U.S. military says airstrikes intended for Islamic State killed civilians

U .S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants and infrastructure in Iraq and Syria inadvertently killed eight civilians and injured three others during a three month period last year, the Pentagon said Friday.

The assessment, which covered April 12 to July 4, brings the total confirmed civilian death toll to 14, including three children, from U.S. air attacks, according to the Pentagon.

“We deeply regret the unintentional loss of life and injuries resulting from those airstrikes and express our deepest sympathies to the victims’ families and those affected,” U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, said in a statement.

Human rights and humanitarian aid groups say the Pentagon vastly underestimates the number of casualties from errant bombs or poor targeting.

They estimate that several hundred civilians have been killed or wounded in the approximately 9,650 airstrikes launched by the U.S. and its allies since the air war began in September 2014.

Central Command did not release its investigation into the civilian deaths, but issued a two-page release that summarized the military's findings.

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According to the release, three civilians were killed during a July 4 air strike against an Islamic State leader in Raqqah, Syria, when a car and a motorcycle entered the target area after the weapon was released by a U.S. aircraft.

Two civilians were injured on June 29 after a U.S. warplane dropped a bomb on a militant vehicle in  Haditha, Iraq. “Two seconds prior to impact,” a car slowed in front of the targeted vehicle while a motorcycle simultaneously passed by, the U.S. military said.

“The target vehicle was destroyed in the strike but there was insufficient evidence to determine the level of injuries to the civilians operating the passing car and motorcycle,” the statement said.

On June 19, a civilian was injured near Tall al Adwaniyah, Syria, after appearing in the target area after the U.S. aircraft had released its weapon against two Islamic State vehicles. Three more civilians were killed on June 11 near Suluk, Syria, during strikes against the militants.

Two civilians were killed on April 12 near al Huwayjah, Iraq, during a strike on an Islamic State tactical unit.

Central Command said the attacks all complied with laws on armed conflict and that appropriate precautions were taken to prevent civilian casualties. The command is reviewing additional cases.

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Military officials say U.S. pilots, crews and targeters take extraordinary efforts to avoid killing civilians.

Military and intelligence personnel calculate the blast area and potential risks to civilians before bombs are dropped on a specific target. U.S. spy satellites and drone aircraft relay live video before and after the bombs hit. 

The known death toll from U.S. bombing pales beside the vastly greater suffering in Syria's multi-sided civil war, which has left more than 200,000 civilians, military and insurgents dead since 2011.

The U.S.-led coalition, Russia and Syria's government all conduct daily airstrikes against various militant groups in the country.

The U.S. military maintains that unlike Russia and Syria, it uses satellite-guided and laser-guided munitions for more precise targeting against Islamic State than dropping so-called dumb bombs.

A White House fact sheet released Friday claimed that airstrikes have destroyed more than 3,450 vehicles and tanks, more than 1,120 artillery and mortar positions, 1,170 oil storage tanks and other oil infrastructure, and more than 13,500 checkpoints, buildings, bunkers, barracks and training camps.

Last month alone, the White House said, coalition airstrikes killed dozens of senior Islamic State leaders, "including external operations planners, explosives facilitators, financial emirs, and other key positions."

Bombing in support of Iraqi troops helped push Islamic State out of Ramadi, a strategic city west of Baghdad, but left much of the city in ruins last month. Other airstrikes have targeted militants' urban strongholds in Raqqah in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

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