US admits anti-ISIS airstrikes killed civilians in Syria, Iraq

© Kai Pfaffenbach
US Central Command (CENTCOM) has confirmed that four airstrikes in Syria and Iraq last year “likely” resulted in five dead and eight injured civilians. However, the official figures fall far short of claims made by independent observers.

According to CENTCOM, a “preponderance of evidence” suggests that civilian casualties occurred in four separate airstrikes aimed at Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets in Iraq and Syria between July 27 and October 15 of last year.

“In all of the cases released today, assessments determined that although the strikes complied with the law of armed conflict and all appropriate precautions were taken, civilian casualties unfortunately did occur,” CENTCOM said in a statement. “We deeply regret the unintentional loss of life and injuries resulting from those strikes and express our deepest sympathies to the victims' families and those affected.”

The deadliest of the four strikes took place on August 13 in Raqqa, which IS claims as its capital city. While going after Junaid Hussain, described as the terror group’s “cyber-operative,” US warplanes killed three civilians and injured five. 

On September 24 near Sinjar, Iraq, an air attack targeting an IS member on a motorcycle killed two civilians when their vehicle “approached after weapons were in flight,” CENTCOM said.

One civilian was injured in a July 27 strike near Ash Sharqat, Iraq, and two more were injured on October 15 near Tal Afar in Iraq during a strike against IS Sharia Judge Mullah Maysar. 

Earlier this month, following an attack on an IS bank in Mosul, the Pentagon said it was weighing the cost in civilian lives against the benefit of taking out high-value targets. US officials declined to divulge any details about what they called their “calculus.”

Until recently, CENTCOM had only acknowledged civilian casualties in two out of the estimated 9,800 strikes targeting the terror group in Syria and Iraq. The official count is much lower than figures put forth by independent observers, such as Airwars, which says there have been 135 events in which civilians were killed, and the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which claimed in November of 2015 that there had been 225 civilian deaths since September of 2014. 

There was no mention of a December 2015 strike on Al-Khan in eastern Syria in which Western sources said 27 civilians died, while Syrian sources put the number of dead at 34, with 17 wounded. IS forces ended up taking the village despite the attack.