A secret American unit code-named “Talon Anvil” has been accused by its own staff of killing so many civilians in the war against Islamic State that even CIA officers complained.
Leaks to The New York Times revealed that most of the strikes carried out by the US-led coalition against Isis, of which there were more than 100,000, were not ordered by senior officers but by a small unit operating from offices at first in Iraq and later in northeast Syria. Talon Anvil was led by “Delta” special forces and consisted at any one time of fewer than 20 people, who monitored the fighting on the ground round the clock via giant television screens. It issued orders for jet and drone strikes on a widening range of targets, including command points, convoys and groups of Isis fighters.
As the years of fighting progressed, however, the unit became increasingly immune to worries about killing civilians to the extent that soldiers, intelligence officers and even CIA operatives began to complain. Pilots started to refuse to carry out bombing orders and eventually concerns were lodged up the chain of command but it refused to intervene.
One officer told the paper that he had raised the issue of a bombing raid on a building where about 50 people were sheltering. He said senior officers did not want to interrupt a system that was driving forward military success on the battlefield. He said he saw so many civilian deaths he eventually came to accept them as “part of the job”.
The official assessment was that 1,410 civilians were killed during the whole campaign from August 2014 to March 2019. Airwars, a UK monitor, put the figure at between 8,000 and 13,000.