A Canadian air strike that hit Islamic State artillery appears to have killed fighters with the extremist group, a military official says, marking Canada's first deadly attack since joining the U.S.-led combat mission in Iraq.
Colonel Daniel Constable, the commander of Canada's joint task force in Iraq, said there is no indication any civilians were injured or killed in the Nov. 11 attack. The strike targeted an Islamic State artillery piece that was first spotted firing at Iraqi troops from a treeline near the town of Baiji, about 200 kilometres north of Baghdad.
A short video of the strike, provided by the Department of National Defence, appears to show the target travelling on a road before it is hit. "I am very confident to report that we have no reports of any civilian casualties, no collateral damage in either of the two strikes," Canada has conducted, Col. Constable told reporters on Thursday.
Earlier this month, Canadian fighters hit construction equipment that Islamic State fighters were using to divert water from the Euphrates River, according to the military.
Col. Constable said it doesn't appear anyone was killed during the first strike, but a damage assessment of the second strike showed that Islamic State casualties were "likely." He could not provide an estimate of the number of fighters who may have been killed.
Coalition forces have been bombing Islamic State targets in Iraq since August and extended the campaign to Syria in September. A group called the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleged this week that 50 civilians have so far been killed by U.S.-led air strikes in Syria.
Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada, said he isn't aware of a similar organization that is monitoring air strike casualties in Iraq. He said it can be difficult to distinguish between combatants and ordinary civilians in many conflict zones, adding, "That's why there's the need for great care and caution in planning and carrying out attacks."
During a media briefing on Thursday, Col. Constable suggested Canada's "rigorous and discriminating" targeting process may be one of the reasons Canadian fighter jets have launched so few attacks. "You know, we're very, very deliberate, very precise about making sure that we have all the information that we need to be confident that we're reducing or eliminating any collateral damage possibility," he said.
Canadian surveillance, refuelling and fighter aircraft have flown a total of 68 sorties since joining U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq about two weeks ago, Col. Constable said. However, Canada's CF-18 fighter jets have completed two air strikes since the mission began.
Col. Constable noted that Canada is also providing refuelling and surveillance support to the coalition, in addition to air strikes. He said there is evidence that coalition effort is having an impact, with Islamic State fighters losing the ability to move freely in Iraq and changing their tactics to avoid detection from the air.
Canada has contributed a total of six CF-18 fighter jets, two CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes, a C-150 refuelling jet and about 600 Canadian Forces personnel to the mission, which is based in Kuwait. About 70 more Canadian special forces troops are also providing advice and training to security forces in northern Iraq.