Officials at the Pentagon have claimed that the bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria against ISIS has been precise and accurate. However, an internal military investigation claimed civilians were caught in the crossfire.
In an exclusive report by Nancy A. Youssef of The Daily Beast, two defense officials confirmed that two civilians were killed in a U.S.-led airstrike against the terror group known as ISIS. It is the first time that the U.S. military has officially acknowledged killing a civilian since the bombing campaign began nine months ago.
"No other military works as hard as we do to be precise in the application of our airstrikes," U.S. Central Command spokesman Army Maj. Curt Kellogg said in a statement. "We have significant mitigation measures in place within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential risks of collateral damage and civilian casualties."
Kellogg added that "before any mission, every precaution is taken to ensure civilians are not harmed."
"Our efforts stand in stark contrast to the tactics of [ISIS], who continues to kill, torture, and abuse civilians as well as embed their combatants in civilian areas," Kellogg said.
Youssef reported that based on Department of Defense figures, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 3,500 strikes and either destroyed or damaged more than 6,000 targets. The U.S. military has previously claimed that no civilians have ever been killed in the airstrikes, although some officials privately acknowledged that such a claim was hard to believe.
"With no U.S. soldiers on the ground to assess the damage inflicted by airstrikes, the coalition's air campaign is built on U.S. intelligence collected from drones, satellites, and reconnaissance aircraft, as well as information from local troops," Youssef wrote.
According to Youssef, CENTCOM could release details of their findings as soon as this week. However, officials at CENTCOM declined to comment further on the results.
"We will make additional information about the investigation available when the process is complete," CENTCOM said in a statement.
Youssef noted that there have been differing accounts from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an organization based in the United Kingdom, and the U.S. military on the April 30 strikes in the village of Bir Mahli. The military claimed that it killed 50 ISIS fighters and struck the terror group's positions in a "largely abandoned village."
"Two defense officials told The Daily Beast that the decision to launch the strike was based, in part, on information from Kurdish forces on the ground that there were no civilians remaining in the small village as well as U.S. intelligence findings that ISIS fighters were operating there," Youssef wrote.
However, Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the Observatory, told The Daily Beast that villagers have provided a list of civilian victims that included 31 children and 19 women.
"They were very upset when the U.S. said it killed ISIS," Rahman said. "The villagers said, 'How do you know who you killed?'"
Youssef reported that Rahman had no video or photo evidence to back up the Observatory's claims. However, U.S. officials stressed that great care is taken to avoid civilian casualties.
"We work extremely hard to be precise in the application of our airstrikes and take all allegations of civilian casualties very seriously," Kellogg said.