News & Investigations

News & Investigations

The SNP Foreign and Defense front bench launch the new policy approach, "A Scottish approach to the protection of civilians in conflict" in Westminster on November 22nd 2022 (Image via Airwars staff)

Published

November 23, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

Header Image

The SNP Foreign and Defense front bench launch the new policy approach, "A Scottish approach to the protection of civilians in conflict" in Westminster on November 22nd 2022 (Image via Airwars staff)

The Scottish National Party launched a protection of civilians paper on Tuesday, becoming the largest European party to have such plans. The paper was written with significant civil society input, coordinated and led by Airwars.

The newly-launched paper dictates how a future independent Scotland would conduct conflict and protect civilians before, during, and after Scottish operations.

It includes a pledge to introduce oversight of special forces, a strong focus on the importance of tracking civilian harm and being transparent about the findings, as well as a commitment to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

As SNP Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Alyn Smith MP said during the launch, “making these points isn’t just about an independent Scotland but it’s about what we can all do to get the world to a better place than where we are now. The protection of civilians needs to be higher up the agenda.”

The SNP currently controls Holyrood, the devolved Scottish parliament, and is the third largest party in the UK national parliament. It advocates for an independent Scotland and is campaigning for a fresh Scottish independence referendum in the coming years.

A small, but growing number of countries have declared civilian harm mitigation policies. In response to civil society and media pressure, the United States recently rewrote its entire policy to try and reduce the number of civilians it kills. The Netherlands is undergoing a similar process through its Roadmap Process.

Yet the UK has not kept up with allies and lacks a detailed, transparent policy on how it will mitigate harm, and respond when it does occur. With this paper, the SNP distances itself from this approach. As well as dictating how a future independent Scotland would engage in conflict, the policy also outlines the key beliefs of the SNP in regard to how the UK should fight wars. These include a firm commitment to monitoring the civilian impact of conflicts, as well as to transparency about where and when strikes are committed.

It also commits the party to a UN-backed declaration to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which disproportionately kill civilians who make up more than 90% of those killed when such weapons are used. Last week, delegates from over 80 countries, including the US and the UK, signed an agreement committing to limit their use in Dublin.

🌎Today @ChrisLawSNP, @AlynSmith & I have published a new policy paper on the protection of civilians in conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 1265 was adopted more than 20 years ago, but the failure to protect civilians in conflict is stark. The world needs a fresh approach. pic.twitter.com/HNJDxClzs8

— Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) November 22, 2022

Airwars coordinated the extensive civil society input into the policy, ensuring that each section was written – and reviewed – by experts on the respective areas covered in the paper, such as women, peace, and security, climate change and atrocity prevention.

“With the release of their paper, Scotland is joining others in setting a new standard for how to protect civilians caught in conflict,” said Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen, Policy Specialist at Airwars. “The policy is unique in the extent to which it has allowed for meaningful civil society engagement, and its focus on civilian harm tracking is a nod to the vital importance of acknowledging when harm has occurred and learning important lessons.

While the ongoing war in Ukraine has brought civilian harm to the forefront of news outlets and political debate, such harm is not new. Over the last eight years, the US-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria caused 8,197–13,252 deaths, yet contributors to the coalition have all failed to account for these. To date, the UK acknowledges only a single civilian casualty from its own contribution. With their new paper, SNP are outlining that an independent Scotland would distance itself from this approach and instead become a leader on the protection of civilians.

Read the full policy approach here.

▲ The SNP Foreign and Defense front bench launch the new policy approach, "A Scottish approach to the protection of civilians in conflict" in Westminster on November 22nd 2022 (Image via Airwars staff)

Published

September 29, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

There are no conceded casualties in Syria in 2021, despite widespread public reporting. The report also maintains low casualty figures for the controversial Baghouz campaign in 2019.

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress, released yesterday, on civilian deaths and injuries resulting from US military actions in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria has declared responsibility for 12 deaths and five injuries in 2021. All 12 deaths conceded were in Afghanistan; injuries were reported resulting from actions in both Somalia and Afghanistan.

While these mostly align with public reports on Afghanistan and Somalia – the lack of any incidents for Syria are of serious concern. Airwars has documented at least 17 incidents in which harm to civilians occurred as a result of US actions; this includes 15 civilian deaths, and 17 injuries.

