News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Recent library image of a US A-10 attack plane, of the type thought to have carried out the Hatra strike (USAF/ Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush)

Published

November 21, 2015

Written by

Chris Woods

Centcom has finally confirmed that US-led Coalition operations against Daesh in Iraq have ‘likely’ killed civilians on the ground.

The November 20th admission comes some 468 days into a bombing campaign which has seen more than 5,400 airstrikes in Iraq alone, with hundreds of civilians so far alleged killed.

According to a newly declassified Pentagon investigation, a strike on March 13th 2015 – understood to have been by a US A-10 attack aircraft – targeted a Daesh checkpoint at the town of Hatra.

But also present were two civilian vehicles which aircrews and analysts failed to properly identify. In the ensuing strike both cars were also destroyed. At least seven civilians reportedly died – including two women and three children.

Coalition commander Lt General John Hesterman signed off on the investigation in June, noting: “I concur with the findings and conclusions of the IO [investigating officer], who substantiated by a preponderance of the evidence that civilian casualties had occured.”

Coaliton commander Lt General John Hesterman signs off on the investigation

‘I concur with the findings… that civilian casualties had occured.’ Coalition commander Lt General John Hesterman signs off on the investigation

Deaths at Hatra

Centcom now concedes four civilians ‘likely’ died in the attack at Hatra, including at least one child. Its investigation confirms that Coalition analysts and targeters failed to discriminate between civilian and ‘ISIL’ vehicles at the time – and did not spot the likely presence of a child at the target location, in the short time between the release of a GBU-38 missile and impact.

The tragic events of March 13th were never publicly reported. Instead, the owner of one of the vehicles destroyed in the airstrike later wrote to the Coalition asking for compensation. Her testimony indicates the civilian toll is likely to be at least seven killed.

In a redacted email, the owner reveals that her car was carrying a family of two women and three children along with a civilian driver. Another vehicle with one or more civilians in it – possibly another family – was also present, she claims.

The partly redacted testimony of an Iraqi car owner which led Centcom to conclude it had killed civilians in Iraq on march 13th 2015

The partly redacted testimony of an Iraqi car owner which led Centcom to conclude it had killed civilians in Iraq on March 13th 2015

Rare admission

The US-led Coalition has displayed little urgency when it comes to addressing credible allegations of civilians killed.

Airwars researchers have so far identified 263 incidents in Iraq and Syria in which civilians were allegedly killed by the Coalition – with between 1,544 and 2,051 civilian deaths claimed in total.

Based on available evidence and confirmed Coalition strikes in the vicinity, we presently view at least 111 of these incidents – which reportedly killed 680 to 975 civilians between them – as having likely been carried out by US-led forces.

Yet this newly declassified report is only the second admission by the Coalition that it has killed any civilians in its long air war against Daesh. Two young girls were ‘likely’ slain in a US airstrike in Syria in November 2014, it was admitted six months later.

US officials were hinting in early September 2015 that another civilian casualty investigation was ready for release, and it remains unclear why the Coalition delayed publication for so long. A previously-secret Centcom document published by Airwars and others shows investigators had already concluded by early May of this year that “the allegation of CIVCAS [at Hatra] was likely credible.”

An eight month delay between credible allegations of civilian casualties and publication of findings is unacceptable,” says Kinda Haddad of Airwars. “With more than 250 claimed incidents of civilians killed by US-led forces in Iraq and Syria, we need to see the Coalition taking this vital issue much more seriously.”

In a statement accompanying the Hatra report, Centcom spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder noted that “we regret the unintentional loss of lives and keep those families in our thoughts“.

▲ Recent library image of a US A-10 attack plane, of the type thought to have carried out the Hatra strike (USAF/ Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush)