A recent Operation Inherent Resolve report is claiming that 603 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Syria since they began in August 2014, as a result of US-led coalition airstrikes. These coalition airstrikes form part of an international campaign aimed at defeating ISIS. The purported death toll of 603 civilians is in glaring contrast to figures released by Airways, a non-for-profit transparency organization, which estimates that, at least, 4,354 civilians have been killed. The coalition has assessed the validity of some of the Airways reports and has, so far, concluded that 114 are unreliable, whereas 27 are credible cases of unintended civilian deaths. However, 180 reports are still being assessed for their credibility, which means that the coalition’s figures are likely to change. The coalition has also admitted that there are barriers to its investigation, namely because they are not always able to inspect the sites or interview witnesses.
The Pentagon believes that approximately half of the civilians killed in coalition airstrikes were in or near the vicinity of Mosul, the last effective stronghold of ISIS in Iraq. Amnesty International has criticized the coalition for what they believe to be potentially illegal strikes, and they have noted that the coalition failed to take necessary measures to avoid civilian casualties. For instance, Amnesty cited evidence gathered in Eastern Mosul where entire homes, with families still present inside, were destroyed by coalition airstrikes. Apparently, Iraqi forces told civilians to stay inside of their homes, instead of fleeing prior to the airstrikes, consequently increasing casualties. The failure of the coalition forces to take this into account could be criminally negligent. “Disproportionate attacks and indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes,” said Donatella Rovera, a Senior Advisor at Amnesty International, who gathered evidence in Mosul.
Meanwhile, in the Syrian city of Raqqa, growing reports of civilian deaths have led to concerns about an escalation of violence, as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue their offensive against ISIS. Since the offensive began, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has claimed that 224 civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes. Chris Woods, the Director of Airways, believes that the high civilian casualty rate in Mosul doesn’t appear to have resulted in “any real change in operational behaviour at Raqqa.” Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad, has also voiced concern for the 100,000 civilians who are still trapped in the city, asserting that “more needs to be done by the parties to ensure [the] protection of the civilian population.” In addition, Ra’ad stressed the need for the coalition to re-evaluate its operations and guarantee that they are complying with international law by taking every possible precaution to avoid killing civilians.
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