Candidates at the Republican Debate in Nevada last night discussed the prospect of civilian casualties in the war against ISIS. What the moderators and debaters overlooked, however, is that current American policies have overseen the death of many civilians while bombing Syria and Iraq, in addition to less-headline dominating locales, like Yemen and Afghanistan.
The U.S. began bombing ISIS targets in August 2014. Since then, more than 8,400 airstrikes hit targets in Syria and Iraq, as of November. The Pentagon admits to six civilian deaths, including three children, but monitoring groups say the figure is substantially greater.
“Please, let’s not delude ourselves,” Chris Woods, the director of Airwars, a group that monitors the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes against ISIS. Airwars says that somewhere between 680 and 975 civilians were killed in the last 16 months. “We’ve killed hundreds of civilians already. And we’ll likely kill hundreds more.”
While airstrikes in Syria and Iraq aren’t necessarily precise attacks though, countries like Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Afghanistan have been subjected to a number of more precise drone strikes where innocents were knowingly executed.
“We knew who the individual was,” former CIA Director Leon Panetta told filmmaker Chris Whipple, for a documentary on former CIA directors. “This was a bad guy. And he was clearly a leader who had been involved not only in going after our officers, but in killing members of our own forces in Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, this individual had family and wife and children around him, so one of the tough questions was, what should we do? If there were women and children in the shot, we normally would not take the shot.”
In this instance, however, Panetta took the shot and killed the wife and children along with the target.
In 2013, Obama said drone strikes are only taken when there is a “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” the New York Times reported. “[N]evertheless, it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties,” he said.
The metric used to determine an innocent civilian, though, has come under massive criticism in recent years. In 2012, the New York Times revealed that Obama’s administration counts unidentified, military age males as militants — effectively downgrading the number of innocent people killed by drone strikes.
“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” an unnamed senior intelligence official told the Times. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”