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12 Daily Casualties in Trump's Air Strikes Against IS: Report

  • Relatives near the bodies of civilians killed in air strike, during a battle between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State group, in Mosul, Iraq, March 17, 2017.

    Relatives near the bodies of civilians killed in air strike, during a battle between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State group, in Mosul, Iraq, March 17, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 18 July 2017

U.S. Defense Secretary has denied that there was a change to the rules of engagement to allow for more "collateral damage."

A new report by the watchdog organization Airwars claims nearly 2,300 civilians have been killed by the U.S-led Coalition raids in Iraq and Syria since the U.S. President Donald Trump's inauguration in January.

That equals 12 or more daily fatalities and almost 360 casualties per month in the fight against the Islamic State group.

US Coalition Killed 744 Iraqi, Syrian Civilians in June: Report

Belkis Wille, the Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Daily Beast, “Remarkably, when I interview families at camps who have just fled the fighting, the first thing they complain about is not the three horrific years they spent under ISIS, or the last months of no food or clean water, but the American airstrikes." 

“Many told me that they survived such hardship, and almost made it out with the families, only to lose all their loved ones in a strike before they had time to flee," he said. 

Following the announcement in late March that the airstrikes may have killed nearly 200 civilians, the U.S. Central Command stated it was investigating reports that the coalition airstrikes killed dozens of civilians in Mosul, Iraq. 

According to the Daily Beast, policy-related changes have played a significant role in the rise of civilian deaths.  

On Trump's request, James Mattis, the U.S. Defense Secretary, delivered a new war plan to the White House.

At the same time Airwars began tracking a sharp incline in reported civilian fatalities from U.S.-led strikes against IS. 

After Trump took office in January, one of the first moves by he ordered was a new plan to be drawn up to counter the Islamic State gruop. And a recommendation to make “changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS.” 

“Two significant changes resulted from President Trump’s reviews of our findings,” said Mattis at a May 19 meeting of the anti-ISIS Coalition, “First, he (Trump) delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities. Second, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS.” 

Trump also demanded the Pentagon take a fresh look at protections for civilians on the battlefield except those specifically required by international law. 

Syrian Observatory Claims Islamic State Group Leader Is Dead

Airwars tracks local Iraqi and Syrian media and social media sources to monitor civilian casualty reports, after which it makes a provisional assessment of how many were killed. 

But the U.S.-led alliance has contested many of the allegations tracked by the watchdog, and its researchers are currently engaging with the Coalition to assess these incidents.

Mattis denied that there was a change to the rules of engagement to allow for more "collateral damage," despite admitting that military action had became more focused on densely populated areas. He blamed ISIS for trapping civilians in combat areas. 

However, Ned Price, the spokesman for the National Security Council under the Obama administration, told the Daily Beast that the recent reports strongly suggested a change in the rules of engagement.

“There is a tremendous disconnect between what we’ve heard from senior military officials who are saying there has been no change in the rules of engagement and clearly what we are seeing on the ground,” Price said. 

“The rise in allegations is attributable to the change in location of Iraqi operations against ISIS, not strategy,” said Coalition spokesperson Col. Joe Scrocca. “East Mosul was much less populated than west Mosul and the infrastructure is more modern and more dispersed. The month of March saw the start of ISF operations in the much more densely packed west Mosul. West Mosul has many more people, is much more densely populated, and the infrastructure is much older and more tightly packed." 

“In regard to Syria, where previous to March, the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] was predominantly operating in sparsely populated terrain, strikes increases is attributed to Coalition support to SDF operations to liberate Tabqah and isolate Raqqah,” he added. 

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