Alongside reports of casualties in 2021, included in the annual report are additional cases from past actions under Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) – the operation to defeat ISIS. In these cases too, conceded casualty reports are significantly lower than local reporting suggests.

These casualty releases have been much anticipated this year, as the Department of Defense worked on its new Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action plan, published earlier this month. Towards the end of last year, reporting from Azmat Khan at the New York Times drew renewed attention in international media to the range of issues around how civilian casualties were assessed by the US in Iraq and Syria, prompting the review by US officials.

However the US’ military actions and its track record on civilian casualties have long been the subject of criticism, with calls for accountability and greater transparency on civilian harm mitigation and tracking throughout the so-called ‘forever wars’. In last year’s annual report, Airwars and others raised serious concerns with the 2020 annual casualty admissions – noting that reporting from other sources placed the civilian death toll at five times higher than the numbers admitted by the DoD.

OIR

In its 2021 report, the Department of Defense conceded no deaths or injuries in either Iraq or Syria for 2021. The report states that there were six cases of civilian harm received by OIR in 2021; 3 of which have been assessed as non-credible, while the other three are still open.

These rejected civilian harm claims likely correspond to incidents mentioned in previous press releases by OIR, which account for at least one civilian fatality and two injuries. The civilian fatality assessed as ‘non-credible’ was claimed by local sources to be a 7-year old boy, killed while US forces were reportedly conducting a training exercise. 

It is unclear if the remaining open cases mentioned in the annual report include the two cases previously noted as open by CENTCOM earlier this year.

Airwars own research indicates that there were at least 15 additional cases alleging harm resulting from US actions carried out in Syria throughout 2021.  US military actions in Syria in 2021 primarily included support to local ally the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north eastern Syria – where civilian harm was often reported during targeted operations on suspected ISIS militants.

In one such incident, typical of the types of allegations recorded last year – a man and his son were allegedly killed in a raid carried out by the SDF with air support from the US military while they were said to be grazing their sheep. Local sources reported that the incident sparked “a wave of panic” among the civilians in the neighbourhood.

Our full incident archive can be found here.

Baghouz, Syria – the last ISIS stronghold

This year’s report contained three cases of previous harm allegations in Baghouz in 2019 – including the controversial March 18th 2019 strike which was the subject of an extensive investigation by the New York Times released at the end of last year, and prompted an internal investigation at the directive of the Secretary of Defense.

In the final major battle in the war against ISIS, the US-led Coalition carried out an intensive campaign to recapture the last ISIS territorial stronghold. Mass civilian casualty incidents were reported at the time – by the end of the campaign in March, reports of hundreds of casualties were being circulated online, including disturbing footage of mass graves and charred bodies. The New York Times revealed that one of the final strikes by the US-led Coalition included a 2000-pound bomb, dropped on a crowded area.

The 2021 annual report continues a pattern observed consistently by casualty recorders of significant discrepancies between conceded casualties and local allegations throughout this campaign; more so even than in other – more contested – battlegrounds, such as the Battle of Mosul.

In total – the US has conceded just 3% of even the most conservative estimates of civilian harm reported during the Battle of Deir Ezzor; compared with over a third of casualties alleged in the Battle of Mosul, for example.

Airwars puts the minimum likely estimate of deaths during this campaign at 695, while the US admits to less than 30 – including those now conceded in the annual report.

The incidents

Notably, this is the first time that the March 18th incident has been officially confirmed in public reporting by DoD – the incident was rejected previously as ‘non-credible’ twice by OIR; with an assessment reopened only after widespread media attention on the case at the end of last year.

Local sources have alleged at least 160 civilian fatalities resulted from the strike, including up to 45 children. In May this year, General Garrett – the four-star general put in charge of leading an investigation into the case – rejected almost all allegations of wrong-doing by US military forces during the operation. His investigation, which was kept classified apart from the Executive Summary, concluded that nearly all those killed were combatants.

In another of the incidents included in the report, from February 2019, we were able to identify at least three possible matches to incidents in our archive (here, here and here). While no civilian deaths were conceded by the US, local reports indicate that in one incident alone at least 50 civilians were said to have been killed.

