WASHINGTON — The United States has killed 119 civilians in Iraq and Syria since it began military operations against the Islamic State there in 2014, military officials said Wednesday.
In each case, the American military followed the proper procedures and it did not violate laws of armed conflict, officials said.
“Significant precautions were taken, despite the unfortunate outcome,” said Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for United States Central Command, which oversees American military operations in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
“In most every case, when we determined there may have been civilian casualties from one of our airstrikes, we are choosing to list the largest number of possible civilian casualties,” he said. “In cases where we just don’t have the investigative resources or evidence to determine precisely how many people may have died, we went with the worst-case number to ensure a full accounting.”
Human rights activists over the summer accused the United States of killing scores of civilians during operations against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in northern Syria. Around the same time, Central Command put in place a new process for examining allegations that its strikes had caused civilian casualties.
As part of that review, the military investigated 257 allegations of civilian casualties and deemed 31 of them credible, according to military officials.
According to information made public Wednesday, there were at least 24 airstrikes in the past year that caused civilian casualties. In June, there were six, the highest number of any month. On June 15, a strike near Kisik, Iraq, on an Islamic State weapons storage facility is believed to have killed six civilians, military officials said. That same day, a strike near Mosul, Iraq, injured two people after they entered “the target area after the aircraft released its weapon,” according to the review.
American military commanders have said that as forces move closer to the most populated areas in Iraq and Syria controlled by the Islamic State, there are likely to be more civilian casualties. The commanders also said that Islamic State fighters had increased their use of so-called human shields to avoid being struck as they fled.
“It’s a key tenant of the counter-ISIL air campaign that we do not want to add to the tragedy of the situation by inflicting addition suffering,” Colonel Thomas said. “Sometimes, civilians bear the brunt of military action, but we do all we can to minimize those occurrences even at the cost of sometimes missing the chance to strike valid targets in real time.”
(via NY Times)