U.S. military officials acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that the more than 1,600 bombings launched on Iraq and Syria by the U.S. and allies over the past five months may have led to "a few" civilian casualties.
Analysts, however, say that such an admission is not only an undercounting of civilian deaths and wounds from airstrikes, but a far cry from the reckoning needed to account for the true human cost of U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.
"This makes me furious that the U.S. military is trying to keep moral high ground because they are investigating a few cases," Raed Jarrar, Policy Impact Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams. "It is a joke."
Speaking at a media briefing on Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said that there are "credible allegations of possible civilian casualties" in the U.S.-led war on ISIS. He claimed that the number of civilians killed and wounded in Iraq is extremely low, but offered no details or information to confirm this claim or the location of the attacks.
"I would point you to Central Command," Kirby told reporters inquiring about locations of specific incidents. "I know that they are actively investigating what they believe to be at least a few incidents of civilian causalities that they think, you know, warrant further investigation, that they have found credible to investigate."
Since allied bombings began in mid-August of 2014, U.S. Central Command has repeatedly denied knowledge of any incidents of civilian deaths while offering no evidence to verify their statements. In a shift, however, Central Command on Tuesday announced they have investigated 18 reports of civilian casualties from August 8 to December 30. The internal reviews found that 13 of these reports were not credible, with five still under review.
But according to data compiled by journalist Chris Woods, media and NGO reports put the number of civilian casualties by allied air strikes far higher. While it is difficult to track exactly how many non-combatants are killed and wounded, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that at least 52 non-combatants have been killed in allied airstrikes in Syria alone since September 23rd. The watchdog organization Iraq Body Count said November 8, 2014 that approximately 50 non-combatants were killed in allied airstrikes.
The Obama administration admitted last October that it had loosened its standards for avoiding civilian deaths in the war on ISIS by determining that the requirement of "near certainty" that civilians will not be harmed does not apply to airstrikes in Iraq or Syria.
Jarrar charges that the U.S. is responsible for wounding and killing far more innocent people than can be directly traced to allied military attacks. "U.S. intervention in the Middle East is not happening only through drone strikes or air strikes," he said, noting that the year 2014 was extremely bloody across the Middle East. "It is happening through funding and supporting proxy groups, and billions of dollars have been sent to proxy groups that have been committing massive human rights violations in Iraq and other parts of the region."
"We are not talking about one or two or even 14 incidents where civilian incidents where civilians were killed," Jarrar added. "We are talking about thousands of incidents where civilians are being killed as a result of U.S. policies and action in the region."