The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it had begun a full investigation into alleged civilian casualties from a coalition airstrike in Hawija, Iraq.
Col. Steve Warren, Pentagon spokesman, said that preliminary reports found allegations of civilian casualties credible, so the Defense Department opened a full investigation “several days ago.”
“That has progressed to a full investigation,” he said. “Initially, we look at an event to see if there are credible reports that there were civilian casualties. If we find the reports credible, it then becomes a formal investigation. We have reached that stage in this.”
Coalition aircraft dropped a relatively small bomb on an improvised explosive device factory run by the Islamic State, also known as Daesh, triggering a much larger, secondary explosion from the high amount of explosives inside the building, Lt. Gen. John Hesterman, combined forces air component commander, told reporters in a briefing earlier this month.
The secondary explosion destroyed much of the surrounding industrial complex, he said.
“Let’s be clear. What did the damage was a huge amount of high explosives that Daesh intended to turn into murderous weapons to kill Iraqi forces and innocent civilians,” Lt. Gen. Hesterman said. “If there [were] unintended injuries, that responsibility rests squarely on Daesh.”
Critics of the administration’s strategy against the Islamic State have said the rules of engagement for airstrikes are too restrictive and pilots are often returning from a mission without dropping any ordnance. The military, however, says the rules of engagement are necessary to prevent civilian casualties, especially when terrorists operate among the general population in urban environments.
“The targeting is challenging, perhaps more so than ever before, and we do go out of our way to protect innocent civilians because it’s the right thing to do and it’s one of the things that separates us from the terrorists we’re fighting, who kill anyone who isn’t them,” Lt. Gen. Hesterman said. “Daesh can be targeted while still protecting civilians, and so far, we can and are doing both.”
U.S. Central Command announced in May that coalition airstrikes had likely killed two civilian children in Syria late last year.
The airstrikes near Harim City, Syria, on Nov. 5-6, were targeting Khorasan Group facilities that were being used to manufacture and store improvised explosive devices, the report said. Six buildings were destroyed and two more were damaged.
Despite all precautions being taken, two civilian children who were living “at or near” the targeted buildings were likely killed. There was no indication the children were in the targeted buildings, according to a U.S. Central Command release.