[11/10/16] The number of civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria is more than double the previous estimate, U.S. Central Command said on Wednesday, after reexamining its air campaign based on allegations from activist groups.
The announcement of 64 additional deaths brings the total civilian death toll in U.S. air attacks to 119 since the campaign against the Islamic State began in 2014, Centcom said. The command, responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East, is investigating other allegations.
“Sometimes civilians bear the brunt of military action but we do all we can to minimize those occurrences, even at the cost of sometimes missing the chance to strike valid targets in real time,” Col. John Thomas, a Centcom spokesman, said in a statement.
Previously, Centcom had acknowledged only 55 deaths, the result of a lengthy investigative process that critics say has moved too slowly and has given inadequate weight to on-the-ground reports from local media, rights groups and activists. Some advocacy organizations, such as Amnesty International, have put the death toll much higher.
Centcom officials said they have been working in recent months to broaden the scope of their casualty investigations, seeking to compare information from military channels with that from external reports. Centcom has also introduced a new software program that seeks to reconcile that information and has in instances of conflicting death tolls chosen to use a higher estimate, a defense official said.
Chris Woods, director of Airwars, a Britain-based organization that tracks allegations of civilian deaths in detail, said it was a positive sign that Centcom was incorporating external reporting into its oversight in a new way.
In its report, Centcom provided details of 24 separate incidents, roughly half in Syria and half in Iraq, in each of which military officials concluded at least one civilian was inadvertently struck. They included an April 9 strike in Mosul, the militant stronghold in northern Iraq, in which Centcom concluded that one civilian entered the target area after the U.S. aircraft fired its weapon. Airwars’ examination of the incident, in contrast, said that as many as 67 people may have died.