Uncounted civilian causalities in US aerial war against Daesh

26th Jan 2018
Uncounted civilian causalities in US aerial war against Daesh

Smoke rising from the Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following the US-led coalition airstrikes against Daesh on October 14, 2014 (Photo: Murat Kula/ Anadolu Agency)

Hamed Chapman

The US claims that the anti-Daesh air war in Iraq and Syria is the most precise aerial campaign in the history of warfare has been disputed by an on-the-ground investigation of nearly 150 bomb sites.

Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal from the New York Times Magazine toured wreckage sites across northern Iraq and they interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials not long after the so-called Islamic State (Daesh) were evicted.

Their findings, published in an article entitled ‘The Uncounted’, contradicted official versions of the sheer destruction and exposed a huge gap in the tally of civilian deaths compared with the numbers reported by the Pentagon.

“One in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the (US-led) coalition,” Khan said. “It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”

The New York Times journalists also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign and where they were given access to the main operations floor and were allowed to interview senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts.

Khan said there was a “consistent failure” by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. “Many of the civilian deaths we documented appeared to be the result of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants.”

Their story is one of faulty intelligence making wrong-headed assumptions that have decimated innocent lives and embitter survivors. It is a story about how a legal and bureaucratic fog can make it almost impossible for tragic mistakes to come to light as if they never happened.

“In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proven innocent,” Khan said. “Those who survive the strikes remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.”

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