September 10, 2015
WANNON MP Dan Tehan has refused to comment directly on a United States Military Central Command report that suggested the Royal Australian Air Force may have bombed a civilian area in Iraq last year.
Mr Tehan did say that avoiding civilian casualties would be “a key consideration” if Australia decided to expand its campaign of airstrikes against terrorist group ISIS from Iraq into Syria.
Last week the website Airwars.org, in conjunction with the ABC, published a US CENTCOM report into suspected civilian causalities in Iraq and Syria caused by nations participating in the US-led bombing of ISIS.
The report revealed that the US and its allies had internally investigated dozens of events involving at least 325 possible civilian deaths from airstrikes.
The report covered the period from August 2014 to May 2015, during which 16,193 sorties were flown and bombs, cannons or missiles were used on 3837 of those missions.
According to the report, on December 21 last year “two unknown individuals may have been wounded as a result of a deliberate strike conducted by the Australians on a suspected weapons factory in Fallujah”.
“Approximately 10 minutes after the last weapon impact, a probable female and probable child were observed on FMV (Full Motion Video, likely filmed by drone or fighter jet) to walk through the target area.
“A probable male arrived and carried the child to a motorcycle and transported him to the Fallujah hospital.
“The female walked to the median strip on the road and lay down, and was not observed any further.”
The “allegation” was listed as “cleared” in the report and the findings were passed on to an Australian liaison officer.
“Assessed to be insufficient information to determine CIVCAS (civilian casualties),” the report stated.
“The lack of urgency and the fact that the child walked normally suggest his injuries were not life threatening.
“There was no Iraqi allegation of CIVCAS and CAOC (Combined Air and Space Operations Center, US Air Force base, Qatar) recommends that there is insufficient information to warrant further inquiry”
The report also noted that the Australian Defence Force had also investigated the incident and “reached a similar conclusion”.
During a press conference on Friday, Mr Tehan said he was “not aware of that report”.
“It would be better if that question was directed to the Defence Minister,” he said.
Mr Tehan was asked if the Australian Government would consider the risk of civilian casualties if the RAAF started airstrikes in Syria.
“That is always a key consideration that any government considers when it makes decision as to whether it should join military action in
any country,” he said.
“That aspect, the rules of engagement, is always something that is taken into consideration.”
Mr Tehan has been at the forefront of a recent push for Australia to expand its anti-ISIS air campaign to Syria on the grounds that the international border was providing a safe haven for terrorists.
Australia is already bombing ISIS in Iraq at the request of that nation’s government, and bombing Syria would present additional legal issues.
Mr Tehan was asked if there should be more transparency in regard to civilian casualties caused by the US-led Coalition’s bombing of Iraq and Syria.
“I think there is transparency,” Mr Tehan said.
“Those that we are fighting are the ones who do not like transparency; they do not like democratic principles. They are the ones that are acting in ways that, frankly, beggar belief.
“The current situation in Syria, where you have nine million people internally displaced, is the greatest humanitarian crises we have seen in the word, and in my personal view, it is a very strong reason as to why we need to act in Syria and why we need the international community to be doing more.”
The US report into suspected civilian causalities was originally designated ‘SECRET’ and was on restricted release to governments of ‘Five Eyes’ nations, which includes Australia.
The report was subsequently declassified and released to a US journalist under Freedom of Information laws.
The Australian Defence Force said in a statement to the ABC that a routine ‘battle damage assessment’ was conducted following the airstrike.
“The assessment was consistent with the reports detailed in the Iraq/Syria CIVCAS Allegation tracker released by US Central Command under FOI legislation,” the statement read.
“As there were no reports or claims of any casualties from Australian airstrikes, no further action was undertaken.”