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Over 3,000 Iraqi and Syrian civilians killed by US-led airstrikes

23rd Jun 2017
Over 3,000 Iraqi and Syrian civilians killed by US-led airstrikes

33 civilians were killed by US-led airstrikes on Maysaloun school in Raqqa, Syria on May 22 (Photo: Twitter @Raqqa_SL)

Nadine Osman

At least 3,100 civilians were killed by US-led airstrikes (from August 2014 to March 2017), according to data compiled by Airwars.org, a nonprofit group that tracks reports of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria.

The news comes as UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a strike in Tabqah near Raqqa in Northern Syria targeted a school that was serving as a home for at least 50 families displaced by fighting in the area had killed at least 33 civilians on May 22.

A spokesman for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, Joseph Scrocca, initially said he had received “no indication” that the airstrike had killed civilians.However, the Pentagon admitted US aircraft were operating in the vicinity but, according to Pentagon spokesman, Eric Pahon, the military is having a hard time rectifying the location of the building that was targeted.

Airwars says Russian airstrikes, which have bombarded rebel-held areas in Syria since 2015, are probably responsible for thousands more civilian deaths. Airwars data showed a significant jump in the number of reported deaths from US-led airstrikes in the first three months of 2017.

Much of the increase in the Airwars data coincided with the operations to retake Mosul, Iraq, the ISIS largest stronghold, and Raqqa.

The increase has also led some human rights groups to question whether changes in procedure are responsible. In December, under President Barack Obama, some US and allied advisers in the field were authorised to call in airstrikes in Iraq without approval from an operations centre. President Trump has also shifted more authority over military operations to the Pentagon.

Human Rights Watch, Lama Fakih, said changes “making it easier to call in airstrikes will almost necessarily afford civilians fewer protections from being injured or killed.”

Airwars also identified additional “contested” episodes that resulted in 2,700 civilian deaths. These were events in which US-led airstrikes may have had some role in the deaths.

About a million civilians were thought to be living in Mosul when operations to retake the city, Iraq’s second most populous and the largest to have been under Daesh control, began in October. At the time, Iraqi officials encouraged residents not to flee the city.

A large majority of deaths there happened after Iraqi forces entered the dense urban terrain of the city’s western neighbourhoods in mid-February. More than 1,000 deaths were reported there in March.

As Iraqi forces advance, their requests for airstrikes must be approved by US commanders.

US -backed militia fighters in Syria have been advancing toward Raqqa with heavy support from US and coalition airstrikes since November.

The battles here are happening in areas that are less populated than Mosul. Still, Raqqa Province has had a quarter of all recorded instances of civilian deaths from US or coalition airstrikes.

On March 17, a US airstrike on Mosul destroyed a building in the Jidideh neighbourhood of Mosul, killing more than a hundred civilians who were inside making it one of the deadliest US air strikes ever in Iraq.

US officials said that while an airstrike did hit the building, it was not enough to cause the building to collapse. They said the strike had set off explosives that ISIS fighters had placed in the building, contributing to the high death count.

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