According to The Washington Post, the U.S. military is investigating credible reports of civilian casualties in its campaign against Islamic State militants. On Tuesday, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said this is a shift after months in which defense officials said they were aware of none.
Since the airstrikes began on August 8, the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State has carried out approximately 1,400 strikes, including some in urban areas. The eighteen reports of civilian casualties, nine from Syria and nine from Iraq, came from several different sources. They included internal reviews, unit self-reporting, media reports, non-governmental organizations and other U.S. government agencies like the State Department.
Kirby stated that the U.S. Central Command is leading the investigation. So far, CENTCOM officials are looking into the credibility of 18 separate allegations of coalition airstrikes resulting in civilian casualties. Of these occurrences that happened between August 8 and December 30, they have determined 13 were not credible.
However, two from late December have been determined to be credible and there are still others under review. Army Maj. Curtis J. Kellogg, a CENTCOM spokesman stated that the review of the other three allegations are still in the initial phases.
“The key to any allegation is whether sufficient verifiable information is available to make a determination,” Kellogg said. “A source is generally deemed to be credible if the source provides verifiable information, such as corroborating statements, photographs or documentation that can help us determine whether an allegation is founded.”
Any proven civilian casualties could raise new questions on how the United States is carrying out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
The Washington Post reported that Army Lt. Gen. James Terry, the top commander of the task force overseeing operations in Iraq and Syria, told reporters December 18 that he was unaware of any civilian casualties. He said the coalition is deliberate in efforts to avoid them, citing a desire to avoid a “bad situation” in which Iraqi security forces or tribesmen working with the Iraqi government are hit.
“We bring the right people into that to actually help us identify units, and then what we call deconflict of fires and the clearance of fires, so there are Iraqis in the process when we do all this,” Terry said, speaking of the coordination with Iraqi military and U.S. surveillance capabilities in order to carry out the airstrikes without civilian casualties.