Civilian Casualties from U.S. Air War in Iraq and Syria Still on the Rise

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Sailors prepare to load ordnance onto a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, June 28, 2016.

Sailors prepare to load ordnance onto a Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, deployed in the Mediterranean Sea, June 28, 2016. Photo courtesy of DoD

NSP – As a new administration takes control, civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria are still on the rise and new data estimates between 2,932 and 4,041 non-combatant fatalities were reported in 2016.

Non-profit watchdog group AirWars has been monitoring airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and in the first month of 2017 there have been over 70 incidents in which airstrikes by coalition forces have potentially caused civilian causalities.

Almost everyday of 2017 there has been an airstrike by coalition or Russian planes that have caused an alleged civilian casualty event, with one of the few lulls happening on inauguration day, according to AirWars data.

During the final weeks of the Obama administration, airstrikes in against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant increased dramatically with 91 allegations of civilian casualties in Mosul, Iraq, since October 17. Thirty five of those allegations came from the first 17 days of 2017 as Iraqi forces closed in on eastern Mosul.

One report from January in Mosul, a coalition airstrike allegedly killed 11 members of the same family.

Non-existent Reporting

Most of the information comes from reports on the ground by local reporters or sources that work with groups such as AirWars or the Human Rights Watch.

“With reported fatalities from Coalition strikes at record levels we would have expected significant media engagement,” says Airwars Director Chris Woods in a statement by the organization. “Instead, anything beyond local reporting has been almost non-existent.”

The assault to retake Mosul was the largest military operation since WWII, according to the United Nations. More than 9,500 munitions were released during the 419 airstrikes that took place during the operation.

These totals, however, do not count munitions used by Iraqi Security Forces, according to AirWars.

The United States is the only nation of the 12-nation coalition that has admitted to civilian casualties despite more than 17,000 coalition strikes and 65,731 bombs and missiles dropped.

A Disturbing Correlation

Officials at AirWars are not the only group attempting to count the dead in Iraq and Syria. The United Nations was pressured to no longer publish it’s list of Iraqi Security Forces killed during the battle for Mosul.

Although the UN does not have an official count for the number of casualties, one UN official suggested that half of all combat fatalities in Iraq have taken place in Mosul.

ISIL is responsible for a large number of the deaths with indiscriminate mortar rounds pounding the city, even targeting civilians attempting to flee the city.

However, reporting by AirWars and others has shown a disturbing correlation of death tolls with increases in ground and air activity in the city.

AirWars spoke with Salam al Sultan, a Moslawi who resides in Canada who lost 11 members of his family in one particular airstrike. Sultan, who lost a brother in 2008 due to an ISIL execution spoke with AirWars over the phone about his experience.

Sultan’s family had already packed and was preparing to flee when coalition forces, battling ISIL snipers, struck their home, killing all inside, according to AirWars.

The airstrike occurred in December and Sultan wasn’t able to recover his family members bodies until January 14.

The United States is still the primary force behind the coalition dubbed Operation Inherent Resolve, conducting 13,708 of the total 17,554 strikes conducted in Iraq and Syria, according to Department of Defense data.

As of December 15, 2016, the total cost of operations since August 8, 2014, is $10.7 billion and the average daily cost is $12.5 million, according to the DoD

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