Canadian air missions missed their targets 17 times in Iraq, according to the latest data released by the country’s Department of National Defense (DND).
A former Canadian commander told the journalist-led transparency project, AIRWARS, that there could have been civilian casualties in those off-target strikes.
CBC News obtained heavily redacted documents from one of the missions which said the weapon simply “malfunctioned” in that case, falling into an open field and going off.
That mission took place when Iraqi security forces were fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters outside Kirkuk, Iraq in November 2015.
All in all, 17 bombs out of the 606 dropped went off course during the 16-month Canadian air campaign in Iraq, including a small number in Syria.
According to the Canadian air force, there is “no information” about any killed or wounded civilians.
There were other blank spots too. For instance, DND didn’t give CBC News any timeline of the misfires and didn’t provide a reason.
“No weapons system, is 100 percent accurate. On rare occasions, weapons systems are affected by meteorological conditions or experience malfunctions,” Maj. Isabelle Bresse, a spokesperson for the overseas command, told the news outlet in an email.
The documents obtained by CBC, including briefing notes and media strategy lines, showed how the Defence Department tried to bury the episode in Kirkuk.
CBC also notes that although local Iraqi media reported on a separate airstrike the next day – which reportedly killed between five and 13 civilians – there is no indication whether a bomb “malfunction” played a role in the incident which saw an ISIS munitions factory and part of a nearby dairy destroyed.
“There was a weapon malfunction experienced by [redacted] that resulted in this weapon failing to hit the intended target,” said a November 20, 2015, report, obtained by CBC News, apparently referring to the first Kirkuk incident.
“After a close review of the imagery from [redacted] at this time, it unlikely that any [collateral damage] or injury to civilians occurred as a consequence of this weapons malfunction.”
A week later, another report indicated that no reason had been determined for the malfunction.
At the same time, the entry about the mission on the DND website was changing. The initial post said the fighter bomber “successfully struck three separate ISIS fighting positions” near Kirkuk and Mosul, while the revised version changed that to “two” raids near Mosul.
The issue of potential civilian casualties isn’t completely off the table, according to AIRWARS.
“As I understand it Canada’s position is not that it didn’t kill any civilians — only that it’s not aware of having killed any. A subtle, though, important distinction,” said Chris Woods, the director of UK-based Airwars.
His statement was backed by Brig.-Gen. Lise Bourgon, a 2015 Iraqi mission commander, who said, “For the six months that I was there, I can tell you that I saw no evidence that there were civilian casualties in a strike that [occurred] when I was there.”
She added, though, “Am I telling you that I can guarantee that there was not a civilian casualty? I’m not going to guarantee that.”