Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.
The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.
The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.
A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.
The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.
The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.
The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.
A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her
grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.
Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:
To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes
Unjust – and unwise
Anne emails, “Of course what happened in London was terrible but my concern is over its reporting” – or, in a link sent by Andy, “over-hyped coverage”.
She compared it with the lack of emotive language in The Independent’s coverage this week of a white supremacist charged with stabbing of a 66-year-old black man in Manhattan. The NYPD said that the young suspect has a deep-seated hatred of black people and had travelled from Maryland to New York to target and kill black men. Was he not a terrorist? But he was not described as such.
No buildings were flood lit, no sensational description of the killings was given
Then she pointed out that 30 were killed in Syria due to US air attack on a school earlier this week and last week at least 46 people, most of them civilians, were killed and dozens more injured in an air strike on a mosque in Aleppo.
http://www.siasat.com/news/syria-33-dead-us-led-coalition-air-strike-1157431/ (March 23rd report)
Some lives are more equal than others . . .
The recommended article by Simon Jenkins (below, right) had a more pragmatic concern. It opened: “Wednesday’s assault was a crime. The last thing we needed was our politicians and media hysterically exaggerating it . . . The over-hyped coverage of the Westminster attack will only encourage others”.
Far more are killed & injured by cars (Andy now adds, gov stats: “There were 24,620 people killed or seriously injured in the year ending June 2016 – not much outrage there”).
He cited the ‘normal’ mode of reporting deaths by knifing in London each year, usually by those who are enraged or mentally deranged, adding “Yet more are run down by cars” and pleads:
“Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster.”
“Wednesday’s assault different was instantly subjected to an avalanche of supposition and speculation . . . Without a shred of evidence, and no “claimed responsibility”, the airwaves and press were flooded with assumptions that it was ‘Isis-inspired’. It was squeezed for every conceivable ounce of sensation and emotion”. Jenkins wisely recommends that even if this had indeed been “terrorist” act and not that of a lone madman, the way to react is to treat it as a crime:
- Don’t speculate when you know such speculation will cause alarm.
- Don’t let Downing Street summon Cobra and drag the home secretary back from foreign parts.
- Don’t flood central London with hundreds of men with machine guns.
- Don’t have the police issue interminable empty statements
- Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster.
- Don’t let the mayor rush into print, screaming “don’t panic”.
- Don’t have the media trawl the world for pundits to speculate on “what Isis wants” and “how hard it is to protect ourselves from attack”.
- Don’t present London as a horror movie set.
- Don’t crave a home-grown Osama bin Laden.
- And don’t pretend you are “carrying on as usual” when you are doing the precise opposite.
After referring to the money and jobs lost by this week’s reckless coverage, the liberties the cabinet will curtail, or the million-pound contracts the security-industrial complex will squeeze from terrorised civil servants and ministers, Jenkins ends:
“The actions of the authorities and the media in response to Wednesday have ramped up the hysteria of terror. This was ostensibly a random act by a lone player without access even to a gun. To over-publicise and exaggerate such crimes is to be an accomplice after the act. London’s response to the Westminster attack is an open invitation to every crazed malcontent to try it again”.