Air strikesAir strikes and terror attacks examined

Claims by European allies of no civilian harm from airstrikes exposed

The UK, France and Belgium have refused to take responsibility for at least 40 deaths in 11 European strikes during 2017 and 2018, which the US-led Coalition officially says killed civilians, it has been reported.

An international investigation by the NGO Airwars has found compelling evidence that several of the United States’ European allies in the war against the so-called Islamic State have denied civilian harm from their airstrikes – even where specialist US military personnel have assessed such cases to be credible.

Three European countries are implicated – the United Kingdom, France and Belgium. The evidence was run by the following major news outlets:

BBC NewsUS military says strikes may have killed civilians

LibérationSyrie-Irak : ces frappes meurtrières que les Etats refusent de reconnaître

De MorgenDe veertig burgerslachtoffers die niemand erkent, ook België niet

AirwarsEurope’s shame: claims by key allies exposed

A total of eleven civilian harm incidents were identified. They involved the confirmed deaths of 40 Iraqi and Syrian civilians during 2017 and 2018. No European ally have admitted to the fatalities.

These death came to light after the US Defense Department was legally required to report to Congress in May 2019, on all recent confirmed civilian deaths from US military actions. That Pentagon declared 170 incidents for Iraq and Syria during 2017; and a further 13 events during 2018.

When Airwars crossmatched the 183 declared US civilian harm events against those cases the anti-ISIS Coalition had officially conceded during the same period, it identified 11 cases which had been omitted. Several senior US defense officials independently confirmed to Airwars that all credible non-US civilian harm events had been explicitly excluded from the list given by DoD to Congress.

The UK admits that three of the problem strikes were conducted by the RAF, but insists no civilians died. The US-led Coalition has officially stated that at least 15 non combatants died in those same events. Senior UK Ministry of Defence officials said they set their burden of proof at ‘hard facts’ – far higher than the ‘balance of probabilities’ used by US military investigators

According to Libération, France has refused despite months of questions to say whether its aircraft were responsible for any of the Coalition-confirmed events.

Belgium will only say that it “was certainly not involved in all events” – but refuses to confirm or deny which incidents, or whether it agrees with US military assessors that civilians died in its actions. De Morgen tracked down a survivor of one such event – in which at least 10 civilians died in what is now believed was either a French or Belgian action. 

AOAV, along with Airwars, is calling for a major review by European powers of their approach to civilian harm assessments.

This article is based on an Airwars reporting, as published here.