Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs/AFP/Getty Images

Report: Hundreds of civilians killed in US-led airstrikes on ISIL

Study by Airwars contradicts US authorities, who have confirmed only two civilian deaths

A new report by a nonprofit news project found that hundreds of civilians may have been killed in airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, contradicting U.S. authorities, who have acknowledged only two confirmed civilian deaths in the last year.

In 57 incidents, there were as many as 591 reported civilian deaths, according to Airwars, a not-for-profit project by a team of independent journalists. In the report, Airwars counted only deaths in which there was “sufficient publicly available evidence to indicate coalition responsibility.” In addition to noncombatant deaths, some 48 to 80 allied, or friendly, forces may have been killed, according to Airwars.

The Airwars reports said that, according to local news agencies and social media reports, the number of civilians killed is more than 1,000 but there was insufficient detail about those claims to include those deaths in its total.

U.S. Central Command has acknowledged only that U.S.-led airstrikes in the vicinity of Harem, Syria, against the Khorasan group of veteran Al-Qaeda operatives “likely led to the deaths of two noncombatant children.” That acknowledgment came seven months after the strikes.

Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said CENTCOM "does continue to look into allegations of civilian causalities further and investigates them where appropriate."

"If they find evidence supporting allegations of civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes, they make that information fully available," he said. "There are six civilian causality allegations that are currently being investigated in six separate investigations."

CENTCOM air commander Lt. Gen. John Hesterman recently stated, “Our coalition airstrikes are the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare. We’ve been able to impact the enemy in a significant way, and we do it in a way that minimizes civilian casualties, which our coalition nations rightly are very proud of.”

Casualties due to Coalition airstrikes, Aug 2014 to June 2015
Fatalities Incidents
Claimed civilians 459-1086 118
Reported civilians 459-591 57
Friendly forces 111-185 9
Source: Airwars

There have been more than 5,800 airstrikes and 18,000 bombs and missiles dropped since the coalition forces began bombing ISIL-held positions in Iraq on Aug. 8, 2014. Douglas Ollivant, a senior national security studies fellow at New America, said he believes the coalition “does the best it can to avoid civilian casualties.” But with thousands of airstrikes conducted so far, the low civilian casualty numbers reported by the U.S. and its allies are “not credible,” he said.

In the worst alleged case to date, dozens of civilians — the report says up to 70 non-combatants — were killed in an airstrike in Hawijah, Iraq on June 3. The Pentagon has said that it is investigating the incident.

Airwars director Chris Woods said the large discrepancy in the numbers of civilian casualties reported by the coalition and by independent monitoring groups and the long delay in acknowledging even the two civilian deaths in Syria “indicates a worrying lack of urgency on the part of all Coalition members regarding civilian deaths.”

The U.S.-led coalition provides a daily summary of its airstrikes and objective targets in Iraq and Syria, but Airwars says the data in those reports is ambiguous. Looking at those summaries, the report says, it is "impossible for affected civilians to determine which member of the 12-nation Coalition might have bombed them.”

Of the dozen member countries, only Canada consistently states the time and location of its airstrikes, according to Airwars. “Transparency remains vital from each of the participating nations, since each Coalition member is individually liable for any civilian deaths or injuries it causes,” Airwars states.

The report also acknowledges that many thousands more civilians have been killed by ISIL, by other armed groups and by the Syrian or Iraqi governments. But the report concludes that “the Coalition’s near-total denial of having caused civilian casualties continues to damage its own credibility.”

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