One of the conceded events also matches a confirmed incident published in a press release earlier this year – an airstrike on March 13th 2019; nearly all sources reported that those killed in this strike had been women and children living in a camp in Baghouz. Fatality estimates ranged from 20 to 100 civilians, while the US admitted to four civilian deaths.

Afghanistan

The US withdrew officially from Afghanistan in September 2021. There were 10 reports of civilian casualties from combat operations in Afghanistan, 4 of which were deemed credible – the DoD conceded the deaths of 12 civilians, and the injuries of 2 civilians. 10 of the civilians who died all died in the same incident on August 29, 2021 in Kabul – this likely refers to the botched drone strike on an aid worker in Kabul, which the DoD later admitted was a ‘tragic mistake’.

UNAMA, which monitors civilian casualties in Afghanistan, raised the alarm over increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan as the situation deteriorated. However, it appears that these incidents had not been attributed by UNAMA to the US at the time of their latest report published in June last year, which contained no casualty incidents resulting from international military actions in 2021 – though notably some incidents were still under review at the time of publication.

Somalia

The US also maintains an active military presence in Somalia, recently bolstered by Biden’s decision to redeploy US troops in Somalia in May of this year. The report did not state a total number of cases in 2021 that it had investigated, but reported on one incident that had previously been conceded by AFRICOM.

Despite an initial assessment by AFRICOM that no civilians had been harmed in the strike, which took place in January 2021, in its first quarterly report last year AFRICOM admitted that three civilians had been ‘inadvertently injured’ when US forces conducted an air strike on what was reported to be an al-Shabaab radio station.

The US has carried out at least 254 raids or airstrikes in Somalia since 2007, and has acknowledged five civilian deaths throughout this period. Airwars own research puts this total number at minimum 78 fatalities.

While the 2021 figure aligns with public reporting, it should be noted that there are significant challenges with harm documentation in Somalia given the security environment.

DoD acknowledges “inconsistent” civilian harm investigation process

This year’s annual report references the recently released Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP) in part to explain any potential discrepancies between DoD admissions and public reporting. The annual report acknowledges that “specific processes for reviewing or investigating incidents have varied over the years”, while the CHMR-AP explicitly noted that practices for conducting assessments and investigations had been “applied inconsistently across DoD”.

The comprehensive action plan is intended to address such inconsistencies; though for those civilians who have had their cases rejected as non-credible, or for those who have never had their cases investigated at all – the promise of review and reform is likely too late.

According to Airwars’ archive, the possible death toll from the US-led Coalition’s actions in the war against ISIS alone could be at least 8,192 and as many as 13,247 civilians killed. OIR in total has acknowledged killing approximately 1500 civilians – though notably, many individual member states have yet to accept responsibility for their own efforts. The UK MoD, for example, has yet to admit more than one civilian was killed by its actions in the entire campaign.

▲ Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Julian Kemper)

Published

July 8, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

Airwars joins partners in publishing guidance to the US Department of Defense (DoD), ahead of its own civilian harm review

Recommendations published today urge the Department of Defense to revise its assessment and investigation processes, including through practical steps such as routinely engaging with civil society to ensure that civilian harm policies are informed by civilians affected by US and partnered actions, and casualties are recorded and tracked through transparent processes that are fit for purpose.

Airwars joined Amnesty International USA, CARE, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Human Rights Watch, Humanity & Inclusion, InterAction, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam America, and PAX in preparing and publishing the recommendations.

Read the full list of recommendations here.

To date, serious concerns with US civilian harm policies undermine effective routes to accountability for affected populations. These concerns have been raised by civil society and in recent Pulitzer-prize winning investigations in the New York Times.

While the US reform process is intended to be forward-looking, significant questions still remain about civilians harmed in US and partnered operations over the past two decades – not least in the war against the Islamic State. Overall, the US-led Coalition has conceded killing at least 1,437 civilians in the war against ISIS – while Airwars believes the likely tally could be significantly higher; with between 8,192 and 13,243 civilian deaths recorded in the Airwars archive.

▲ President Joe Biden holds a meeting with military and civilian defense leadership, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, April 2022 (Image via DoD)

Published

May 27, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

On the final day of Protection of Civilians Week, eleven civil society organisations request to meet the UK Secretary of State for Defence to discuss improvements on the way the UK mitigates, accounts and investigates instances of civilian harm.

