Ministry of Defence U-turns on civilian death airstrike investigations

The Ministry of Defence has indicated it will now consider investigating allegations of civilian deaths from airstrikes in Iraq and Syria which are raised by monitoring groups.

Last week the Sunday Herald revealed the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had said it would not examine reports of deaths on the ground from anyone but UK military personnel and “local forces” deemed friendly.

It came after calls to investigate reports by independent monitoring group Airwars that between 72 and 81 civilian deaths in Iraq could be linked to British airstrikes. Prime Minister David Cameron subsequently pledged to overrule the MoD and told MPs he would look at the claims.

Last night the MoD told the Sunday Herald it would now consider reports from other sources – such as media reports and monitoring groups like Airwars – but added they would have to have a "level of credibility".

An MoD spokeswoman said: “In the hundreds of air strikes conducted by the RAF we have found no evidence of civilian casualties resulting from UK military action in Iraq or Syria.

"All UK strike missions are thoroughly reviewed and if we have any reason to believe, either from our own analysis or from other reports, that there might have been civilian casualties, a full investigation would be conducted in conjunction with Coalition authorities.”

On Friday MP Stephen Gethins wrote to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon urging him to accept evidence from other sources.

Gethins, SNP MP for north-east Fife and member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote: "It is vitally important to limit civilian casualties and that we accurately reflect the reality on the ground when it comes to UK military engagement."

The US military – which is carrying out the majority of airstrikes – admitted on Friday that eight more civilians were likely killed and three wounded in Iraq and Syria as a result of US airstrikes between April and July last year. It previously reported a total of six civilian deaths.

Chris Woods, director of Airwars, said: “The number of cases the US have admitted over such a short period of time really starts to give a sense of the reality of Iraq and Syria – that civilians killed in coalition strikes is a fairly regular occurrence and not the rarity that some have implied."



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