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RAF claims 4,315 enemies killed and injured in Syria and Iraq, with just one civilian casualty

MOD asserts civilians only make up 0.02% of all those harmed from RAF bombing runs

According to data released to Action on Armed Violence, the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) claims that RAF strikes in Iraq and Syria have killed and injured an estimated 4,315 enemies between September 2014 and January 2019.

Yet, despite such high numbers of enemy combatants claimed harmed, the UK government also claims to have killed just one civilian throughout its 54 months of engagement in Iraq and Syria.

Of the 4,315 combatants targeted, 93% were estimated reported killed (totalling some 4,013). Just 302 – or 7% – survived the RAF’s airstrikes with injuries. In total, 75% of those estimated killed and injured were caused by airstrikes in Iraq; 25% were in Syria. In Syria, the MOD estimates that RAF airstrikes have killed 1,019 enemies and wounded 67. In Iraq, this increases to 2,994 enemies killed and 235 wounded.

Of all enemies estimated killed and wounded by the RAF, 37% were by Typhoons, 31% by Tornados and 32% by Reapers.

At a Chatham House meeting held by AOAV in December 2018, the claim that the RAF had a virtually 100% success rate in terms of avoiding civilian casualties was seen sceptically, especially in light of so many organisations reporting upon incidents that countered this claim. In that meeting, it was said the UK had conducted 5.6% of the total number of airstrikes over Iraq and Syria, yet claimed to have caused just 0.09% of civilian casualties admitted to by the US-led coalition.

In total, the US-led Coalition has confirmed 1,190 civilian deaths, from 269 separate incidents of civilian harm, with 249 more confirmed injured. The United States has acknowledged more than 1,000 civilian casualties – though this is still thought to be lower than those assessed by civilian casualty monitors.

AOAV’s own findings from 8 years’ worth of data from monitoring deaths and injuries from explosive violence globally, show that airstrikes globally killed or injured over 52,734 civilians, or 62% of all those harmed from air launched weapons since 2011.

With 1,000 targets hit by the RAF over Mosul and Raqqa, it is highly likely that the civilian harm from RAF airstrikes is under-recorded.  In Mosul 75% of strikes were on buildings. In Raqqa, this number was 63%. Furthermore, the vast majority of RAF airstrikes were in ‘dynamic’ situations, meaning that they were responsive to events occurring on the ground, a reality that many accept raises the risks of the operation harming civilians.

The MOD notes in the Freedom of Information (FOI) released information that: ‘Information concerning enemy killed and wounded in action is based on the best available post-strike analysis. This information, however, is only given as an estimate as the UK is not in a position to visit airstrike sites inside Syria and verify the facts.’

Iain Overton, Executive Director of AOAV, said of the findings: ‘The RAF’s claim of a ratio of one civilian casualty against 4,315 enemies must be a world record in modern conflict. Yet few conflict experts believe this to be true. To them, it is clear that far more needs to be done by the UK to improve transparency surrounding civilian casualties from airstrikes. Its coalition partner the US has committed to such, so why not the UK?’

Action on Armed Violence is a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons, a group of NGOs that include Save the Children and Human Rights Watch, that seeks a global political commitment to end the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. It produces an annual report on explosive violence harm that shows that, when explosive weapons are used in towns and cities, on average 90% of those killed or injured will be civilians.

The Freedom of Information requests submitted for this data can be read here and here.

The collated data from these requests can be viewed here.

In response to the information request, the RAF stated: ‘Information concerning enemy killed and wounded in action is based on the best available post-strike analysis. This information, however, is only given as an estimate as the UK is not in a position to visit airstrike sites inside Syria and verify the facts. One of the aims of the UK and Coalition airstrikes is to dismantle Daesh’s military infrastructure by targeting fortified positions, command and control sites, and military equipment rather than Daesh fighters. Therefore, we would not always expect to see enemy killed and wounded in action for all targets the UK strikes.’

‘The data contained in this statement is believed to be complete and correct at the time of issue. The MOD operational activity databases are frequently reviewed, and any errors and omissions are corrected. It is therefore possible that future statements might not match this statement exactly. The MOD regrets any difficulty that this may cause but emphasises that our aim is to ensure that our records are as complete and correct as possible.’