This site claims that, in modern warfare, about 3 civilians are killed for every combatant killed.

This concept can be scientifically proven by understand (sic) the basic concept of “civilian casualty ratio”, that is in every conflict you need to look at the number of civilian causalities versus the number of combatant causalities. This ratio obviously differs from conflict to conflict, but the average in modern day warfare is between 3-4:1. Estimated ratios in NATO operations in Afghanistan were 3:1, western campaigns in Iraq and Kosovo were believed to be 4:1, and the conflicts in Chechnya and Serbia were much higher than 4:1. That is to say that for each combatant that is killed 3-4 or more civilians are killed.

They then compare this statistic favorably to Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense, in which the civilian casualty ratio was about 1:1 (i.e. much more focussed on avoiding civilian deaths).

I had a bit of trouble finding the specific UN statement to which they referred.

Can anybody here please determine whether that statement is accurate?

  • I am sure they are talking about the modern "wars", not just war in general. Militant is also a difficult to define term. When are they militant, and when are they just enemy soldiers? I am sure many civilian casualty has gone down in the statistics as "militant". Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 8:13
  • I don't know what statistic they're using in general, but when counting Hamas, they use armed members of Hamas (e.g. the army or the police that also participate in the war, etc.).
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 8:34
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    I am sorry that I don't believe the statistics of the IDF, just like I don't believe the statistics of the Pentagon, just like I don't trust the statistics of my own government when it comes to such sensitive subjects. I am sure they have come up with some number that seems agreeable to the public. Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 9:09
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    @Hendrik which is pretty much Skeptics.SE raison d'etre, right?
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 9:36
  • Avi, perhaps @Coomie's point is that you are making a bold claim that Israel is "transparent" and "egalitarian", without providing any references to support that. Unless you want us to look into an unreferenced claim, you should be careful about making it. I am about to edit the question; I will take the opportunity to lose that part.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 9:45

2 Answers 2


Well, just looking at the Wikipedia page for Civilian Casualty Ratio there is a special section for the Israel-Palestine conflict.

This is where it gets murky.

In 2006 and 2007 according to the government this Ratio was 1:4 (one civilian for each militant), according to Haaretz this was closer to 1:2

But with airstrikes by the Israeli airforce in 2002-2003 this was 1:1, but improved to 1:30 by 2008.

The official Israeli ration for the war in Gaza was 1:3, a more critical Israeli organization B'Tselem (NGO) claimes 3:2.

So these figures are hard to call truly reliable, but they won't be of that much.

But, the page ends with a UN figure, which supports the 3:1 claim, and makes it "official":

The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to-one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed. That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia. In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.”

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    For which numbers are you using civilians:militants and for which are you using militants:civilians? Could you normalize to civiliants:militants, as that's what the original IDF number was?
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 10:08
  • Also, which numbers are global ratios and which ones are within Israel's operations?
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 10:15
  • All numbers are Israeli-Palestine conflict numbers. But, the UN quote where it states 3:1 ratio, which is what the IDF was referring to as well is a global and current number. Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 11:03
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    Rather than quoting the unreliable Wikipedia, it would be better to quote from its sources.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 14:17
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    Ah, the secret trick isn't to merely LIST the sources from Wikipedia, which adds little, but to CHECK them.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 20:47

The statistics for the IDF missions are only favorable if you agree with IDF's definition of a combatant.

In case of "Operation Cast Lead", IDF operates with 1166 casualties, of which at least 709 were combatants (appr. 0.5 civilian per combatant). The numbers from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights are very different: They count 1417 casualties, of which 236 were combatants (appr. 5 civilians per combatant).

  • Police officers are fighters. Recalculate.
    – Publius
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 11:54
  • Also, the PCHR lies about people killed. They say that some militants are innocent children.
    – Publius
    Commented Feb 3, 2013 at 12:12
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    Hamas themselves admitted to 700 casualties. So Israel's figures for 700 combatant deaths were right, and the human rights organisations were wrong. haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/… "Hamas admitted last week that between 600 and 700 of its militants were killed during Operation Cast Lead – a figure consistent with that reported by the Israel Defense Forces. The figure is several times higher than the previous number of fatalities that Hamas claimed it sustained during the operation."
    – barlop
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 11:01
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    and in Goldstone's reconsideration in his washington post article, he said "The Israeli military’s numbers have turned out to be similar to those recently furnished by Hamas (although Hamas may have reason to inflate the number of its combatants)."
    – barlop
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 11:02
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    Hamas has a standing policy of presenting its fighters' casualties as civilians when delivered to hospitals/morgues. There was reporting on that in 2014 as well. There was also statistical analysis by BBC that clearly and unequivocally showed that "civilian" casualties were hugely demographically disproportionate to civilian demographics in Gaza, indicating that Hamas fighters were presented as "civilians" in death tallies. That is not unexpected when one considers that Hamas violates Geneva convention by not having its military wear uniforms in the first place.
    – user21713
    Commented Aug 18, 2014 at 10:30

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