Strikes on ISIS in Iraq sparing civilians: Canadian commander
Military confident no civilian casualties in 7 most recent CF-18 bombing missions
Canadian fighter bombers have conducted a total of seven attacks in Iraq over the last couple of weeks and their commander is confident none of them caused civilian casualties.
Brig.-Gen. Dan Constable held a conference call Thursday with an update on the combat mission, the first since the U.S. announced it was reviewing data surrounding two coalition bombing missions — one in Iraq, the other in Syria.
The U.S. Central Command, which oversees coalition operations, says it is investigating those strikes and examining the results of three other missions to see if reviews are warranted.
Since Canada joined the bombing campaign in late October, Canadian military officials have said they are confident no civilians have been hurt by CF-18 missions.
Constable said Canadian missions are not part of the coalition investigation.
"That I am aware of, we have not had any reporting of any civilian casualties associated with any of our strikes," he said.
Washington took a similar line until just recently when it acknowledged it is looking into claims that innocents were caught in 18 separate strikes aimed at Islamic State militants. Most of the accusations relate to missions in Syria.
Canadian warplanes don't operate over Syria.
Over 200 Canadian sorties
A U.S. military official, in a statement released earlier this week, said the cases under active investigation were flagged by the military's own review of the damage and not by complaints.
Some of the more recent strikes — including missions on Dec. 19, 20 and Jan. 1 — were in support of Kurdish peshmerga forces. They recently broke the roughly four-month siege of Mount Sinjar, where more than 10,000 Yazidis fled in August to escape massacres. It was their plight that prompted the U.S. to organize the air campaign.
Although Islamic State militants have been driven back, published reports in the region say the extremists are shifting resources into the area in order to keep the road to Mosul open. Iraq's second-largest city is a major stronghold for the extremists and is expected to be the focus of a major government offensive in the coming weeks.
No 'perfect war'
A defence expert in Washington says limiting civilian casualties is important, but the U.S. should not let the fear of it paralyze the air campaign. The coalition has a responsibility to uphold the laws of war, but it is facing an enemy that deliberately uses civilians as shields and will exploit western integrity to its advantage.
"Human rights and the laws of war become political and military weapons in the hands of terrorists and extremists that have no practical limits and constraints," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
While the U.S. and Canada have fought these kinds of wars before in Afghanistan, Cordesman says the Islamic State has brought the use of human shields to a higher level.
There is no such thing as a "perfect war," he says.
"The United States is also again fighting a movement in the Islamic State (or Daesh) which will do everything possible to exaggerate civilian casualties for propaganda purposes, claim its own casualties are civilians and claim its own facilities are civilian facilities."
The Pentagon, however, acknowledged this week the reports it has received come from various sources, including the media, non-governmental organizations and other U.S. government agencies.