US admits killing a further 20 civilians in Iraq and Syria

The US government has admitted to killing 20 civilians in Iraq and Syria over five months, a death toll far below that estimated by independent observers. Washington had previously acknowledged 26 civilian casualties.

In a statement released on April 22, the US Central Command insisted that the killing of the civilians, and the injuring of 11 others, was legal.

"In all of the cases released today, assessments determined that although the strikes complied with the law of armed conflict and all appropriate precautions were taken, civilian casualties unfortunately did occur," it said. The casualties occurred between September 10 last year and February 2, according to the US military. A majority of the dead came from two families wiped out in the airstrikes.

The news comes a day after it was revealed that the US has relaxed rules of engagement designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties as part of its air war against the Islamic State group.

According to USA Today, last year the Pentagon began allowing lower-level commanders to call in airstrikes that threaten to kill innocents and attacks that entail "the probability of 10 civilian casualties are permitted," the paper reported.

A US-led coalition began conducting airstrikes against the extremist group in August 2014, a war that has entailed nearly 41,700 missiles being fired and bombs dropped on Iraq and Syria. This month the US also began flying B-52 bombers in Iraq, the first time they have been deployed in the Middle East since the first Gulf War.

Airwars.org, an independent monitoring group, estimates that the 20-month air campaign has likely killed more than 1100 civilians.

"The gulf between likely civilian deaths from airstrikes and those admitted by belligerents in Iraq and Syria grows ever wider," Chris Woods, director of Airwars.org, told TeleSUR.

Overall, the U.S. has admitted to killing just 41 civilians; no other member of the coalition, which includes Britain, France and Saudi Arabia, has admitted to any civilian casualties.

The US admission comes a month after it carried out airstrikes on Mosul University that appear to reflect its new, more lax rules of engagement. More than two dozen civilians allegedly died in that attack on what the US deemed an Islamic State "headquarters" in the Iraqi city. Deliberately targeting a civilian institution — the university remains open for classes — may constitute a war crime.

The US is not the only foreign power allegedly killing scores of civilians in Iraq and Syria. Russia, which in September last year began carrying out airstrikes in Syria, has likely killed more than 1400 civilians during the first three months of that campaign, according to Airwars.

[Reposted from TeleSUR English.]

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