Rome, Italy. The original numbers on how many civilians killed in American-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria has gone up beyond previous estimates, as efforts to retake Islamic State strongholds intensified and as some procedures for approving airstrikes has been changed under the Trump administration.
Airstrike data compiled by Airwars, a nonprofit group that tracks reports of civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, showed a significant jump in the number of reported deaths in the first three months of 2017.
The US military recently confirmed that American-led airstrikes had been responsible for at least 352 civilian deaths since the start of the war against the Islamic State. But Airwars estimated that the total was eight times higher. The group found that at least 3,100 civilians were killed in American-led airstrikes from August 2014 to March 2017.
The increase has also led some human rights groups to question whether changes in procedure are responsible. In December, under President Barack Obama, some American and allied advisers in the field were authorized to call in airstrikes in Iraq without approval from an operations center. President Trump has also shifted more authority over military operations to the Pentagon.
But American officials have said that rules protecting civilians have not changed and that the current airstrike approval process allows for air support to reach Iraqi troops on the ground faster. They point to Mosul, Raqqa and other recent operations to explain the increase in reports of civilian deaths.
Airwars also identified additional “contested” episodes that resulted in 2,700 civilian deaths. These were events in which American-led airstrikes may have had some role in the deaths. Raising questions that even more persons have been killed and not being reported due to efforts of American authorities to cover up the deaths.
But regardless of the total number of civilian deaths, several former American security officials recently wrote a letter warning Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that unintentional civilian casualties “can cause significant strategic setbacks” by reducing local cooperation and providing fuel for militant propaganda.