WASHINGTON — The U.S. military accidentally killed dozens of civilians in an airstrike conducted by a manned AC-130 gunship, the White House acknowledged Monday.
The aircraft missed its target as it targeted Islamic State fighters, but instead hit a convoy traveling through an area near the town of Al Hasakah. Local residents said among the dead were women and children.
“[The] U.S. government believes that four civilians were killed by friendly fire,” President Donald Trump tweeted Monday, later telling reporters at the White House that he would have done things differently if he were to do it over again.
Here are five ways the U.S. government minimized civilian casualties.
1. Manned aircraft outnumber drones
The Islamic State has used drones and remotely piloted planes for years. But U.S. forces have so far relied heavily on manned aircraft, such as the AC-130 gunship, to conduct airstrikes. It’s unclear whether civilian casualties were caused by the drone strikes.
“Because we use manned aircraft and not drones in this environment, the likelihood of civilian casualties, even if limited, is higher, and more likely, than if we used drones,” military spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters Friday.
2. The AC-130 weapon is a “Classic” weapon system
Trump administration officials have repeatedly touted the effectiveness of a weapons system called the A-10 Warthog, which they say has had a significant impact in the fight against the Islamic State.
But the A-10, or Thunderbolt II, is designed to attack ground troops and is powered by hydraulic jacks — not missiles or bombs. U.S. fighter jets that carry GPS-guided bombs can in theory target Islamic State fighters in a more dangerous manner. But the number of aircraft needed and their wing-span could make it tough to hit ground targets.
3. U.S. aircraft rarely fly in the Syrian winter
U.S. aircraft are designed for aerial assault, not winter survival.
At least once a month, a U.S. aircraft flies around the clock on extended missions to support a long-term Syrian Democratic Forces effort against the Islamic State.
But even with these harsh conditions, most U.S. aircraft run only a few hours a week.
Some aircraft, including the F-15E Strike Eagle and the P-8 Poseidon P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft, also fly a number of long-term missions throughout the year, conducting more than 1,200 hours of reconnaissance and surveillance over Syria and Iraq each year.