ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United Kingdom, Belgium, and France underreported the number of civilian casualties caused by their military involvement in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), a war monitor has said.
An investigation by Airwars, in conjunction with the BBC, Libération, De Morgen, and RTL Netherlands found that mechanisms used by these militaries to assess civilian harm were not fit for purpose.
“Airwars is calling for a major review by European powers of their approach to civilian harm assessments,” its report said.
The investigation found 11 separate incidents in 2017 and 2018 involving the death of at least 40 Syrian and Iraqi civilians which these European powers never claimed responsibility for, despite US military personnel finding credibility within the accusations.
Airwars, an independent war monitor, says it cross referenced the US Department of Defense’s May 2019 report to Congress on civilian deaths caused by US military action with deaths claimed by the Combined Joint Task Force and found “eleven civilian harm incidents which had not publicly been admitted by any US ally”.
The monitor then collaborated with news agencies from European nations participating in the coalition to investigate each respective nation’s involvement in these 11 cases.
On the United Kingdom’s criteria for assessing civilian deaths, the Airwars report said: “In effect, the UK has set the burden of proof so high that it is almost impossible for the MoD to reach a determination of civilian casualties – even when its most powerful ally the US concludes the exact opposite, critics say.”
The global coalition to defeat ISIS was formed in 2014 following the territorial expansion of the terrorist group into Syria and Iraq. ISIS was territorially defeated in Iraq in December 2017 and in Syria in March 2019.
Remnants of the group and its sophisticated network of sleeper cells continue to launch insurgent attacks on civilians and local security forces, operating with near impunity in remote areas disputed between federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
While the US-led coalition dubs its operations “the most precise in history”, civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria have been widely reported by locals and human rights groups alike.
The coalition estimates its operations in the war against ISIS caused the death of 1,370 civilians. Airwars puts the figure much higher at between 8,253 and 13,152 civilian deaths.
The Pentagon is slated to disclose its latest figures on civilian casualties caused by US military action to Congress in six weeks.