WASHINGTON — Four years into America’s assault on the Islamic State, the Pentagon now acknowledges it has no idea how many civilians it has killed during its campaign to defeat ISIS. In fact, the United States military will never know how many civilians it killed, the Pentagon admitted on Tuesday.
The shocking admission comes on the heels of Amnesty International’s new report released Tuesday. As reported by MintPress, the report concludes that U.S.-led coalition efforts against ISIS in the city of Raqqa in northern Syria in 2017 included indiscriminate attacks that showed little to no regard for civilian life. Those attacks, in which thousands of Syrians were killed, constitute potential war crimes, according to Amnesty.
Earlier this year, Airwars reported that as many as 6,000 civilians were killed by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria in 2017. The New York Times Magazine revealed in November 2017 that what was reportedly an attack on a car-bomb production facility in Iraq actually destroyed two civilian homes filled with people.
On Tuesday, during a Department of Defense press briefing at the Pentagon with U.S. Army Col. Thomas Veale, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Veale spoke via videolink from Baghdad, Iraq. He began with a brief update about the current status of the Islamic State, stressing that “ISIS morale is low,” and presented a video showing off “Iraqi Air Force F-16 fighters in action in Syria.”
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Speaking of Amnesty’s report, Veale claimed that the organization was only able to visit Raqqa thanks to “ISIS’ defeat there last year.” Veale also claimed that the organization was judging the U.S. military as guilty until proven innocent. He called the move “bold.” This despite a history of the U.S. judging foreign governments as guilty until proven innocent — resulting in military action, not simply a report like Amnesty’s.
A telling admission, a telling contradiction
Barbara Starr from CNN, was one of only two reporters to reference the Amnesty report during the briefing. Starr asked three questions of Veale, her last inquired about civilian casualties:
And my very quick third question is, separate from Amnesty International’s report, how can you ever really know how many civilians were killed by U.S. and coalition strikes, given the fact the U.S. wasn’t really ever on the ground? Can you ever really know?”
Col. Veale replied:
Now, as far as how do we know how many civilians were killed — I’m just being honest — no one will ever know. Anyone who claims they will know is lying, and there’s no possible way.”
Despite Col. Veale’s statement, the Pentagon said on June 2 that the U.S. military killed approximately 500 civilians in 2017. During that same year, the U.S. and its allies conducted more than 10,000 airstrikes against ISIS.
Carla Babb with Voice of America followed up on Starr’s line of questioning:
I’m just curious — are those strikes that were pointed out in the Amnesty report, were they also compatible and parallel with the civilian casualty reports that you guys have put out? Are these strikes that you had already admitted to having civilian casualties, or were these strikes that you were unaware of?”
Col. Veale provided few details:
They did cite specifically from our strike report and our civ-cas report, and I can tell you with confidence that we are always willing to reevaluate cases based on newer compelling evidence. That’s what I said in my statement. As I speak, people are looking at that article and trying to correlate those claims to the strike log.”
“Bombing the shit out of ISIS” doesn’t sound “sensitive to civilian casualties”
While Veale described the indefensible number of civilian deaths as “extremely unfortunate,” Syrians are left questioning why their families had to be killed and their cities destroyed in order for ISIS to be defeated.
While representatives of the U.S. government publicly communicate their disapproval of civilian casualties, reports continues to show that the U.S.-led anti-ISIS campaigns are responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, many more than are reported by the government. Jim Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Defense, told reporters in March of 2017 that “there is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to civilian casualties” than America’s, when in fact the U.S. “ultimately killed nearly 12 times the number of civilians than were killed by” ISIS, according to a study published in the journal PLOS Medicine and reported on by MintPress.
While on the campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump bragged to cheering crowds that he would “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, a phrase not indicative of care towards civilians and local infrastructure.
Human rights groups continue to question the accuracy of the data provided by the Pentagon, and the White House isn’t doing anything to quell those critiques. In fact, in early May the Trump administration missed two major deadlines for revealing the number of civilians killed by the U.S. military and, in a December 2017 quarterly report of the number of troops serving overseas, the Pentagon omitted the numbers entirely, having only blank spaces where the Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria figures used to be.
Top Photo | Qasim Ahmed Tahan carries the dead body of his 5-year-old son, Walid, who was killed in a bombing before burial in Najaf, Iraq. (AP/Jaber al-Helo)
Emma Fiala is MPN’s Editorial Assistant and social media guru. She is also a documentary photographer, mom of two, and an independent journalist. Her stories have been featured on MintPress News, the Anti-Media, Media Roots, and Steemit. Find her on Twitter.