Civilian deaths a ‘fact of life’ in ‘accelerating’ war on Islamic State, Pentagon head says
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Sunday cast civilian casualties as inevitable in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and said the U.S. is “accelerating the tempo” of the military operation.
He said that U.S. forces “do everything humanly possible” to prevent such casualties.
“Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation,” Mattis said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We do everything humanly possible consistent with military necessity, taking many chances to avoid civilian casualties at all costs.”
A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since 2014, but civilian casualties have risen in recent months. The U.S. released an estimate last month of the number of civilian deaths in the fight against ISIS, pegging the figure at 352.
Nonprofit groups have said that the figure is likely much higher than the estimate. Many of the deaths coincide with the operations to retake Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria.
President Trump has also given the Pentagon more authority over military operations against ISIS, increasing the pace of airstrikes in the region. Mattis said on Sunday that the Trump administration was, in fact, “accelerating the tempo” of the fight.
“Probably the most important thing we’re doing now is we’re accelerating this fight,” he said. “We’re accelerating the tempo of it.”
“We are going to squash the enemy’s ability to give some indication that they’re — that they have invulnerability, that they can exist, that they can send people off to Istanbul, to Belgium, to Great Britain and kill people with impunity,” he said.