Alex Salmond: UK must probe airstrike death reports

ALEX Salmond yesterday called on the UK Government to investigate claims that UK-embedded airstrikes have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Iraq and Syria.

Alex Salmond: Inquiry call. Picture: John Devlin
Alex Salmond: Inquiry call. Picture: John Devlin

The SNP foreign affairs spokesman has asked the Ministry of Defence to investigate the findings of a report by Airwars, a project team of independent journalists, which shows the air campaign against IS may have resulted in at least 459 non-combatant deaths, including those of more than 100 children.

The report, published last week, claimed there was a “worrying gulf between public and Coalition positions” on the campaign’s toll on civilians.

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Last night, the MoD responded, saying there was no UK action over Syria. It added that it was not aware of any civilian casualties as a result of British strikes on Iraq.

Salmond, however, pointed to an answer to an SNP parliamentary question that showed defence secretary Michael Fallon had authorised the first UK embed with US forces in Syria as long ago as the autumn of last year. The House of Commons voted in August 2013 against taking any military action in Syria.

Salmond claimed that the case for bombing in Syria had not been made and he accused the UK government of “breathtaking arrogance”.

“The findings of this report are alarming and must be investigated,” the former Scottish first minister said.

“The authors of the report examined 118 air strikes and identified 52 that ‘warrant urgent investigation’.

“They found strong indications of civilian deaths, according to multiple, reliable sources, from these attacks. In contrast, the coalition forces have only accepted responsibility for a handful of civilian casualties but, of the coalition countries, only Canada is presenting information on their airstrikes in the detail required for them to be properly examined and verified.

“We have seen breathtaking arrogance from the UK government on military involvement in Syria. It has become clear that far from being a decision made within the last few weeks or months, this has been a long time in the planning and yet the government has failed to confirm the timing and justification for this highly controversial military operation.

“The case for UK involvement in bombing in Syria has simply not been made – and the involvement of British service personnel in bombing without the approval of Parliament clearly flouts the democratic decision taken by the House of Commons.

“Significantly, the number of potential civilian deaths in Syria identified by Airwars is almost as great as that in Iraq despite the air campaign being much more recent. That may be the result of the difficulty in identifying targets in Syria… The government’s behaviour in this matter is entirely unacceptable – effectively participating in a bombing campaign by stealth. We now need an investigation into these new findings on civilian deaths, and we need it urgently.”

An MoD spokeswoman said: “We are not aware of any incidents of civilian casualties as a result of UK strike activity over Iraq. Our over-riding concern in conducting such strikes is to protect innocent people from the terrorists we are targeting and we take every possible measure to avoid any civilian casualties.”