USS Harry Truman Launches Air Strikes Against ISIS In Mediterranean, Debate Over Civilian Deaths Continues

The USS Harry Truman Carrier Strike Group has stepped up its air strikes against ISIS targets in the Middle East upon relocating from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

According to 13 News Now, the strike group embarked from Norfolk in November as part of a seven-month deployment to the region in support of the U.S.’s Operation Inherent Resolve to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Since April, combined efforts of U.S.-allied Kurdish and Arab fighters have been gaining ground in the multi-front civil war currently raging inside of Syria. Recently, it was reported that U.S. special forces were among those ground forces pushing ISIS back to their headquarters in Raqqa.

The pressure mounting on ISIS, also called Daesh, led to the extension of the Truman’s deployment and relocation to the Mediterranean, leaving the Fifth Fleet, which is stationed in the Persian Gulf.

“The ability to conduct sustained operations, from one region to the next, is a demonstration of the U.S. Navy’s flexibility and capability,” said strike group leader Rear Admiral Bret Batchelder in a Navy press release. “We go where our nation most needs us, anywhere on the globe, and we don’t need a permission slip.”

A coalition airstrike against ISIS positions on the Turkey-Syria border. [Photo by Vadim Ghirda/AP Images]

Extended by a month, the strike group had already flown 1,407 sorties over the region, firing up to 1,110 missiles by the group’s Carrier Air Wing 7.

According to CNN, since its arrival in the Mediterranean, the carrier has taken up a round-the-clock pace for arming and launching its F/A-18 Hornets from its decks, as well as tankers in advance for refueling purposes during the sometimes seven-hour missions. Some fighters refuel up to three times.

Humanitarian groups have also reasserted their concerns for civilian deaths as the frequency of US airstrikes picks up. In response, the crew of the Truman says that pilots are choosing to drop 500-pound bombs as opposed to 1,000-pound in order to limit the damage done to civilians in ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq and Syria.

From September 2015 to February 2016, the Independent reports that the acknowledged number of civilian deaths in airstrikes against ISIS targets was 20, the worst attack coming in October when a strike on a mortar position killed eight civilians. That number has recently doubled, though, as the US acknowledged up to 41 with the numbers expected to increase as more missions and investigations will be underway.

Figures from 11 of the 12 participating countries have proven controversial as they have denied civilian casualties while the NGO Airwars estimates that the coalition strikes had already been responsible for nearly 1,000 casualties as recently as March.

A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, April 28, 2016. [Photo by Validated UGC/AP Images]

As Russia criticized U.S. air strikes for civilian damages while dismissing its own as unfounded, Airwars estimated in March that Russian strikes had been responsible for up to 2,900 civilian casualties.

In the UK, questions surrounding the civilian death count have raised questions.

“[The acknowledged claims] naturally invites questions about how civilians are being classified,” said Conservative Lord Hodgson of the UK Parliament’s committee on drones. “[The numbers would be] unprecedented in a major military engagement.”

As member nations of the coalition continue denying that civilian casualties are mounting at all, Airwars director Chris Woods offered analysis on the gap between military claims and credible claims as to civilian numbers.

“In downplaying its own casualties so heavily, the alliance undercuts any leverage it might command with Russia – which continues to kill scores of civilians weekly in Syria.”

[Photo by Ryan O’Connor/Getty Images]