The US military likely killed 23 civilians in 2020, according to a new report from the Defense Department

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KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – APRIL 29: A Black Hawk helicopter of the US Air Force is pictured in front of the cityscape on April 29, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

  • The Defense Department said 23 civilians were likely killed and 10 injured by the US military in 2020.
  • The finding came in a report on US operations in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq.
  • Independent observers said the actual toll is likely much higher.
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The US military killed at least 23 civilians in 2020, according to a new report from the Department of Defense, a steep decline from previous years as offensive operations were significantly reduced during the pandemic. Another 10 civilians were likely injured, the department said.

In 2017, by contrast, the US military said it had killed nearly 500 civilians.

But independent observers said the actual number of civilian casualties is once again likely far higher than the US is willing to admit. The monitoring group Airwars, for example, estimates that a minimum of 102 civilians were killed by US operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Chris Woods, director of the group, said he welcomed the report, which is mandated by Congress and released annually.

“We remain concerned, however, that DoD estimates of civilian harm once again fall well below credible public estimates, and call on officials to review why such undercounts remain so common,” Woods said in a statement. “Civilians surely deserve better.”

The report itself, which the department releases annually, acknowledges that there are many more claims of innocent people killed than the military itself deems credible.

In Afghanistan, according to the report, the US military received 165 reports of civilian casualties related to operations in 2020. Of those, seven were deemed legitimate, resulting in approximately 20 civilian deaths and five injuries.

Airwars, by contrast, estimates that at least 89 civilians were killed and another 31 injured.

It often takes years for the US to admit civilian casualties occurred.

In November 2020, a spokesperson for US Central Command told Insider that an internal review found two civilians had indeed been injured from an airstrike in Yemen that took place some three years earlier.

In Somalia, the US also admitted last year to killing two civilians in a February 2019 airstrike after insisting for months that the victims were “terrorists.”

The latest report itself notes that an additional 65 civilians were killed between 2017 and 2019, with another 22 injured, beyond the numbers previously reported.

Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, accused the Biden administration of obscuring the full toll of US military operations.

“The grossly inadequate official accounting for the costs and consequences of the United States’ lethal actions abroad prevents meaningful public oversight and accountability for wrongful deaths and perpetual war policies,” Shamsi said. “Civilian victims, their families, and the American public deserve far better than this.”

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The Pentagon’s watchdog is going to investigate the military’s response to UFOs

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A still from the Navy footage of unidentified aerial phenomena.

  • The Defense Department’s inspector general is launching its own investigation into UFOs.
  • The inspector general’s evaluation is the latest inquiry into UFOs now underway in the Pentagon.
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The Defense Department’s inspector general is launching its own investigation into what the military calls “unidentified aerial phenomena” – better known as UFOs.

In an announcement Monday, the Office of Inspector General said that beginning this month, it will start evaluating “the extent to which the DoD has taken actions regarding unidentified aerial phenomena.”

A memo posted online said the IG will conduct the evaluation at the office of the secretary of Defense, military services, combatant commands, combat support agencies, Defense agencies and military criminal investigative organizations.

Randolph Stone, assistant inspector general for evaluations for space, intelligence, engineering and oversight, said in that memo that the objective may be revised as the evaluation proceeds, and that more locations to be evaluated may be identified.

The IG’s evaluation is now the latest inquiry into the potential existence of UFOs now underway in the Pentagon.

The fiscal 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, which was passed in December as part of a massive omnibus COVID-19 relief bill, contained a provision that ordered intelligence agencies and the Defense Department to report to lawmakers what they know about unidentified aerial phenomena within six months.

The Pentagon last August also launched a Navy-led task force to track down any encounters service members may have had with aerial objects that could pose a threat to national security.

That move came a few months after the Pentagon officially acknowledged three incidents reported by Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter pilots involving possible UFO sightings. And the Pentagon also confirmed and officially released videos of the incidents, one from November 2004 and two from January 2015, which had been leaked to the public years ago.

But contrary to what “The X-Files” taught us, the story behind military encounters with unidentified flying objects may be more mundane than extraterrestrial visits to Earth.

In April, the website The Drive published an investigation into aerial phenomena that concluded they are most likely drones or other unmanned aircraft, of varying levels of sophistication, that are spying on the US military’s capabilities.

– Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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Bernie Sanders expresses ‘serious concerns’ over Biden proposal for modest increase in Pentagon spending

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Sen. Bernie Sanders said he has “serious concerns” about the Biden administration’s defense spending proposal.

  • The Biden administration is asking Congress for $753 billion to fund US military operations.
  • That’s a slight uptick over last year.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders said he has “serious concerns” about spending money on a “bloated Pentagon.”
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The Biden administration is requesting $753 billion in spending on the US military in its first, $1.5 trillion budget blueprint, disappointing progressives and prompting “serious concerns” from the chairman of the Senate committee that will ultimately decide just how much to appropriate.

