14 more civilians dead in anti-ISIL air war
WASHINGTON — The U.S.-led air war against Islamic State militants in Iraq and
Syria has killed 14 more civilians, raising the confirmed death toll for non-combatants to 55 since bombing began in 2014.
The military on Thursday released the results of investigations into six airstrikes from July 2015 to April that determined 14 civilians had been inadvertently killed and one wounded in the bombing runs.
The Pentagon has acknowledged that its more aggressive prosecution of the war since last October meant that it had accepted the risk of additional civilian deaths in order to defeat fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIL. USA TODAY first reported that the authority for approving riskier bombing missions had been delegated from the higher headquarters of U.S. Central Command to top officials in Baghdad. Commanders there had pressed for the authority in order to strike fleeting targets.
In addition to the 55 dead, 29 civilians have been wounded accidentally in the war, according to Air Force Capt. Michele Rollins, a Central Command spokeswoman.
Those numbers are almost certain to rise. Late Thursday, Central Command announced that an attack earlier in the day may have killed civilians. And on Wednesday the military acknowledged that it was looking into two airstrikes near the disputed Syrian city of Manbij within the last 10 days. Warplanes have pounded the city with more than 520 airstrikes in support of Syrian fighters seeking to take the city, a key entry point for foreign fighters.
The military has launched an investigation based on intelligence it has collected as well as media and social media reports, according to Army Col. Chris Garver, a spokesman based in Baghdad. Estimates in the media show a broad range of civilians killed from 10 to more than 70, he said.
In all, Central Command has three ongoing investigations into credible claims of civilian casualties.
The results of completed investigations announced Thursday reflect the civilian toll of the more aggressive campaign. Last fall, commanders began striking financial targets to squeeze ISIL’s ability to fund its operations. An airstrike on an ISIL “financial storage” facility on April 5 was found to have killed three civilians.
“In each of the cases released today, the assessment determined that although all precautions were taken and the strikes complied with laws of armed conflict, civilian casualties unfortunately did occur,” according to a statement from Central Command.
Planners take pains to avoid killing or wounding civilians. They do so by using the least-lethal bombs and missiles to destroy a target, or attacking banks for example at night. ISIL fighters, however, have been known to use human shield to deter attacks.
The expanded authority to strike ISIL targets permits strikes with the potential to kill or wound several civilians if those attacks prevent fighters from causing greater mayhem. Before the change, many targets had what is known a non-combatant value of zero, meaning no strikes could occur if a civilian was at risk of being killed. That value was raised to 10 civilians in certain locations for a limited period. The riskiest missions require approval from the White House.