The Pentagon's transparency in its fight against overseas extremists is being questioned after a Military Times investigation revealed perhaps thousands of secret airstrikes in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria were never publicly disclosed. The US Air Force has an open-source database tapped by Congress, analysts, and others to figure out how costly war is, both on the financial and human fronts. But, per the Times investigation, nearly 460 Afghanistan airstrikes were carried out in 2016 by US combat aircraft, strikes that weren't included in the database. Another major discrepancy, among others: A public Pentagon report on Iraq and Syria strikes has apparently left out 6,000 or so strikes since 2014. US Central Command, which supervises engagement in those three countries, isn't sure yet how long these omissions have occurred and couldn't give the Times a full accounting of all airstrikes.
These findings have critics worrying the military either hasn't been forthcoming or has been sloppy on other data as well, including how many service members have been lost; what the fight against ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and related offshoots is costing US taxpayers; and what our real progress against these groups is. But one US military official tells the Times that while some of the tracking omissions are "really weird," it's "unequivocally" not an attempt at subterfuge. "That is just the way it has been tracked in the past," the official says. And another Army official at the senior level notes some close-to-ground maneuvers shouldn't really be classified as airstrikes. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, says, security reasons aside, "facts regarding the number of airstrikes and their civilian toll should always be disclosed promptly and faithfully." (Read more airstrikes stories.)