Is the US military underestimating civilian casualties caused by its anti-ISIL bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria?
Since August 2014 the US has been bombing ISIL in Iraq an Syria. If we are to believe the Pentagon this air campaign has killed 70,000 ISIL fighters, a number which is double the CIA estimated of ISIL’s fighting strength and therefore rather dubious.1 While the US is likely overestimating the number of ISIL fighters they have killed, it appears they are also underestimating the number of civilians killed by their air strikes.
According to the US Central Command (CENTCOM), as of June 2, 484 civilians have been killed in US air strikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.2 Many are highly skeptical of such figures.3 For instance according to the airwars website, which attempts to monitor civilian casualties caused by US-led coalition air strikes, as of June 6 a minimum of 3,817 civilians have been killed by coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria.4 This figure is nearly 8 times larger than CENTCOM’s, and I suspect is more accurate. I guess this is still better than the British who claim that their airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have killed zero civilians.5
While US Defense Secretary James Mattis, speaking of America’s increased military pressure on ISIL, stated “Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation,” it is evident that the US is attempting to cover up or minimize this “fact of life.”6
However, Mattis’ assertion is correct as civilians have, and will, always suffer during war, even when they are not being targeted specifically. It should also be realized that the enemy the US is fighting, does not themselves mistakenly kill civilians, but does so purposely. The most recent example of an ISIL atrocity occurred last week when ISIL fighters are reported to have killed in a single day 163 civilians in Mosul.7
It is tragic indeed that the military measures needed to destroy ISIL will also harm a certain number of civilians. While such a reality may be seen as a necessary evil in the fight against ISIL, the mounting civilian casualty count in Iraq and Syria by the US-led coalition air campaign, makes it difficult for the US to criticize other leaders, such as Bashar al-Assad, for harming civilians when they themselves are guilty of this as well, even if unintentionally.
This is why the US is significantly underestimating civilian casualties, almost by an order of magnitude, as they do not want to appear even more hypocritical than they already do.