World

Civilian casualties 'a fact of life', says Mattis

US Defence Secretary defends rising number of civilian victims in war with ISIS

WASHINGTON Civilian casualties are inevitable in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) but the United States is doing "everything humanly possible" to avoid them, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in an interview aired on Sunday.

A US-led international coalition has been carrying out air strikes against the terror group in Iraq and Syria since 2014, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) say the attacks are claiming ever more civilian lives, reported AFP.

Interviewed on the CBS Face the Nation programme, Mr Mattis said "civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation".

But he quickly added that "we do everything humanly possible, consistent with military necessity, taking many chances to avoid civilian casualties - at all costs".

Some NGOs have blamed the rising civilian death toll on a push by President Donald Trump's administration to accelerate the pace of combat in an effort to "annihilate" the jihadists. But the Pentagon contests both the NGOs' death counts and the charge that a new sense of urgency under Mr Trump is to blame.

"We have not changed the rules of engagement," Mr Mattis said. "There is no relaxation of our intention to protect the innocent."

But he did say the fight against ISIS has shifted to "annihilation tactics".

He said this is meant to stop terrorists in Iraq and Syria from returning to their home countries to wreak havoc, reported Bloomberg.

He said: "Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa."

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