As the UN Secretary General’s annual Protection of Civilians report welcomes steps by the United States to develop new civilian harm mitigation and tracking mechanisms, a coalition of civil society organisations specialised in the subject call on the United Kingdom to follow suit.

After devastating revelations published in The New York Times late last year revealed critical failures by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) in the prevention of civilian harm in Iraq and Syria, the Biden administration has launched a review to improve policies on data collection, reporting and acknowledgement of civilian harm, improvements which aim to overhaul processes and create a Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMRAP), as well as a civilian protection ‘center of excellence’.

These revelations add to the strong evidence base of civilian harm from CJTF-OIR operations built up by researchers, humanitarian agencies, and international organisations over the years.

Developments in the US have substantial implications for the UK’s own approach to civilian harm, as the UK played an important role in CJTF-OIR. The UK must now engage with civil society on these issues and implement urgent reforms.

The use of explosive weapons, with wide area effects, in urban areas continues to be a cause of immense human suffering – with nine out of ten casualties being civilians.

“We believe that the UK for its part has an opportunity to be a global leader on civilian protection issues” – Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), Airwars, Amnesty International UK, Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Crisis Action, Every Casualty Counts, Iraq Body Count, Reprieve, Save the Children, and War Child call for Rt. Hon. Ben Wallace MP to act urgently.

Read our full letter here and below:

Rt. Hon. Ben Wallace Secretary of State for Defence Ministry of Defence Whitehall SW1A 1HB

27th May 2022

Dear Secretary of State,

RE: Protection of Civilians Week – time to address UK policy on civilian harm mitigation, transparency, and oversight 

On the occasion of UN Protection of Civilians Week, the undersigned civil society organisations are writing to you to develop a constructive dialogue and request a meeting with you to discuss the UK’s policy on civilian harm mitigation, transparency and oversight. As some of our closest allies have begun to reform their approach to civilian harm in military operations, we believe there is an urgent need for the UK to learn from developing practice on this issue.

Revelations published in the New York Times in 2021 about critical failures by Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) to prevent, respond to, and be held accountable for civilian harm caused in Iraq and Syria add to the strong evidence base of civilian harm from CJTF-OIR operations built up by researchers, humanitarian agencies, and international organisations over the years. This public disquiet partly spurred, as you will know, the US Secretary of State of Defense to direct the Department of Defense (DoD) to improve policies on data collection, reporting and acknowledgement of civilian harm, improvements which aim to overhaul processes and create a Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMRAP), as well as a civilian protection ‘center of excellence.’

Given the important role of UK forces in combined operations as part of CJTF-OIR, these developments clearly have substantial implications for the UK’s own approach to civilian harm.

All states participating in CJTF-OIR, including the US and UK, should ensure that all instances of reported civilian harm are investigated and accounted for. We urge for constructive dialogue around the hundreds of civilian-harm claims from local communities that indicate that large-scale civilian harm occurred as a direct result of CJTF-OIR operations.

We believe that the UK for its part has an opportunity to be a global leader on civilian protection issues. We would like to discuss the following with you:

● Engagement with civil society on these issues and involvement of civil society in implementing improvements

● Implications from the reviews of US practice and the CHMRAP for the UK’s own approach to civilian harm mitigation and response

● How the UK could contribute to developing the knowledge base on civilian harm mitigation and response

● How civilian protection concerns are included in UK support for partner forces, lessons learnt from civilian harm incidents and standards set for best practice.

● How the UK can play a leading role in ensuring historic instances of civilian harm allegations resulting from CJTF-OIR actions are properly accounted for.

● How the UK can lead the strengthening of NATO’s Protection of Civilian preparedness.

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) Airwars Amnesty International UK Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights (CIVIC) Center for Civilians in Conflict Crisis Action Every Casualty Counts Iraq Body Count Reprieve Save the Children War Child

▲ The UK Ministry of Defence, Whitehall

Published

March 31, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

In news widely welcomed by team, Emily Tripp to take over as organisation's second leader this summer.

Emily Tripp will be the next Director of Airwars, the organisation’s Executive Board announced today, and will succeed the present head of the organisation Chris Woods in the summer.

Emily is presently Airwars’ Research Manager, where she has strongly led on recent projects including the team’s monitoring of the conflict between Israel and Gaza in 2021 – which was recently shortlisted for an Amnesty Media Award.

