Pentagon documents reveal civilian deaths from US airstrikes; Canadian air force remains silent on its numbers

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: CF-18 in Libya, 2011.

On December 18, the New York Times reported on the U.S. airstrikes that have claimed the lives of civilians in numerous countries.

Aljazeera summarizes: “The report, based on a trove of confidential Pentagon documents covering more than 1,300 reports of civilian casualties, undercuts the US government’s portrayal of a war fought with precision bombs, the publication said.”

Among the reports citied is the killing of 120 Syrian villagers by US Air Force A-10 attack jets and a B-52 bomber in July 2016.

It also includes a report of dozens more killed when an F-15 dropped three 500-pound precision-guided bombs on another Syrian village in March 2019.

This past September, Airwars, an organization that tracks military actions related to civilian harm, reported: “Based on official US military data, we have concluded that the US has carried out a minimum of 91,340 airstrikes throughout the 20 years of the War on Terror.”

Airwars adds: “Based on our comprehensive review of credible sources, we found at least 22,679 civilians were likely directly killed by US strikes since 9/11, with that number potentially as high as 48,308.”

Canadian airstrikes

Pentagon documents have also revealed that Canadian CF-18s may have killed up to 27 civilians during an airstrike on Iraq in January 2015.

And that Pentagon document says: “[Canadian Joint Operations Command Legal Advisor] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), there are no obligations for the [Canadian Air Force] to conduct an investigation.”

In October 2015, the CBC also reported: “Canadian fighter planes have now been connected to a second airstrike in Iraq that has been reviewed by the Pentagon for possible civilian casualties, CBC’s the fifth estate has learned.”

Lack of transparency about casualties

Just months before he became Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau commented on the report about the first CF-18 airstrike: “One of the things that has been consistent from [the Harper] government has been a lack of openness and transparency, even on issues as important as our engagements around the world with Canadian military forces.”

And in May 2017, the CBC reported: “The air force said it has ‘no information’ that any of its airstrikes, on-target or otherwise, killed or wounded civilians.”

That article quoted Chris Woods of Airwars who commented: “As I understand it Canada’s position is not that it didn’t kill any civilians — only that it’s not aware of having killed any. A subtle, though, important distinction.”

Disclosure before new fighter jets purchased

The US Defense Department reportedly produces an annual report on civilian casualties (though its 2019 report does not mention the F-15 strike on Syria in March 2019 that killed civilians). Aljazeera also notes: “Before launching air strikes, the US military must navigate elaborate protocols to estimate and minimize civilian deaths.”

Canadian reporting appears to fall even below that standard.

As the Canadian government prepares to make its decision as soon as March/April 2022 on a $76.8 billion purchase of new fighter jets, the public and parliamentary demand should grow for a full disclosure of civilian deaths from the overseas deployments of its current fleet of CF-18s before any contract for new warplanes is signed.

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