A Raid, A Deadly Strike, and the Iraqi Child Killed by a U.S. Warplane
The tragic strike comes amid a growing air war
On March 13, on what was another day in the now 14-month air war over Iraq and Syria, an American A-10 attack plane hovered over an Islamic State checkpoint near al Hatra, Iraq and spotted two vehicles pull up. The drivers got out and spoke with the men at the checkpoint for 40 minutes, which was enough for the drivers to themselves become “lawful targets” in the estimation of the U.S. pilot and the senior officers at their headquarters. The air crew was given the go-ahead to fire.
Days later, an Iraqi woman contacted the U.S.-led coalition with a grim allegation: the strike had killed civilians, along with militants. And on Friday, the Pentagon admitted that she was right: American warplanes had mistakenly killed four civilians, including possibly a child, whose age could not be determined by the brief video footage.
Despite the loss of civilian life, the report concludes that “the airstrikes were conducted in accordance with applicable military authorizations,” and that the pilots could not have known that innocent civilians were sitting in their cars, unseen by their cameras.
The rare admission of wrongdoing by the military’s Central Command serves as a stark reminder of the dangers and limitations of waging war strictly from the air. The report comes just as the air war targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has heated up considerably, with Russia and France joining in the bombing in Syria, and American jets stepping up their strikes across both countries, including the targeting of civilian oil tankers moving black market Islamic State oil.
In its report, the Pentagon describes a laborious and time-intensive process of scanning mere seconds of footage of the strike that had been shot by the gun cameras mounted to the planes. The military said the video shows four people exiting the vehicles in the seconds after the plane opened fire, but “video footage review indicates the aircrew had no opportunity to detect the presence of the likely civilians” before the munitions hit the ground.
Complicating the identification process, the suspected child can only be seen for one second before the rounds hit, the report says, adding that they assume the victim was a child due of the smaller shadow the figure cast on the ground. The Pentagon cautioned, though, that “no positive identification can be made with reasonable certainty” since the coalition was never able to examine the site, or the victims.
American and coalition officials were unaware of the potential for civilian casualties until an Iraqi woman contacted the U.S.-led coalition to complain that her vehicle had been destroyed in an airstrike, and that five civilians had been killed. The report doesn’t go into any detail about what else the woman might have claimed, or who the civilians may have been.
The report comes almost two months after the deadly U.S. airstrike on a civilian hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan run by Doctors Without Borders. The aid group says the attack killed at least thirty people, including 13 staff members, 10 patients and seven others who are still awaiting identification. Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, admitted in the days after the attack that the hospital was “mistakenly struck,” and he and other military officials promised a quick investigation into the incident. But almost two months later, military officials in Kabul and at the Pentagon continue to say that they are still working on their investigation, which includes trying to sort out how the U.S. forces involved missed the well-documented intelligence that identified the building as a civilian hospital.
Photo Cedit: by Ethan Miller/Getty Images