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Centcom Releases Civilian Casualty Assessments

By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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U.S. Central Command officials said today that U.S. airstrikes targeting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorist organization likely resulted in 20 civilian casualties and 11 civilian injuries in Iraq and Syria last year.

Briefing Pentagon reporters via teleconference, Centcom spokesman Air Force Col. Pat Ryder said after thorough assessments of civilian casualty allegations, the “preponderance of evidence” indicates nine separate manned and unmanned U.S. airstrikes between Sept. 10, 2015 and Feb. 2 likely resulted in the causalities and injuries.

“We deeply regret the unintentional loss of life and injuries resulting from those strikes and express our deepest sympathies to the victims' families and those affected,” he said.

Goal: Minimize Casualties

“Centcom conducts thorough assessments of all allegations of civilian casualties associated with our airstrikes,” Ryder said. “Our goal is to minimize the risk of civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible.”

The colonel emphasized the U.S. air campaign on ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria is “the most precise in the history of warfare.” A Centcom press release also noted that all nine airstrikes complied with the law of armed conflict and all appropriate precautions were taken.

Ryder said airstrikes are coordinated in advance with local government officials, and the U.S. military takes “extraordinary precautions” to assess risks to civilian populations.

Measures used to mitigate casualties include rigorous flying standards in targeting processes, comprehensive analyses of all available intelligence and careful selection of precision-guided weapons, he said.

While airstrikes are conducted when civilian presence near ISIL targets is least likely, Ryder said ISIL fighters are culpable in such tragedies.

ISIL Fighters Hide Amongst Civilians

“[ISIL continues its] cowardly tactic of hiding and operating among civilian populations by terrorizing citizens in these areas and repeatedly demonstrating their utter disregard for the lives of innocent men, women and children,” he said.

Including today’s casualty assessment, Ryder said there have been 41 other unintentional civilian deaths and 28 injuries from airstrikes since assessments began.

The first assessment of a civilian casualty followed a Nov. 5, 2014, airstrike, a DoD official said.

Ryder said 162 allegations have been filed since then, and 112 of them were deemed not credible. He said 23 other allegations remain open -- 20 are pending credibility assessments and three are pending investigation.

Credible Reports

Following are the nine U.S. airstrikes that are reportedly credible, according to the Centcom press release:

-- Sept. 10, 2015: in Kubaysah, Iraq, near Hit, during a strike on an ISIL checkpoint, it was assessed that two civilians were killed and four were injured when their vehicle appeared in the target area when weapons were already in flight;

-- Oct. 5, 2015: in Atshanah, Iraq, near Huwayjah, during a strike on ISIL personnel, it was assessed that eight civilians were killed during a strike on a mortar fire position used by enemy fighters;

-- Nov. 4, 2015: in Huwayjah, Iraq, during a strike on an ISIL vehicle, it was assessed two civilians were injured. The incident occurred when, after weapons were already in flight, the ISIL vehicle unexpectedly pulled off the side of the road near a building where two civilians were standing;

-- Nov. 12, 2015: in Ramadi, Iraq, during a strike targeting ISIL fighters, it was assessed that one civilian was killed;

-- Dec. 10, 2015: near Raqqah, Syria, during strikes against Siful Sujan, an ISIL external operations planner, it was assessed that one civilian was killed;

-- Dec. 12, 2015: in Ramadi, Iraq, during a strike on ISIL personnel at a suspected ISIL checkpoint, it was assessed that five civilians were killed after they unexpectedly moved into the target location when weapons were already in flight;

-- Dec. 24, 2015: in Tishreen, Syria, near Manbij, during a strike on two ISIL fighters in a vehicle, it was assessed that one civilian on a motorcycle was killed after riding up to the target area when weapons were already in flight;

-- Jan. 11, 2016: near Mosul, Iraq, during a strike on five ISIL individuals guarding an ISIL cash distribution station, it was assessed that one civilian was killed and five were injured; and

-- Feb. 2, 2016: in Ghazili, Syria, near Ayn Isa, during a strike on an ISIL vehicle, it was assessed that one civilian was killed after driving into the target area unexpectedly when weapons were already in flight.

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)