Recent reports out of ISIS’ final Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, indicate at least 100 civilians died in airstrikes almost certainly carried out by the US-led coalition’s air campaign against the terror group.
While the Pentagon denies loosening its rules of engagement, an Associated Press report from last month quotes spokesman for the US-led coalition, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, as saying that US operators no longer need to clear airstrikes with a Baghdad office, empowering coalition forces to call in airstrikes easier.
Further reporting from Business Insider indicated that though the rules of engagement had not changed, procedures leading up to strikes had, so now Iraqi, or any coalition forces on the ground have a freer hand to call in air strikes.
This adjustment in tactics seems to have had grave results.
“Eyewitnesses from Mosul and Iraqi officials have said last week’s strike on Islamic State targets may have collapsed homes where rescue officials say as many as 200 people were buried in the rubble,” Reuters reported.
An Amnesty International report gathered local reports of scores more civilians being killed in their homes after being told by Iraqi officials not to flee, in what they called a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.”
But when confronted with mounting evidence about the troubling trend, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis did not deny or demure; rather he gave a circumspect response.
“There is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties,” Mattis told Reuters reporters in Qatar.
“We go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people. The same cannot be said for our adversaries,” he said.
Mattis’ statement stands up to initial scrutiny. The US almost exclusively uses precision guided munitions, which can be used to greatly reduce civilian casualties when coupled with accurate intelligence.
Compare the US’s swift admission to airstrikes in ISIS-held Iraq that killed dozens of civilians to a Russian general claiming in March 2016 that “not a single bombing raid missed the target,” at a time when Russian warplanes supporting the Syrian regime had been linked to bombing hospitals.
Writing for Duke University’s Lawfire blog, retired US Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr said that “the grim truth is that given ISIS tactics, civilians will die in the effort to crush the terrorists.”
Dunlap cited a coalition spokesman as saying that ISIS uses “inhuman tactics [of] terrorizing civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighbourhoods.”
For this reason, Dunlap says we must accept the sad truth and expect more civilian casualties will result from the campaign against ISIS.
But also expect the US to be more accountable than any other nation when it comes to reconciling and making reparations to civilian victims of US strikes against ISIS.
Reuters reports that the Pentagon will review 700 hours of footage taken over a 10-day period to determine if and when mistakes were made.
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