Bomb’s eye view

In March the Defence Minister Marise Payne said in relation to a Mosul Jadida neighbourhood strike on 17 March 2017 being probed for civilian death claims, that Australian combat planes were ‘not involved in the airstrike in question’.  Carefully chosen words? Even if the Australian Defence Force were not involved in “the airstrike in question” FOI documents confirm that our combat planes were in the air and were dropping GBU bombs in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood on that day.

In fact, from 1 March to 26 March 2017 Mission Reports – standard reports completed after Australian aircraft complete a mission – confirm that our combat planes were in the air and dropping bombs in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood on 7, 11, 16, 17, 18, 21 and 22 March 2017.

The heavily redacted FOI documents refer to the bombs being dropped as ‘GBU’. Any further references or details relating to the bombs are redacted so it is impossible to determine the precise capabilities of the bombs that were dropped.  We do know that in April 2016, the US State Department approved the sale of 2950 GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs and associated equipment, training and support to Australia with a total overall estimated value of $386 million. As a matter of interest, that’s a little over $130,000 for each bomb.

For the uninitiated the GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) is peddled as an ‘extended range all-weather, day or night 250-pound class, guided munition. The SDB relies on the Global Positioning System to provide navigation to the target. Additionally, its small size allows increased aircraft loadout to achieve multiple kills per sortie and inherently reduces the probability of collateral damage’, provided of course that potential  collateral damage, including people, are located outside the blast zone.

An email from the Department of Defence received on 27 June 2017, indicated that ‘The relevant area has advised that Australia does not have GBU-39B Small Diameter Bombs, nor does Defence keep records of other coalition member strikes.  Accordingly we have nothing to deliver against this request.’ 

However, this still begs the question: What are the capabilities of the bombs being used?

Any airstrikes in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood place civilians in the middle of the blast zone. Following the catastrophic airstrike in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood on 17 March 2017 the United Nations said publicly that “ISIL’s strategy of using children, men and women to shield themselves from attack is cowardly and disgraceful. It breaches the most basic standards of human dignity and morality. Under international humanitarian law, the use of human shields amounts to a war crime.” The UN went on to point out that,  “The conduct of airstrikes on ISIL locations in such an environment, particularly given the clear indications that ISIL is using large numbers of civilians as human shields at such locations, may potentially have a lethal and disproportionate impact on civilians.”

News reports quote Mosul Jadida residents referring to three homes that had taken direct hits from airstrikes, others that had been damaged by debris and shelling, and other buildings and houses that were bombed with Isis forces and/or snipers being on the rooftops.

Australian Mission Reports describe the targets as ‘BLDG’ or ‘SNIPER IN BLDG’ with bombs noted to go ‘high order’, which is to say complete burning or initiative of the explosive occurs at its maximum velocity.

Following the devastating Mosul Jadida airstrike on 17 March 2017 the Australian Defence Force issued a statement that, “While there are no specific allegations against Australian aircraft, Australia will fully support the coalition-led (Operation Inherent Resolve) investigation into these allegations.” This may well be true, but given their guidance by GPS coordinates, the ADF must know with a very high degree of specificity the other targets our bombs have hit and exactly when they hit.

In response to the FOI request the Department of Defence stated that no documents pertaining to ‘the outcomes of military and civilian casualties’ or ‘describing, recording investigations of and assessing the circumstances of Australian involvement in civilian casualty incidents related to air strikes in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood’ were identified.

Even though the documents may not exist, how credible is it for our government to continue to maintain that we have avoided civilian casualties if we have participated in the bombing of populated areas where civilians are being used as human shields by ISIS, and bombed buildings with the object of killing snipers?  The carefully phrased exculpatory statement by the Defence Minister, when considered in light of the information available to ADF, gives the lie to any inference that Australian bombs have not caused civilian casualties.

Copyright Kellie Tranter 2017


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