By Terri Moon Cronk DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, November 20, 2015 — The U.S. Central Command investigation into a coalition airstrike on an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant checkpoint near al Hatra, Iraq, in March has determined that four people killed in the strike were civilians, the Centcom spokesman told reporters via teleconference today.
The finding that an airstrike likely killed four noncombatants is based on a “preponderance of evidence” gathered during the investigation, Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder said.
“We sincerely regret the unintentional loss of lives and continue to keep those families affected in our thoughts,” Ryder said.
Drivers Stayed at Checkpoint
Two vehicles approached the ISIL checkpoint within the target area and the drivers approached and interacted with ISIL checkpoint personnel for about 40 minutes while other vehicles passed through the gate, he said.
Aircrews reported the activity to the Combined Air Operations center, and based on observations, aircrew and operations center personnel determined the checkpoint, vehicles and personnel were lawful targets, Ryder said.
The ISIL checkpoint target was thoroughly reviewed and validated prior to the strike, he emphasized.
“The target engaged was a valid military target and the [Law of Armed Conflict] principles of military necessity, proportionality and distinction were observed,” Ryder said.
According to the investigation, all ordnance functioned properly and the airstrike accurately destroyed the intended target, and both vehicles at the checkpoint were hit.
Then-U.S. Air Forces Central Command commander Air Force Lt. Gen. John Hesterman III directed the investigation into the allegations April 20, and approved the findings June 28, the release indicated.
The summary also indicated video footage later revealed “the aircrew had no opportunity detect the presence of the likely civilians in the target area prior to the weapons impact.”
The investigation’s conclusion was consistent with the “operational presumption” that unidentified individuals are civilians/noncombatants unless an analysis of the facts and circumstances shows they meet the definition of a ‘hostile force,’” according to the summary.
“All reasonable measures were taken to avoid unintended deaths of, or injuries to, non-combatants by reviewing the targets thoroughly prior to the engagement,” Ryder said, adding, “[We] continue to take all reasonable measures against the targeting process to reduce the potential for civilian casualties or collateral damage.”