Methodology

Displaced civilians near Mosul, May 2017. (Maranie R. Staab)

Airwars is a collaborative, not-for-profit transparency project run by a team of professional researchers and analysts based in the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and North America. We track and assess claims of civilian non-combatant casualties and ‘friendly fire’ deaths from international military actions – primarily air and artillery strikes. We also monitor and archive official military reports of the conflicts we monitor so that they can be measured against the public record. Our data is drawn from a number of sources outlined below.

Civilian casualty sources

A key aim of Airwars is to assess all known claims of civilian non-combatants killed or injured in Coalition, Russian and other international air and artillery strikes in both Iraq and Syria. We also track international and domestic air and artillery strikes in Libya. Though we often use the term ‘civilian’ as shorthand it should always be assumed – unless otherwise stated – that we are referring to civilian non-combatants who were taking no active part in hostilities.

With more than 30,000 airstrikes reported by the US-led Coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria – many in urban areas – non-combatant casualties remain an inevitability. Claims are cross-referenced where possible to specific airstrikes reported by the United States or its allies.

Airwars conducts daily monitoring of local Arabic-language media and social media sites in both Iraq and Syria for civilian casualty claims relating to international military actions. We permanently archive all reports and follow up on allegations with belligerents wherever possible.

When flagging potential civilian deaths or injuries from airstrikes, Airwars draws on a wide range of sources. These can include international and local news agencies and NGOs; and more fragmentary social media sites including local residents’ groups, Facebook pages (for examples martyrs’ pages), YouTube footage of incidents, and tweets relating to specific events. On occasion, we also include links to militant and terrorist propaganda sources which are directly pertinent to an event. These are always clearly marked as such.

Many credible claims of non-combatant deaths are reported by casualty monitoring NGOs based in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. A number are members of EveryCasualty’s Casualty Recorders Network, as are we.

Extensive additional civilian casualties are caused by other parties to the conflicts we monitor. These include Iraqi and Syrian government forces and allied militias; and militant and terror groups including so-called Islamic State/ Daesh, and Al Qaeda linked factions in Syria.

It is important to note that realtime conflict casualty monitoring presents significant challenges. Airwars reports known information on alleged strikes and casualties in good faith, though we are often unable to follow up or to further verify such claims.

Grading system

We publish a provisional assessment, based on our findings, of likely civilian casualties for each alleged incident reportedly involving actions by a belligerent.

Because of wide variations in the quality of casualty recording, Airwars employs a provisional grading system for events alleging non-combatant or ‘friendly fire’ deaths from military actions. This represents our own assessment of allegations, and we urge those using the site to make their own judgement based on available sources. Our own grading system is as follows:

Confirmed
A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for the killing or injuring of non-combatants or allied forces in a particular incident.

Fair
Where, in the view of Airwars, there is a reasonable level of public reporting of an alleged civilian casualty incident from two or more credible sources (often coupled with biographical, photographic or video evidence). Crucially, with likely or confirmed actions by a belligerent in the near vicinity for the date in question. We believe these cases, in particular, require urgent investigation.

Weak
These are presently single source claims. Nevertheless, they often feature biographical details of victims along with visual evidence from a reputable source – and with international strikes confirmed in the near vicinity for the date in question.

Contested
These occur where there are competing claims of responsibility: multiple belligerents are reported, or casualties are also attributed to ground forces. For example, both US-led Coalition and Russian aircraft might be blamed for an attack in Syria.

Discounted
Incidents where our researchers or others can either demonstrate that those killed were combatants; or that other parties (e.g. the Iraqi Armed Forces or Syrian Regime) were most likely responsible. This categorisation also applies if we determine that an incident likely did not result in any civilian casualties.

Military sources

General munition and strike statistics are primarily sourced from regular military briefings from allies participating in the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria, and from the Russian Ministry of Defence regarding Syria. US strikes in Libya are reported by AFRICOM, while the Libyan National Army has also issued regular data.

These daily, weekly and monthly reports are then cross-referenced against reported civilian fatalities and are archived to provide a permanent record of military claims.

Reporting issues: Coalition strikes, sorties and locations

Members of the US-led Coalition use different methods when reporting on military actions in Iraq and Syria. The primary counting method is the ‘airstrike’ – employed for example by the Coalition as well as by the US, the UK, France and Canada. This reporting language can be problematic, however. The term ‘airstrike’ is one the US Air Force does not employ internally, given its imprecise nature. The preferred USAF metric is actually ‘Sorties with at least one weapon release’ – see for example AFCENT’s ongoing Airpower Summaries. As the Coalition itself notes of airstrikes in every daily press release:

“A strike, as defined in the CJTF releases, means one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative effect for that location.  So having a single aircraft deliver a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of buildings and vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making that facility (or facilities) harder or impossible to use.  Accordingly, CJTF-OIR does not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.”

Any officially given locations for airstrikes must also be treated with some caution. The US-led Coalition generally only cites the largest population centre in a province for example, with Russia only identifying actions by governorate. Reports should be taken only as guides to where strikes may have taken place.

Naming casualties and our use of images

Airwars has a policy of naming wherever possible civilian non-combatants reportedly killed. In addition, we often publish photographs of victims in association with specific events, along with reported images of the locale. Most of these images are sourced via social media claims, from local media organisations and activists, and via monitors such as the Violations Documentation Center. Families have also approached Airwars on a number of occasions, asking us to include photographs and other details of their loved ones.

We believe there is a significant merit in publicly marking those killed – particularly given repeated denials of responsibility by belligerents. Even so, we understand that some family members may be distressed at the presence of particular images on our website.

If you are a family member who lost loved ones in an airstrike listed on the Airwars site and would like to get in touch – or would like to ask us to remove a photo or to add another – then please contact us at info@airwars.org

إذا كنت من عائلة  فقدت  أحد أفرادها الاحباء في غارة جوية كتبنا عنها هنا أو في أي منشور على موقع airwars و تود الاتصال بنا – او طلب إزالة صورة للضحية أو اضافة اخرى – يرجى الاتصال بنا على info@airwars.org

Errors and corrections

We strive for accuracy and transparency of process in our reporting and presentation. Our casualty monitoring is continually evolving, representing our best current understanding of any alleged incidents.

If you have new information about a particular event; if you find an error in our work; or if you have concerns about the way we are reporting our data, then do please reach us at info@airwars.org.