U.S.-Led Coalition Responsible for 229 Civilian Deaths Since 2014 in Iraq, Syria Strikes

At a time of growing concern about civilian casualties in Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition issued a report Saturday that says at least 229 civilians likely have been killed by coalition strikes there and in Syria since Operation Inherent Resolve began nearly three years ago.

Relatives mourn as bodies of Iraqi residents of west Mosul killed in an airstrike targeting Islamic State group jihadists are placed and covered with blankets on carts on March 17, 2017. (Credit: Aris Messinis / AFP / Getty Images)

The number could grow significantly if an investigation into airstrikes on a neighborhood in Mosul, Iraq, in mid-March finds the operation unintentionally killed scores of residents.

The head of Iraqi civil forces working at the Mosul site told CNN earlier this week that 141 bodies have been recovered.

The U.S. military is conducting a formal review of the strikes.

Another 43 reports of civilian deaths — 23 from Iraq and 20 from Syria — are being assessed, the coalition said. Twelve of 17 reports from February already assessed lacked credibility, it said.

“We regret the unintentional loss of civilian lives resulting from coalition efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and express our deepest sympathies to the families and others affected by these strikes,” the task force said in a statement.

The coalition said more than 18,600 artillery strikes or airstrikes took place between August 2014 and the end of February.

Military officials have pointed to a new ISIS tactic of forcing civilians into buildings as one of the reasons for the recent increase in the danger to civilians.

An Iraqi forces member stands next to a crater made by an air strike in west Mosul as Iraqi troops continue battling against Islamic State group fighters on March 7, 2017. (Credit: Aris Messinis / AFP / Getty Images)

U.S. Col. Joseph Scrocca told reporters the coalition was making adjustments in the wake of this new threat but would not elaborate because of operational security reasons.

One human rights organization, Amnesty International, has called for the military to change its rules of engagement.

“(ISIS) shamefully resorts to using civilians as human shields, a serious violation of the laws of war that amounts to a war crime. In a densely populated residential area, the risks for the civilian population become enormous,” said Donatella Rovera, a senior crisis response adviser.

“However, (ISIS’s) use of human shields does not absolve Iraqi and coalition forces from their obligation not to launch disproportionate attacks.”

Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told a congressional hearing this week that U.S. military leaders are the key to preventing civilian casualties.

“I think the principal way that we are addressing this is by entrusting and enabling our very well-experienced and trained leaders on the ground. They are the best guard against this,” he said.

“The key thing that we do emphasize to them is we … go to war with our values. We hold ourselves to a higher accountability, a higher standard with respect this.”