How many is too many? State Dept says calculus for civilian casualties exists, but won’t disclose it
On Sunday, US warplanes bombed a bank in Mosul that was considered a hub of Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) financial operations, housing the cash used to fund operations and pay the group’s fighters. US military officials said they were willing to tolerate up to 50 civilian deaths for such a high-value target, according to a CNN report.
“In recent weeks, the US has said it will assess all targets on a case-by-case basis and may be more willing to tolerate civilian casualties for more significant targets,” CNN noted.
During a State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner admitted the US military had a “calculus” for determining the maximum number of acceptable civilian deaths when carrying out airstrikes on important targets. He refused, however, to answer any questions asking about the specifics involved or disclose any figures.
“We seek to minimize civilian casualties in any kind of military action or airstrike that we take,” Toner said, adding that when US strikes do kill civilians, “there is accountability.” As an example, he brought up the October attack on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. However, the US military offered several conflicting versions of what had happened before admitting the attack took place, eventually blaming “human error.”
“These are very difficult processes and very difficult decisions to make,” he said.
In recent weeks, representatives of the State Department have accused Russian airstrikes of inflicting “excessive” and “disturbing” civilian casualties, citing unspecified non-governmental organizations in Syria.
When asked to specify the number of civilian deaths that would qualify as “excessive” or “disturbing” in the eyes of the State Department, Toner refused to answer.
“What we’ve seen as a result of Russian airstrikes that’ve been carried out in Syria thus far are what appeared to be excessive civilian casualties,” Toner said. “I am not going to give you a certain number.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted that claims of civilian deaths appeared in the Western media even before the first Russian plane took off from their base in Syria on September 30 of last year.
The head of Russia’s Air and Space Forces has categorically denied any targeting of civilians.
“Not a single time did my pilots hit any ‘no-go’ sensitive targets such as schools, hospitals, mosques or holy sites,” Colonel-General Viktor Bondarenko told Rossiya 24 in December.