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Report: 1 in 5 US airstrikes resulted in Iraqi civilian casualties

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve April 5, 2016. The New York Times Magazine reported Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, that far more civilians have been killed in airstrikes than officials have acknowledged.

COREY HOOK/U.S. AIR FORCE

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 17, 2017

U.S. airstrikes in Iraq may be far less precise than officials claim, perhaps killing civilians 31 times more than the military’s reports acknowledge, a recent news investigation has found.

Reporters from The New York Times Magazine, examining a sample of nearly 150 coalition airstrikes carried out between August 2014 and December 2016 against the Islamic State group, found that 1 in 5 resulted in at least one civilian death.

According to the 18-month investigation, published online on Thursday, the U.S.-led coalition’s data showed that just 89 of more than 14,000 of its airstrikes in Iraq — about one in 157 strikes — caused a civilian casualty. That figure excludes artillery strikes.

The coalition data are based on post-strike reviews to assess the credibility of civilian casualty reports. The military has acknowledged that some civilian deaths are unavoidable, such as when a civilian enters a target area after a bomb has been released. It often describes the air campaign as one of the most precise in history.

About one-third of the civilian deaths the reporters investigated were due to instances when civilians were near legitimate ISIS targets.

But for nearly half of them, they could find no ISIS target nearby. Those strikes appeared to be the result of flawed or obsolete intelligence, despite the coalition’s rigorous attempts to avoid such incidents, the Times reported.

The reporters also charge that the coalition failed to conduct proper investigations or lacked the records needed for such investigations. For example, despite coalition claims to have 100 percent accountability for all its strikes, the reporters uncovered several instances in which the coalition posted video of a strike for which it later said historical logs showed no strike had been conducted or had been conducted elsewhere.

Such discrepancies likely affect the coalition’s civilian casualty accounting. It often dismisses civilian casualty reports on the grounds that there is no record of a strike at a given time or place.

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland

 

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Jesse Faber, a battle captain assigned the 82nd Airborne Division, watches his monitor for updates from clearance operations in Ramadi, Iraq, Iraq, Dec. 30, 2015. The New York Times Magazine reported Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, that far more civilians have been killed in airstrikes than officials have acknowledged.
WILLIAM REINIER/U.S. ARMY

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