Civilian death toll rises in US air war against Islamic State

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 November, 2016, 2:41pm

US warplanes probably killed 59 civilians and injured five over seven months this year during the daily bombardment of Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria, where fighters are often mixed among civilians, according to the Pentagon.

The US military’s assessment on Wednesday was the largest admission of responsibility for killing civilians since the Obama administration launched its air war against Islamic State in 2014.

The admitted civilian death toll from US airstrikes now stands at 119, according to the Pentagon. But independent monitors say many more have been killed by errant bombs or poor targeting.

The military issued a two-page release that summarised its findings, not the actual investigations.

Many of the airstrikes, which took place between March 5 and September 10, were blamed on civilians “entering the target area” after a fighter jet or bomber had released a weapon.

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Nearly half those killed were in or around Mosul, the densely populated Iraqi city that is now under siege by Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by US air power.

“We have teams who work full time to prevent unintended civilian casualties,” Colonel John Thomas, a military spokesman, said in a statement. “We do not want to add to the tragedy of the situation by inflicting addition suffering.”

Syrian opposition activists, human rights groups and humanitarian aid groups insist that the Pentagon has vastly underestimated the number of civilians killed or wounded.

The organisations, which rely on witnesses, estimate that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in the 16,000 airstrikes launched by the US and its allies since the air war began in September 2014.

Amnesty International, for example, issued a detailed report last month that found coalition air attacks it had examined had killed about 300 civilians.

“Even today’s acknowledgment is a case of selective disclosure, with (the Department of Defense) holding back information necessary to assess its conclusion that the strikes were lawful and all necessary precautions were taken,” said Naureen Shah, an official at the group.

The military said it has received 249 allegations of incidents where one or more civilians died in the air war against Islamic State — 179 of which were deemed not credible.