An Iraqi man sits amid the rubble of destroyed houses in Mosul after Iraqi residents were killed in an airstrike by US-led coalition forces purportedly targeting Daesh (ISIL) terrorists in west Mosul on March 17, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The US military’s Central Command has announced that US-led coalition air strikes against foreign-backed Daesh (ISIL) terrorists in Iraq and Syria have “unintentionally” killed 229 civilians since such operations began in 2014 amid reports estimating the civilian death toll at nearly 1,500 in March alone.
As of the end of February 2017, “it is more likely than not, at least 229 civilians have been unintentionally killed by coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve” in Iraq and Syria, said a statement released by Centcom, the US military command in the Middle East on Saturday.
The tally, however, does not include civilian fatalities inflicted in March — which may potentially include large numbers of civilians killed in aerial attacks over several days in Mosul’s al-Jadida area.
This is while a UK-based non-profit monitoring group, Airwars, announced that the US-led coalition airstrikes may have already killed 1,484 civilians in Iraq and Syria just in March, as cited Friday in a report by US-based Magazine Newsweek.
Pointing to the rising number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria since US President Donald Trump came to office in January, Airways further estimated that 455 civilian deaths occurred in February as the result of US-led airstrikes, while the figure stood at 613 in January.
The non-profit group further underlined that it has been overwhelmed with reports of civilian casualties since Trump took office.
“Almost 1,000 civilian non-combatant deaths have already been alleged from coalition actions across Iraq and Syria in March—a record claim,” Airwars said.
Meanwhile, the UN human rights office reported that at least 300 civilians have been killed in US-led aerial attacks against ISIL in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more were allegedly killed in another strike last weekend, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria in the past month.
In Syria, as fighting around ISIL stronghold of Raqqa intensified, civilian fatalities from US-led airstrikes climbed to 198 in March — including 32 children and 31 women — compared to 56 in February, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Western-backed and pro-opposition group.
Attention has focused on one particularly deadly airstrike on March 17 in which, according to top American commander in Iraq Stephen Townsend, US-led forces “probably had a role in those casualties.”
This is while nearly 43 different reports of possible civilian deaths in the two terror-ravaged Arab countries are still under investigation by the coalition, according to the official statement.
However, critics, including monitoring groups, insist that the actual figure is much higher.
The US-led coalition claims it has initiated an investigation into the reported casualties while justifying the high civilian death toll by insisting that ISIL terrorists have used civilians as human shields, making it difficult to avoid civilian deaths despite its state-of-the-art technology.
“Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside,” said Amnesty International Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera, who carried out field investigations in the Iraqi city.
“The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” Rovera added.
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