Washington Investigates Reports of Civilian Deaths in US Bombings of Syrian Cities — After Obama ‘Loosens Standards on Killing Civilians’

January 7th, 2015 - by admin

Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Richard Sisk / Military.com & Reuters – 2015-01-07 00:45:16

Pentagon Investigating ‘Credible’ Incidents of Civilian Casualties in ISIS Strikes

Pentagon Investigating ‘Credible’ Incidents of Civilian Casualties in ISIS Strikes
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(January 6, 2015) — Pentagon spokesman Admiral John Kirby confirmed today that the military is investigating multiple “credible” incidents of civilian casualties in US airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq.

It has been suggested the investigation was focused around Syria, as the comments centered around reports of casualties in ISIS territory in and around Raqqa.

This is a major shift from the Pentagon, which had previously insisted all reports of civilian casualties were false, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Centcom insisted that they are still probing only two airstrikes, one in Syria and one in Iraq, and that they had dismissed all the other reports of civilian deaths as false. They insisted the overall toll was “fewer than five.”

The Pentagon had declined to offer any figures on the number of people killed in the airstrikes. Several reports of US airstrikes involved them killing a large number of civilians, though its unclear if these were even investigated.

At any rate, the Obama Administration had relaxed its standards for killing civilians in overseas conflicts explicitly for the ISIS war, because given the extreme lack of intelligence on sites being attacked in Iraq and Syria, it is expected that a number of civilians would be slain.

US Investigating Civilian Casualties in Airstrikes Against ISIS
Richard Sisk / Military.com

(January 6, 2015) — The Pentagon gave its most upbeat assessment to date Tuesday on progress in the fight against ISIS while acknowledging for the first time that US Central Command was investigating “credible” incidents of civilian casualties from airstrikes.

US military officials have previously disputed reports of airstrikes killing civilians from human rights and Syrian opposition groups, but Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said that CentCom was now looking into several “credible allegations of possible civilian casualties” from the airstrikes.

At a Pentagon briefing, Kirby was not specific on where or when the incidents occurred, other than to say that CentCom was investigating allegations made in recent weeks.

“We’re very mindful” of the impact that so-called collateral damage can have on efforts to defeat insurgencies following the previous US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kirby said. “It matters to us” to avoid civilian casualties, Kirby said.

More than 1,600 US and coalition airstrikes, combined with support for Iraqi national security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, have put Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters on the defensive following their advances into northern and western Iraq last summer, Kirby said. [Read full article online at: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/01/06/us-investigating-civilian-casualties-in-airstrikes-against-isi.html

US Loosens Standards on Killing Civilians
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com

(September 30, 2014) — The Obama Administration’s previous promises not to launch drone strikes unless there is a “near certainty” that the strike won’t kill any civilians, much publicized in the lead up to the new ISIS war, doesn’t apply to US strikes in Iraq or Syria, according to Centcom.

The “near certainty” standard was meant to apply “only when we take direct action outside areas of active hostilities,” according to Centcom spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, who says that the war with ISIS doesn’t count.

The US has often played fast and loose with that standard at any rate, routinely killing civilians in Pakistan and Yemen in areas most assured “outside areas of active hostilities.” Nevertheless, one shudders to think how much worse the civilian toll in Iraq and Syria will be, with officials openly saying that nominal care they’re supposed to take doesn’t apply.

US strikes, particularly in Syria, have killed a number of civilians already, with two confirmed civilian deaths yesterday when US warplanes attacked grain silos in ISIS-held territory. Though the Pentagon is officially denying any deaths, today’s Centcom comments clearly lay the groundwork for an admission of guilt, and a position of formal ambivalence about the civilians the military is killing.

The more fast-and-loose definition of care may mirror the US occupation of Afghanistan, where airstrikes have routinely killed large numbers of civilians, and incidents of scores and even hundreds of civilians slain in botched strikes are not unheard of.

It also makes the weekend admonition by the Red Cross for the US to take care that it abides by international bans against targeting civilians and medical personnel all the more important, as their checkered track record of doing that in past wars seems to be the template they’re applying to the new conflict.

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