The US military said late last week that its deliberate bombing of a hospital in Mosul, Iraq last month as part of the ongoing coalition effort to retake the city from Islamic State forces may have killed civilians, and also said on Monday that at least 188 civilians have been killed in US-led strikes against IS targets in Iraq and Syria since 2014.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) said American forces were targeting a van believed to be transporting IS fighters that had entered the hospital complex. “The van was struck in what was later determined to be a hospital compound parking lot resulting in possible civilian casualties,” Combined Joint Strike Force, the US-led anti-IS coalition, said in a statement released on Thursday.
This was the second time US warplanes have bombed hospitals in Mosul in December. American officials admitted deliberately bombing Al Salam hospital in Mosul on December 7 after Iraqi military officials requested the strike to eliminate IS fighters who had fired on them from inside the compound. US Air Force Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for the US-led coalition against IS, said at the time that coalition aircraft dropped “precision-guided munitions” in an effort to “eradicate” the IS fighters at the compound. Dorrian also said “it’s very difficult to ascertain with full and total fidelity” that no civilians were killed or injured in the attack.
The US has previously condemned deliberate Syrian government and Russian attacks on hospitals as “barbarism.”
“What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said in September 2016. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive.”
Over the past two years, American, Russian and Saudi Arabian aircraft have bombed hospitals while conducting what their respective militaries called counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. In October 2015, a US AC-130 gunship attacked a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 42 patients and staff and wounding dozens more. MSF accused the US of firing upon and killing victims as they attempted to flee for their lives, calling the attack a “war crime” meant to “kill and destroy.” The US altered its account of the incident several times, first claiming the strike targeted Taliban militants before admitting no enemy fighters were present at the hospital. Months later, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the incoming commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, apologized for the attack.
On Monday, the US military said at least 188 civilians have been killed in US-led air strikes against IS targets in Iraq and Syria since 2014. However, human rights groups said the actual number of innocent civilians killed by US or allied strikes is much higher, with the monitoring group Airwars counting at least 2,104 civilians killed in some of the more than 17,000 coalition air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
In the wider US-led war against Islamist terrorism, as many as 1.3 million men, women and children were killed during the conflict’s first decade, according to a 2015 report published by the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival. Over the past 60 years, the US military has killed more foreign civilians than any other force on Earth, including at least hundreds of thousands — and likely more than a million — people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and 1970s and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, at least thousands of Afghans and a lesser number of Syrians, Libyans, Pakistanis, Yemenis and Somalis during the current global anti-terrorism campaign.
In its statement on the December 29 hospital bombing, CENTCOM insisted “coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict, work diligently to be precise in our airstrikes, and take all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.”