Emily has previously worked in the humanitarian sector, managing monitoring and evaluation departments in Syria and assessment teams in Libya. She brings to the Director’s role technical expertise in data collection in volatile conflict environments, as well as leadership experience overseeing large teams across different countries and regions.

“We are beyond thrilled to know that Emily will lead Airwars into its next iteration, in which civilian harm monitoring, archiving of open-source data, and research and advocacy on behalf of affected communities will continue to form the heart of our work,” the Board noted in a statement. “Emily’s talent, strategic vision and collaborative approach make her the ideal leader to build on the outstanding work done by Chris and the rest of the Airwars team.”

Emily Tripp will be the organisation’s second Director, succeeding Chris Woods who co-founded Airwars in 2014. He saw the organisation through a strong growth phase in which civilian casualty monitoring was introduced across multiple conflict situations in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and the Gaza Strip. His work at Airwars also helped set the bar for accountability for military action in air-dominated conflicts around the world.

“Chris has been an invaluable asset to Airwars since its founding in 2014. He has been the driving force in building a unique organisation dedicated to the monitoring of civilian harm that has become recognised globally as the gold standard for accountability and transparency for belligerents in conflicts,” read a statement from Airwars’ Executive Board.

In further news, Dmytro Chupryna – Airwars’ Deputy Director since 2018 – decided to step down at the end of March. During his time with Airwars, Dmytro led on organisational, fundraising, and civil advocacy issues – and has been a critical contributor to the organisation’s ongoing success.

“We are all incredibly sad to see Dmytro move on – though his positive legacy will be with us for many years to come,” noted outgoing Director Chris Woods. “We wish him every success in his future career.”

Today was my last day at @airwars. I'd like to thank all the amazing Airwars team and our large POC family for unbelievable four years. It was an absolute honour and pleasure to working with all of you 💙💛 and thanks for wonderful flowers and gifts ☺️👐 will miss you a LOT! pic.twitter.com/O0SihF1DZX

— Dmytro Chupryna (@ChuprynaDmytro) March 25, 2022

▲ Emily Tripp will be Airwars' new Director

Published

February 22, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

As tensions mount over risks to civilians from Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Airwars examines lessons from Moscow's seven year Syria war.

On February 21st Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he would recognise the independence of two separatist regions inside Ukraine, with Russian troops reportedly moving there – steps widely seen as edging towards a full conflict. If Russia does, as has been predicted, invade part or all of Ukraine in the coming days, there are reasons to believe it will be a particularly bloody conflict for civilians – as well as an opaque one.

Russian actions in Syria, which Airwars has tracked since they began in 2015, suggests the country’s military does little to mitigate civilian harm. And should any conflict intensify in Ukraine, local and international civilian harm monitoring is likely to be deeply challenged, an Airwars assessment has found.

Russia in Syria: bleak record on civilian harm

Moscow’s record in Syria offers insights into what to expect from any Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Since the first of tens of thousands of airstrikes in support of President Bashar Al-Assad’s government in September 2015, Airwars has recorded 4,621 incidents in which Russia is alleged to have caused civilian deaths or injuries.

From these, Airwars currently estimates that a minimum of at least 4,172 civilians have been killed by Russia alone – with at least 16,000 additional claimed civilian deaths occurring in events contested between both Russian and Syrian regime actions.

Overall, Russia has been linked to as many as 23,400 alleged civilian deaths in Syria. And more than 41,000 civilians have also allegedly been injured.

Russian involvement in Syria has been characterised by a heavy reliance on unguided munitions, including cluster bombs and thermobaric missiles. Videos uploaded by the Russian Ministry of Defence in the early years of the conflict demonstrated the low levels of accuracy achieved when using unguided munitions.

Moscow has also faced persistent and well-substantiated allegations that it deliberately targets health workers and medical facilities throughout Syria. Amnesty International has called this a “strategy of war” to push back rebels. Markets, civilian-only neighbourhoods and even refugee camps have also reportedly been targeted by Russian strikes.

