Coalition bombing linked to 48 allegations of civilian casualties in Iraq, Syria
Environment in Iraq and Syria 'extremely challenging' for investigations, coalition says
Despite claims by Canada and coalition forces of a near-perfect bombing record that has rarely harmed or killed civilians in Iraq and Syria, a fifth estate investigation has found nearly 50 credible allegations — involving as many as 600 possible deaths — that merit further review.
- The fifth estate, The Hidden War: Map of Canadian airstrikes and reported civilian casualties from coalition bombing in Iraq and Syria.
The numbers are a sharp contrast to those provided by what's known as U.S. Central Command, which has publicly acknowledged only two civilian deaths and conducted only a handful of in-depth investigations.
"I don't expect (the coalition) to be happy about investigations, but recognize it's part and parcel of armed conflict," says Chris Jenks, a retired U.S. military judge advocate who investigated allegations of civilian casualties during the first Iraq war.
So far in the conflict in Iraq and Syria, Canada says it has conducted 181 airstrikes and dropped 469 bombs, but claims it has killed no civilians.
Human rights groups and independent observers, however, claim high estimates of civilian casualties.
Airwars, a London-based group of independent journalists documenting allegations of civilian casualties in this conflict, reviewed almost 250 allegations, determining more than 100 of them — involving as many as 1,000 possible deaths — to be credible.
High number of 'credibility assessments'
While U.S. Central Command has conducted only a handful of in-depth investigations, it has conducted a higher number of what it calls "credibility assessments."
The U.S. military says it's aware of 100 allegations, and so far has determined 74 of them to be "not credible."
However, a fifth estate investigation that reviewed hundreds of allegations of civilian casualties stemming from coalition bombing raids in Iraq and Syria raises questions about the quality of the credibility assessments conducted by the U.S. and Canadian militaries.
It shows the assessments are at times conducted over a period of 24 or 48 hours and only involve reviewing photos and video from the air.
In one case, Canada was unaware its planes had been linked to an allegation of civilian casualties reviewed by the Pentagon.
- Canadian airstrikes linked to 2nd allegation of civilian casualties in Iraq, CBC has learned
- Up to 27 Iraqi civilians may have been killed in Canadian airstrike, Pentagon document reveals
Child, woman allegedly killed in Syria
One of the allegations uncovered by the fifth estate investigation involves the alleged death of a child and a woman on July 30 in the Syrian town of Al Boukamal.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 17 others were also injured that day by coalition bombing.
Members of the jihadi militant group Islamic State posted photos of a child it claims died in the attack, using them as part of its anti-coalition propaganda. Despite being heavily critical of ISIS's conduct, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, whose work has been recognized by the United Nations, says it has verified the authenticity of the photos.
The coalition reported flying 17 bombing missions in that area on that day, including one Canadian mission.
Both U.S. Central Command and the Canadian military declined to provide details of their reviews to the fifth estate — in Canada's case claiming "operational security."
The fifth estate investigation included meeting with a journalist working secretly behind Islamic State lines, in Mosul, to dig into allegations of civilian casualties.
The woman, identified only as "Laila" to protect her identity, claims she has seen the bodies of dozens of civilians killed in bombing raids, although the fifth estate couldn't independently verify her allegations.
It should be noted that the Iraqi air force also conducts bombing raids in the Mosul area.
Laila, however, says she trusts her sources.
The end result, she says, is local people are starting to fear coalition planes.
"Unfortunately, the coalition airstrikes are hitting innocent civilians," she says. "Nowadays, the people of Mosul are afraid of both ISIS and the coalition."
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Bob McKeown's full report on Canada's "Hidden War" airs Friday night on the season premiere of the fifth estate at 9 p.m. ET; 9:30 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador.