Perfect Wars: Investigations Reveal the Hidden Secrets of the British Army Operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan

Murad Jandali | a year ago




During its participation in the global coalition to fight against the terrorist organization ISIS in Iraq between 2014 and 2017, the British army has consistently denied any civilian casualties as a result of the military operations launched by its forces against the organization.

However, these British allegations were recently refuted by an analysis of the Action on Armed Violence and an investigation by the Air Wars Organization in cooperation with the Guardian newspaper, relying on secret documents of the Operations Command and testimonies of survivors.

These organizations revealed that the British army is concealing the killing of dozens of civilians, including children under the age of 6, in raids launched in Syria and Iraq between 2016 and 2018.

The new findings raise important questions about recording civilian casualties in the British military and accountability, particularly as the RAF only admitted responsibility for one civilian death during this period, despite the U.S. admission and other leaks that 1,437 civilians were unintentionally killed in 35,000 airstrikes.

The Guardian newspaper had said a few days ago that the government was under pressure to explain why it had not disclosed whether it had investigated reports of casualties in a drone strike in Syria that injured civilians.


Hidden Casualties

On March 23, 2023, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) revealed that between 29 and 35 civilians were killed in British airstrikes in Syria and Iraq between 2016 and 2018, speaking of an increase of 19 casualties from a previous report.

The organization said it had identified nine airstrikes that likely or very likely caused civilian deaths during the RAF’s engagement in the fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, despite London claiming responsibility for its forces only for one death in March 2018.

The report pointed out that a third of the incidents occurred when the strikes did not take into account secondary explosions or where fighters or drones knowingly targeted live munitions located in civilian areas, stressing the need to hold the U.K.’s Royal Air Force accountable.

On March 21, 2023, another investigation conducted by The Guardian in cooperation with Air Wars revealed the involvement of the British army in the killing of Iraqi civilians in Mosul in 2016 and 2017. At the time, it was confirmed that it targeted ISIS fighters only.

The investigation confirmed that six airstrikes carried out by the British Royal Air Force in Mosul, Iraq, killed and injured about 26 Iraqi civilians, including women and children.

The investigation also conveyed testimonies to the families of the victims, some of whom lost their entire families as a result of the British strikes that targeted homes and residential areas.

On November 29, 2016, the British Air Force carried out a missile strike on the city of Mosul at the request of the mission commander to strike ISIS fighters who had fired on Iraqi allies, Air Wars reported. The strike lost priority, however, until they finally identified another group of males on the sidewalk with a possible weapon.

This blow claimed the life of the child Taiba, who was no more than six years old, and her mother was injured as a result of the explosion, which led to the amputation of her legs, and her younger sister was injured by shrapnel that is still lodged in her skull, in addition to her younger brother, who had parts of his foot and hand amputated.

The investigation revealed that at least 32 civilians lost their lives during British airstrikes on the city of Mosul, during the war against ISIS terrorists, between 2014 and 2017.

These results were reached on the basis of dozens of military documents that were declassified, and a visit to Iraq was also conducted; the testimonies of survivors were heard, and the data were linked between them.

Commenting on the publication of the investigation, Emma Graham Harrison, international affairs correspondent for The Guardian, wrote: “Britain claimed to have fought a perfect war against ISIS in Iraq. Thousands of missiles were fired, thousands of fighters were killed, and no civilians were harmed. This is a statement that lacks credibility and is not true.”

When The Guardian inquired of the British Ministry of Defense about the results of the investigation, the ministry refrained from confirming or denying the results of the investigation and contented itself with confirming that British forces did not kill or harm any civilians in Iraq, as it claimed.

A spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense: “There is no evidence or indication of civilian casualties as a result of strikes in Syria and Iraq.”

“The U.K. always minimizes the risk of civilian casualties through our rigorous processes and carefully examines a range of evidence to do so, including comprehensive analysis of every strike data,” the spokesperson added.

The refusal of the British Ministry prevents the victims from obtaining compensation for what happened to them. The Air Wars report notes that, in theory, civilian victims of British airstrikes could claim condolence payments from the kingdom’s government, in which case those who attempt to do so would face severe procedural and legal hurdles.

Earlier this month, it emerged that the Ministry of Defense was refusing to disclose whether it had investigated reports of civilian casualties following a Royal Air Force drone strike against a terrorist target in northern Syria last December.


