Way to go, then. For the sake of comparability, it must be said here that European countries, too, do not always deal transparently with civilian victims of military operations.

The “DoD” still does not make a mistake

The most recent innovation in the US procedure came into force in June 2020 as an interim arrangement, which is to be finalized in the spring of 2021. It’s not a big throw. It contains guidelines for reporting and documentation, sets pay levels and responsibilities. Anyway.

Compensation payments can vary considerably so far, and in some cases there are none, as reported by Human Rights Watch".

What not only HRW, but also organizations such as the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) had hoped for, did not happen: The US Department of Defense continues to recognize no legal and moral obligation to compensate civilian war victims or their bereaved. Compensation payments are still a show of US sympathy, according to the Department of Defense (DoD).

The payments are intended to give “authorized commanders” a means to make the local population, if not weighed, at least not the enemy. In the text: “Friendly relations with the local population … manufacture and maintenance”. Money is paid exclusively to people who are “friendly” to the United States. So “compensation payments” should not be called them at all, rather “strategy payments”.

Many go empty because there are no U.S. troops on the ground

There is still much to be done in other respects. Almost only damage is recognized in areas where the US is on the ground with ground troops. There are therefore poor opportunities, for example, for victims of airstrikes in Somalia. It is easier to “assess the damage as well as make payments” when US troops are present on the ground, Luke Hartig, former senior director of counterterrorism at Barack Obama’s National Security Council, told the Intercept. However, he does not really believe this reason why ex-Gratia payments are not made in other places.