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Exclusive: UK Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria Have Killed Almost 1,000 'Enemy Combatants' — But No Civilians

The figures show a significant spike in casualties from RAF airstrikes since UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said 330 militants had been killed up to September 2015.
Photo by Pavlos Vrionides/AP

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has reported killing almost 1,000 "enemy combatants" and injuring nearly 100 more during Royal Airforce (RAF) airstrikes in Iraq and Syria between September 2014 and March 2016, though it claims no civilians have been harmed during the bombardments.

The figures were released on Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) made by VICE News last month to ascertain the death toll as a result of British airstrikes targeting Islamic State (IS), referred to by UK authorities as Daesh.


"As you are probably aware, UK airstrikes are part of a wider Coalition operation to counter Daesh in Iraq and Syria by targeting their command and control sites, military equipment, and revenue streams including oil infrastructure," read the response.

In total, 974 people listed as enemy combatants were killed and 94 injured during bombing raids in Iraq between September 2014 and March 2016, while in Syria 22 enemy combatants were reported killed and four injured between December 2015 and March 2016.

Those numbers represent a significant uptick in the rate of killings since UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon reported that around 330 militants had been killed by British airstrikes in Iraq during their first year.

In response to a request for comment from VICE News, Fallon said: "We are making solid progress against Daesh. They've lost 40 per cent of their territory, their oil revenue has been cut by around a third, and they are sustaining heavy losses. Now we must push on and defeat them."

In issuing its response the MoD emphasized that the numbers only represent estimates.

"Please be aware that the figures for enemy combatants killed by RAF airstrikes have not been verified as the UK is not in a position to visit strike sites and verify the number," read the response.

Regarding the claim that no civilians have been harmed during bombing raids conducted by the RAF, the statement insisted that "all steps necessary" are taken to avoid civilian casualties, while all weaponry used is in strict accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict and rigorous Rules of Engagement.


"Furthermore, the MoD also conducts an assessment after every British strike of the damage caused which includes checks to see whether there are likely to have been civilian casualties. Our records show that there were no of civilian casualties for the period in question," read the statement.

The claim that no civilians have been killed during the airstrikes was repeated during a Q&A session undertaken on Friday by the UK government-run Twitter account UK Against Daesh.

.@coalition air campaign most precise in history of warfare.Zero civilian casualties from @RoyalAirForce air strikes
— UK Against Daesh (@UKagainstDaesh) April 29, 2016

The session also saw the government confirm that it had so far engaged in 740 airstrikes, while the coalition it is part of alongside the United States and various Arab states has "destroyed 22,000" IS targets.

UK has carried out over 740 strikes in #Iraq & #Syria. Working w/@Coalition we have destroyed 22,000 #Daesh targets
— UK Against Daesh (@UKagainstDaesh) April 29, 2016

The UK parliament originally voted in favor of airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq on 26 September 2014, and bombardments began four days later.

The decision to initiate airstrikes in Syria was taken on December 2, 2015 and was notable for causing a split in the UK's opposition Labour Party. The following day the RAF began its bombardments in the country.


In September 2015, Fallon reported that about 330 fighters had been killed in Iraq by RAF bombings.

The newly released figures show that December 2015 and January 2016 resulted in the most deaths of IS militants in Iraq, with 152 and 133 killed respectively, while in Syria the heaviest death toll was seen in February 2016, with 16 deaths.

The MoD publishes a monthly account of its airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, with December's account highlighting the death of 10 militants during attacks on the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Sinjar on December 13, 2015, while at least 17 were killed on December 23, 2015 near Mosul.

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