A recent report revealed that thousands of US airstrikes have gone unaccounted for in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Written by: Emily Love
On Sunday, The Military Times newspaper revealed that the American military has failed to publicly disclose potentially thousands of lethal airstrikes conducted over several years in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
— Andrew deGrandpre (@adegrandpre) February 5, 2017
The enormous data gap raises serious doubts about transparency in reported progress against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and calls into question the accuracy of other Defense Department disclosures, documenting everything from costs to casualty counts.
The Defense Department’s public summary of operations in Iraq and Syria, current as of Jan. 31, fails to account for nearly 6,000 strikes dating to 2014, when the air campaign against ISIS began.
The US Air Force summary estimates 23,740 coalition airstrikes through 2016, while the US Defense Department lists about 17,861 airstrikes through January 31, 2017. This number has been repeatedly cited by the Pentagon, when it updated the media on its operations against Daesh and al-Qaeda affiliates in Iraq and Syria.
Most alarming is the prospect that this data has been incomplete since the “War on Terror” began in October 2001.
Political analyst Alexander Khrolenko, at Russia’s international news agency, or RIA Novosti, provided his reasoning for the secrecy around the Defense Department data.
“The secrecy, distortion or hiding of information have certain financial implications,” he said.
Military Times noted, “Citing policy, military officials in the U.S. and in Baghdad refuse to identify the type of American warplanes that conduct individual airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, nor will they provide a breakdown of activity by individual service components.”
Khrolenko theorized, “If the missiles are being used without any record, the local command might be tempted to sell a batch of the US ammunition of high demand to its Middle Eastern or African allies, to mutual benefit and without any excessive formalities.”
He further proposed that US Africa Command could be involved in an operation like this since it is in control of many covert military operations against terrorism on the whole continent, including Libya and Somalia. “The price lists are covert, the losses are not publicized,” Khrolenko said.
The political analyst also recalls the report of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a British watchdog organization, which revealed that the Pentagon spent large amounts of money on fake PR campaigns. He cited as an example the revelation of Bell Pottinger, a London-based PR firm, which said it had been paid more than $500 million of American taxpayers money to spearhead a top-secret propaganda campaign in Iraq.
Bell Pottinger worked alongside top US military officials at Camp Victory in Baghdad at the height of the Iraq War. The agency was tasked with crafting TV segments in the style of unbiased Arabic news reports, videos of Al-Qaeda bombings that appeared to be filmed by insurgents, and anti-insurgent commercials. Those who watched the videos could be tracked by US forces.
US Marines would take CDs containing the videos while on patrol, then plant them at sites during raids. The CDs were encoded to open the videos on RealPlayer software that connects to the Internet when it runs. It would issue an IP address that could then be tracked by US intelligence.
To understand the scale of the United States’ information war in the Middle East, Khrolenko explained that there were up to 40 PR companies working in the region for the period from 2006 to 2008.
Khrolenko also claimed that the Pentagon has a “shadow economy” and “peculiar record of military sorties” (and ammunition used). The practical result helps to conceal all of the undesirable information and successful dissemination of the necessary misinformation.
The number of airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan is not the only area the Pentagon has not kept a reliable record of. In August 2016, a Department of Defense Inspector General’s report was released, which left Americans stunned at the jaw-dropping lack of accountability and oversight; the Pentagon couldn’t account for $6.5 trillion dollars worth of Army general fund transactions and data, according to a report by the Fiscal Times.
As of 1996, all federal agencies were mandated by law to conduct regular financial audits. However, in the last 20 years the Pentagon has never accounted for the trillions of dollars in taxpayer funds it has spent, in part because “fudging” the numbers has become standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense, as was revealed in a 2013 Reuters investigation by Scot Paltrow.
These reports only help to further undermine confidence in much of what the Pentagon has disclosed about its prosecution of these wars, prompting critics to call into question whether the military sought to mislead the American public, and cast doubt on the competency with which other vital data collection is being performed and publicized. Those other key metrics include American combat casualties, taxpayer expense and the military’s overall progress in degrading enemy capabilities.
Korolenko went as far as to conclude that, “the distorted data on civilian losses in the US military operations in the Middle East puts in question already illusive worthwhileness of its military interventions.”
If the public and Congress do not have the full facts, then they are unable to hold the Pentagon accountable. This begs the question, is the Pentagon a law onto itself and who is really in control?