ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An Australian air strike on Iraq in 2017 “may have” killed about six to 18 civilians, the Australian government announced late on Thursday, after a year-long investigation.
Australia is a member of the US-led coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Two Australian Super Hornets shelled a building and a courtyard in 2017 after Iraqi forces had called for air support in a neighborhood in west Mosul where Islamic State militants had set up positions, the Defense Department said, according to Reuters.
There was no specific intelligence suggesting civilians were at the targeted sites, but the department stated “it was impossible to be sure under the urgent circumstances facing the Iraqi forces at the time,” adding that the Australian jet fighters hit their intended targets.
The US led-coalition in January last year alerted the Australian Defense Force to claims on a website which tracks civilian deaths in conflicts - Airwars - that there were civilians in a nearby building. After the investigation was completed in December, the Australian Defense Force concluded that the claims were “credible.”
“Ultimately we have determined that it is possible civilians were unintentionally killed by the Coalition during these strikes,” Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld said in a statement. “Any loss of civilian life is highly regrettable and we treat all allegations seriously,” he said.
The country’s Defense chief said it was possible other Australian strikes could be investigated.
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said Australian pilots would not be disciplined as they were acting “entirely within the rules of engagement and under the law of warfare.”
“So there will be no discipline for the pilots involved because they were doing exactly the job they were supposed to do,” he told Australian Channel Nine on Friday morning.
“It was tremendously upsetting civilians were killed and we can't be sure it was [from] Australian [strikes], but in the fullness of transparency, we are prepared to say we could have been responsible.”
The coalition has estimated that between six and 18 civilians may have been killed.
From Aug. 2014 to the end of 2018, the coalition conducted 32,297 strikes in both Iraq and Syria, targeting the jihadist group. It has been estimated that at least 1,190 civilians were “unintentionally” killed in that period, the coalition declared in a statement on Thursday.
Australia ended its air strike operations in Iraq and Syria in January 2018.
Editing by Nadia Riva