Questions continue about civilian casualties resulting from Canadian airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: A CF-18 over Iraq, March 4, 2015.

Ottawa Citizen journalist David Pugliese reports on Canadian military participation in a U.S. military team code-named Talon Anvil responsible for launching tens of thousands of bombs and missiles that killed hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Syria.

His full article can be read at Canadian special forces involved in U.S. military team accused of killing scores of innocent people in Iraq, Syria.

Pugliese notes: “One Canadian special forces soldier was part of the 20-member team in 2015 while other Canadian military personnel played a supporting role or were briefed on its activities, according to documents obtained by this newspaper as well as information provided by military sources.”

While he adds “it is unclear what role, if any, Talon Anvil played in Canada’s airstrikes on Islamic State forces,” he highlights “Canadian CF-18 fighters conducted 251 airstrikes from Oct. 30, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2016. At total of 606 bombs were dropped, mostly on targets in Iraq.”

Reports of civilian casualties

Pugliese notes: “Independent investigators and human rights groups have estimated that at least 7,000 civilians were killed by coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.”

An internal Pentagon document obtained by CBC’s the fifth estate has also revealed that CF-18s may have killed up to 27 civilians during an airstrike on Iraq in January 2015.

That document says: “[Canadian Joint Operations Command Legal Advisor] opinion is that, under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), there are no obligations for the [Royal 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.”

Furthermore, the Canadian Press reported in September 2012 that: “[CF-18 fighter jets] eventually flew 10 per cent of all NATO strike missions [in Libya].” In May 2012, Human Rights Watch reported: “NATO air strikes [on Libya] killed at least 72 civilians, one-third of them children under age 18. To date, NATO has failed to acknowledge these casualties or to examine how and why they occurred.”

Transparency and accountability

CNN has reported that the US Defense Department produces an annual report on civilian casualties. And Aljazeera adds: “Before launching air strikes, the US military must navigate elaborate protocols to estimate and minimize civilian deaths.”

Just months before he became Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau commented on CF-18 airstrikes: “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.”

While Trudeau did withdraw CF-18s from U.S.-led coalition combat missions in Iraq and Syria in November 2015, other Canadian airplanes – notably a Polaris refuelling plane – remained and helped facilitate further coalition airstrikes.

As the Canadian government prepares to spend $76.8 billion on F-35 warplanes, it is legitimate to demand greater transparency on the casualties that have resulted from the 1,598 bombing missions conducted by CF-18s over the past 30 years.

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