British Allegations

Between 2014 and 2020, the coalition forces led by the United States launched several airstrikes on Iraq and Syria, the aim of which was said to be to support the Iraqi forces on the ground to eliminate ISIS, and more than 4,000 shells were used in the strikes on both countries.

The British military claims that the strikes killed 3,052 ISIS militants in Iraq and 1,017 others in Syria, did not cause any civilian deaths in Iraq, and resulted in only one civilian death in Syria during the 54 months of its involvement in Iraq and Syria.

Despite this, there have been some concerns about this assertion for several years, especially after the U.S. admission and other leaks, and the U.S. says that 1437 civilians were unintentionally killed in 342 separate incidents.

This number starkly contrasts with Air Wars estimates that between 8,197 and 13,254 Iraqi and Syrian civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition in 1,525 separate strikes since 2014.

While Amnesty International confirms that coalition strikes have killed more than 1,600 civilians in the city of Raqqa alone, Human Rights Watch confirms that more than 7,000 civilians have been killed in airstrikes on Iraq and Syria since they began.

According to figures from the Iraq Body Count, between January 2014 and January 2017, no less than 55,308 civilians were killed in Iraq as a result of the battles. Hundreds of them were victims of coalition strikes, which the United States, which was leading the coalition, does not deny.

It is noteworthy that the global coalition led by the U.S. military had admitted that hundreds of civilian casualties had occurred in its strikes, but it did not specify the countries whose armies carried out those strikes.

It also admitted, after submitting to several pressures, the killing of two Iraqi civilians in Mosul on January 9, 2017, as part of a mission called RAF, of which the British Army was a part, but Britain insists that it did not cause the death of any Iraqi civilians and that it was targeting only ISIS fighters.


Extra-Judicial Killings

Within the context of the wars that Britain fought outside its borders, the head of a public inquiry committee looking into allegations of dozens of extra-judicial killings committed by British forces in Afghanistan announced that any British soldier who broke the law would be subject to investigation, as reported by Reuters on March 22, 2023.

This came after the British Ministry of Defense ordered this independent investigation's conduct last December after the presentation of a BBC documentary reported that soldiers from the British Special Air Force killed 54 people in Afghanistan in suspicious circumstances.

The investigation also came after two families began taking legal action to ask judges to consider their case after they accused the Special Air Force of killing their relatives in 2011 and 2012, according to The Guardian.

The inquiry’s chairman, senior judge Charles Haddon-Cave, told reporters at the launch of the official inquiry that the allegations the commission had to look into were very serious.

He added that the investigation would look into whether British soldiers were involved in illegal activity between mid-2010 and mid-2013 during deliberate detentions and whether there was convincing information about extra-judicial killings.

He also indicated that the commission would look into the validity of the investigations conducted by the military police and whether any unlawful killings were covered up to prevent them from ever coming to light.

He concluded, “It is important that anyone who breaks the law be referred to the relevant authorities for investigation. Likewise, those who have done nothing wrong must remain beyond suspicion. This is crucial, both for the reputation of the armed forces and the state.”

It is noteworthy that British military police have previously conducted several inquiries into allegations of misconduct by forces in Afghanistan, including those made against the SAS, but the Ministry of Defense has said that none found enough evidence for prosecutions.

In turn, journalist Saeb Hamwi explained in a statement to Al-Estiklal that “the investigation opened by the British authorities regarding the killing of dozens of Afghan civilians at the hands of its forces during the past decade does not cover war crimes committed before 2010, and focuses only on the period when the Labour Party was running power, which means that it will enter the electoral competition before entering the electoral arena in 2024.”

“In addition, it gives the West the status of a defender of human rights, with converting the file from the case of regular crimes to the individual case, leading to diluting and closing it,” as he put it.

“The crimes committed by the British army in Afghanistan are among two reasons; either the British authorities and oversight and security services are so weak that they were unable to monitor and follow up the crimes committed by their forces in Afghanistan, or they are aware of this but deliberately relied on secrecy and obfuscation,” Mr. Hamwi added.

The Syrian journalist residing in Britain stressed that we cannot consider the war crimes committed by the British forces in Afghanistan as mere unintentional accidents; rather, due to a simple historical trace of such crimes, we find that they are rooted in the behaviors and orientations of the ruling family in Britain.

“The best witness to this is what Prince Harry, son of British King Charles III, revealed in his recent memoirs and his confession to killing 25 Afghans without realizing that they were human beings,” Mr. Hamwi added.