In a previously unknown event, the UK for the first time admitted that its forces caused civilian harm during an airstrike against so-called Islamic State.
In a written statement to Parliament on May 2nd, UK Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson MP stated that “one civilian was unintentionally killed,” when a UK Reaper drone struck three ISIS fighters in rural Syria a few weeks earlier.
The UK MoD had stated at the time in its weekly update that a “Reaper tracked a group of terrorists in a vehicle in the Syrian Euphrates valley on Monday 26 March, and successfully destroyed it and its occupants with a precision Hellfire missile attack.”
According to the statement made to Parliament, a civilian had accidentally driven a motorbike into the strike area, and had died in the attack on Daesh. “We reached this conclusion after undertaking routine and detailed post-strike analysis of all available evidence”, said Williamson.
Airwars researchers were unable to identify any public reports of civilian harm relating to the UK drone strike. However there were reports of Coalition airstrikes on the day which allegedly targeted regime forces. Abdul Jabbar noted “Continued escalation between US forces and Kurdish militias on the one hand and the forces of the Syrian regime on the other and US aircraft [sic] bombed regime positions in the area of Mohsin east of Deir al-Zour.” And Euphrates Post published a video of what it said was the strike.
The US-led Coalition does not include this event in its own tally of credible civilian deaths – noting to Airwars that it has never been notified of this event. The Ministry of Defence has also refused to supply Airwars with the grid coordinates – despite almost all such credible incidents now being disclosed.
In March 2020, Airwars and the BBC revealed that the MoD was refusing to concede 15 further civilian deaths from its actions in 2017 and 2018, despite the US-led Coalition itself determining that civilian harm reports for three more UK strikes were in fact credible.
The local time of the incident is unknown.
Sources (15) [ collapse]
British Armed Forces Assessment:
Civilian casualty statements
May 2, 2018
As part of our counter-terrorism strategy, the UK is playing a leading role in the Global Coalition to defeat Daesh - a unified body of 75 members. We have committed nearly 1,400 military personnel to the region to provide support to local partners. In the air, the RAF has conducted more than 1,600 air strikes in Iraq and Syria – second only to the US – and provides highly advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to Coalition partners. These strikes are undertaken in the collective self-defence of Iraq as part of the global Coalition to defeat Daesh, and at the request of the Government of Iraq. On the ground, British soldiers have trained over 60,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces in engineering, medical, counter-IED and basic infantry skills. As a result of the Coalition’s action, Daesh has lost more than 98 per cent of the territory it once occupied in Iraq and Syria, and 7.7 million people have been liberated from its rule. We do everything we can to minimise the risk to civilian life from UK strikes through our rigorous targeting processes and the professionalism of UK Service personnel. It is therefore deeply regrettable that a UK air strike on 26 March 2018, targeting Daesh fighters in eastern Syria, resulted in an unintentional civilian fatality. During a strike to engage three Daesh fighters, a civilian motorbike crossed into the strike area at the last moment and it is assessed that one civilian was unintentionally killed. We reached this conclusion after undertaking routine and detailed post-strike analysis of all available evidence. There are limits on any further details that can be provided given ongoing operations and consequent national security issues. As with any serious incident the wider Coalition also conducts its own investigation and will report in due course. These events serve to remind us of the consequences of conflict and of the heavy price that the people of Syria have paid. It reminds us that when we undertake military action, we must do so knowing that it can never be completely without risk. Such incidents will not weaken our resolve to defeat Daesh and rid the world of its poisonous ideology of hate and intolerance. The UK’s commitment to the Global Coalition against Daesh and to the people of Iraq and Syria will remain as strong as ever.
Original strike reports
For March 26th, the Coalition originally reported “On March 26 in Syria, Coalition military forces conducted one strike consisting of one engagement against Daesh targets. Near Abu Kamal, one strike engaged a Daesh tactical unit."
Monday 26 March – a Reaper destroyed a terrorist vehicle in eastern Syria…A Reaper tracked a group of terrorists in a vehicle in the Syrian Euphrates valley on Monday 26 March, and successfully destroyed it and its occupants with a precision Hellfire missile attack. Following an detailed investigation, it is assessed that one civilian was unintentionally killed in the strike. [The final line was later added as an amendment to the report.]