In a proposal released Friday, the White House requested a 1.7% increase in national security spending, including $715 billion for the Department of Defense. Accounting for inflation, that is roughly the same amount that Congress approved in 2020.

But liberal Democrats had been hoping for more. Last year, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus pushed for a 10% cut in defense spending, arguing that the money – over half of US discretionary spending – could be put to better use funding social programs, especially amid a pandemic.

‘A budget is about priorities’

Sen. Bernie Sanders said the request bothered him.

“I have serious concerns,” Sanders, an independent from Vermont who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, said in a statement Friday. “At a time when the US already spends more on the military than the next 12 nations combined, it is time for us to take a serious look at the massive cost over-runs, the waste and fraud that currently exists in the Pentagon.”

That concern was echoed by Sanders’ liberal colleague, Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in February.

“A budget is about priorities, and we continue to overinvest in defense while underinvesting in public health and so much more that would keep us safe and that would save lives,” Warren said.

That comment came during questioning of Dr. Kathleen Hicks, the Biden administration’s pick for deputy secretary of defense. Hicks, for her part, said the Pentagon could get by on less money, but that would require “hard choices” the White House does not appear willing to tackle in its first spending proposal.

In 2020, the Pentagon failed its audit for the third year in a row. It does not expect to pass a comprehensive review of its assets until at least 2027.

Biden administration defends proposal

A White House official, speaking on background with reporters on Friday, sought to assuage progressive critics.

“A large chunk of that increase is to pay for the pay raise for men and women in uniform and the civilians that support them,” they said.

According to the federal formula for military pay increases, service members should expect a 2.7% increase in their salary, the Military Times reported last December.

The Biden administration will release a more detailed spending proposal in the coming months.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Biden orders airstrikes against infrastructure used by ‘Iranian-backed militant groups’ in Syria

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A F18 Hornet fighter jet prepares to land on the deck of the US navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on May 8, 2018

  • The US launched airstrikes Thursday night against “Iranian-backed militant groups” in Syria.
  • The Defense Department said the strikes were carried out at the direction of President Joe Biden.
  • The strikes came after rocket attacks targeting US forces in Iraq.
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US President Joe Biden ordered the military to carry out airstrikes against the assets of “Iranian-backed militant groups” in Syria on Thursday evening, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The strikes come after militants last week fired rockets that hit an Iraqi airbase used by the US military. That attack killed a US military contractor and wounded nine others.

The Iranian government supports a number of militant groups in Iraq and Syria and has pledged continued retaliation for the January 2020 killing of its general, Qassim Suleimani. That assassination came after Iraqi militant groups, days earlier, had killed another US military contractor in a rocket attack.

Thursday’s strikes, according to defense officials, were primarily aimed at the militants’ “infrastructure,” not necessarily their personnel.

“Specifically, the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS),” the Pentagon said. The groups have deployed in Syria to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Tehran.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”

The incident comes as the Biden administration is also seeking to engage Iran in diplomacy as part of an effort to restore┬áthe 2015 nuclear deal scuttled by former President Donald Trump. Last week, the US State Department said it would attend multiparty talks “to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Defense Department pauses plan to offer COVID-19 vaccine to Guantanamo Bay prisoners after GOP criticism

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In this Wednesday, April 17, 2019 photo reviewed by U.S. military officials, the control tower is seen through the razor wire inside the Camp VI detention facility in Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba.

  • The Department of Defense is pausing a plan to offer COVID-19 vaccines to Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
  • The plan drew criticism from GOP lawmakers who said it prioritized terrorists.
  • Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the department is reviewing measures to keep troops safe.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Department of Defense is pausing a plan to offer COVID-19 vaccines to detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, made the announcement in a tweet Saturday, saying that no detainees at the prison have been vaccinated.

“We’re pausing the plan to move forward, as we review force protection protocols,” he said. “We remain committed to our obligations to keep our troops safe.”

The plan to offer vaccines to prisoners at Guantanamo was reported by The New York Times on Thursday.

Republican lawmakers criticized the announcement, saying that the plan was prioritizing terrorists over average Americans.

Read more: Vaccine inequity on Capitol Hill: Members of Congress got the shots but essential Hill workers are left waiting

Guantanamo Bay currently has 40 prisoners, according to the Times. One of them is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who has been accused of being the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.

“President Biden told us he would have a plan to defeat the virus on day 1. He just never told us that it would be to give the vaccine to terrorists before most Americans,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP leader in the House, said in a tweet Saturday morning.

McCarthy also tweeted the news that the plan would be paused, saying “Good.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York also criticized the plan in a tweet, calling it “inexcusable” and “un-American.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines encourage vaccinating correctional staff and incarcerated people at the same time to avoid outbreaks. The CDC also highlights the increased risk of becoming ill in a prison facility due to being inside in close quarters.

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