Britain has killed more than 4,000 Islamic State fighters in air strikes in Iraq and Syria but has only admitted to causing one civilian death in four and a half years of bombing, official data seen by HuffPost UK shows.
The Ministry of Defence estimates that RAF bombing killed 2,994 enemy fighters in Iraq and 1,019 in Syria in the campaign against IS between September 2014 and January 2019.
The MoD has admitted to just one civilian death, a position which has been called into question by the Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) charity, which stressed it would be a “world record” if so many hundreds of strikes only led to one non-combatant casualty.
The charity urged Britain to be more open about casualties given that the US-led military coalition, of which it is a part, has admitted to unintentionally killing 1,190 civilians since the bombing campaign began.
The figures were released with the coalition on the verge of a final defeat of the so-called IS caliphate, with only a small group of militants holding out in the eastern Syrian village of Baghouz having previously controlled vast swathes of of territory in the country and neighbouring Iraq.
In total, 93% of the 4,315 IS fighters targeted by Britain were killed, with just 302 surviving RAF strikes with injuries.
Strikes from RAF Typhoon jets killed and wounded 37% of the targets, Tornados 31% and Reaper drones 32%.
The MoD has counted around 60 allegations that RAF strikes killed civilians since operations began but discounted UK involvement in all but seven incidents, in which “there is not enough information in the evidence provided to make an accurate assessment of where the incidents took place”.
It means the government has only admitted to killing one civilian, in a Reaper drone strike on three suspected IS fighters on March 26 2018.
Almost simultaneously a civilian entered the targeted area on a motorbike and was also killed in an incident Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson described as “deeply regrettable”.
The RAF’s claim of a ratio of one civilian casualty against 4,315 enemies must be a world record in modern conflict.
Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, said of the findings: “The RAF’s claim of a ratio of one civilian casualty against 4,315 enemies must be a world record in modern conflict.
“Yet few conflict experts believe this to be true.
“To them, it is clear that far more needs to be done by the UK to improve transparency surrounding civilian casualties from airstrikes.
“Its coalition partner the US has committed to such, so why not the UK?”
Labour’s shadow peace minister Fabian Hamilton called on all military powers operating in Iraq and Syria to provide civilian casualty figures under the auspices of the UN.
He said: “This is an inherent danger in the government’s ‘bomb first, talk later’ approach. Civilians in conflict zones are not a target.
“This must not be dismissed as an unintended consequence of war.
“It’s also a question of transparency.
“It has been made almost impossible to gather completely accurate statistics of civilian casualties because of the involvement of so many foreign military forces.
“Under the auspices of the UN, the powers involved in this military campaign need to provide accurate and up to date figures on civilian casualties in both Syria and Iraq.”
In responses to FOI requests from the charity, the MoD said: “Information concerning enemy killed and wounded in action is based on the best available post-strike analysis.
“This information, however, is only given as an estimate as the UK is not in a position to visit airstrike sites inside Syria and verify the facts.”
It went on: “It is important to note that we can’t completely eliminate the risk of civilian casualties but we carefully mitigate that risk through strict targeting procedures.
“All weapons releases by RAF aircraft are conducted in strict accordance with the law of armed conflict and rigorous rules of engagement, incorporating estimates to minimise the chance of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
“Furthermore, after every British strike, the MoD conducts an assessment of its effectiveness, including whether or not the objective of the strike has been met.
“This assessment includes checks to see whether there are likely to have been civilian casualties.
“In the event that there is any evidence at all, a further investigation is undertaken.”