U.S. led coalition air strikes targeting ISIS, kill hundreds of civilians

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq early in the morning of Sept. 23, 2014, after conducting airstrikes in Syria. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIL targets in Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/Released)

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq early in the morning of Sept. 23, 2014, after conducting airstrikes in Syria. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIL targets in Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/Released)

A year ago, the Obama Administration announced that it would begin a campaign of airstrikes in Syria to target ISIS fighters. However these strikes have led to increasing numbers of civilian deaths. Civilian casualties of US air strikes are commonly reported in Afghanistan and Pakistan, however the ongoing violence in Syria has meant that civilian fatalities from U.S. air strikes in Syria are less known or have been merely dismissed. Like most U.S. drone and air strikes, they are unauthorized and no approval was sought to enter the Syrian airspace from the Assad Government. Thus technically making the strikes a violation of international law.

There have been over 2,000 US led coalition strikes in Syria alone this past year, which have killed hundreds of ISIS fighters. Allegations of civilian harm have not been adequately investigated and thus the exact number of civilian deaths is unclear. However the deaths are certainly far more than the U.S. Central Command (Centcom) admits. The death toll ranges from 200 to 498 according to Airwars, a group that monitors the international coalition’s airstrikes against ISIS. 100 of those deaths are supposedly children. Centcom, who are in charge of carrying out the air strikes, are formally investigating only five incidents of civilian fatalities. They announced they would only investigate incidents where they have received “credible” evidence. However Airwars has been tracking up to five times more civilian casualty events. The ability to verify these events is limited due to the dangers of visiting Syria, particularly areas that are under ISIS control. However incidents with civilian fatalities are taking place on a much greater scale than the U.S. will ever admit. Neutralizing civilian areas from military operations is becoming increasingly difficult as ISIS continues to gain a strong hold in areas in Syria.

The war in Syria has left millions displaced and thousands killed. If the U.S. weren’t to intervene with air strikes, they would be under scrutiny. Syrians although frustrated at the strikes, know they are not being actively targeted. An important distinction to make is that the U.S. air strikes are taken with precision and aim to avoid hitting civilians while attacks by other factions including the al-Assad government itself sometimes appear to be actively targeting civilians.

Although the current air campaign has been described as the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare, this shouldn’t mean that we should accept the deaths of civilians as collateral damage.

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