More recently, Russia has been criticised for targeting civilian infrastructure, such as poultry farms and water treatment facilities in Idlib, which is the last opposition-held region in Syria. Rights groups say this may amount to war crimes. And Human Rights Watch has already raised concerns about the shelling of residential areas in Ukraine by Russian-backed groups, a tactic Russia has been repeatedly accused of pursuing in Syria.

Denial of casualties

Russia is far from the only foreign power that has killed civilians in Syria’s decade-long war – in fact four of the five permanent United Nations Security Council members continue to bomb the country.

Yet while there are deep flaws in the civilian harm policies applied by the United States, Britain, France and others, they do at least have known policies.

To date, Russia has not publicly accepted responsibility for a single civilian death during six and a half years of war in Syria. It is currently unclear if Russia has any comprehensive mechanisms in place for either preventing civilian harm from its air and artillery strikes, or for accounting for civilian casualties. Extensive reports of Moscow’s deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure and hospitals suggests the opposite.

As #Putin maneuvers into position for serious hostilities in #Ukraine, let's bear in mind the recent record of the Russian military. As a baseline is one factoid:

– Russian 'actions' in #Syria since 2015 have killed 23,000+ civilians.https://t.co/JsrTI8kJKK pic.twitter.com/rL5duc9XqL

— Charles Lister (@Charles_Lister) February 22, 2022

Airwars has tried multiple times to engage with Russian authorities on civilian harm concerns, with no success. In 2018 President Putin was asked by Fox News about civilians killed by Russian airstrikes.  “You know, when there [is] warfare going on — and this is the worst thing that can happen [for] humankind – [victims] are inevitable, and there will always be a question of who’s to blame. I think it is the terrorist groups who are to blame who destabilized the situation in the country,” he noted.

Ukraine casualties: a challenge to track

Should war again come to Ukraine, a comprehensive review by Airwars suggests that ensuing civilian casualties risk being poorly documented.

A relatively low level conflict began in 2014, when Russia seized the Crimea Peninsula, and pro-Russian separatists later took over parts of the eastern Donbas region – areas internationally recognised as being within Ukraine’s borders.

Since then, even while fighting has continued at a low intensity, the quality of data about civilians killed and injured on both sides has remained poor. While the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights releases regular reports on human rights in Ukraine, it is not a comprehensive dataset. Estimates of civilian casualties are fragmented, and also do not focus on civilian harm resulting from both sides. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) also documents and reports periodically on casualties. Its most recent report covers the period from February 1st – July 31st 2021.

Every Casualty Counts has also published a helpful update on Ukraine resources – including Summary versions in both Ukrainian and Russian of its important Standards for Casualty Recording.

Currently, official Ukrainian government sources only provide data on military casualties. Unfortunately, Ukrainian media and international organisations often then rely on UN and OSCE data in their reporting on civilian harm.

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union – a network of 28 human rights NGOs in Ukraine – has been identifying and recording information on all casualties of the hybrid armed conflict in Ukraine since January 2014. This includes both Russian and Ukrainian military personnel and civilians. The data is available online in database and map format, at The Memorial Map.

The civilian death toll of the conflict since 2014 remains somewhat opaque. International media reports suggest that at least 10,000 people may have died to date, with some estimates as high as 50,000. Yet the latest OHCHR report counted only 3,092 civilian deaths up until July 31st 2021.

Overall casualty tolls include widespread reports of ongoing civilian harm in the Russian-backed separatist regions, resulting from Ukrainian actions. These have come via Donetsk Public Republic (DPR) Ombudsman on Human Rights reports; and Luhansk Public Republic (LPR) Ministry of Foreign Affairs updates. The latest aggregated data from DPR/LPR official sources was reported in November 2021 with estimates of nearly 9,000 civilians killed within DRP/LPR territory since April 2014.

Urban casualties

With dire predictions that tens of thousands of civilians could be killed in a full-scale conflict between Russia and Ukraine – particularly with its likely focus on urban areas – this would quickly overwhelm the capacities of casualty monitors at the United Nations and OSCE, as well as within Donbas, Airwars believes.

Other recent city battles – such as Mosul, Raqqa, Gaza and Tripoli – have seen sometimes extreme civilian casualties, even where some belligerents attempted to reduce harm.

John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare Studies at West Point’s Modern War Institute, said he was concerned about large numbers of civilians potentially being killed in urban environments.

“Basically any possible Russian invasion route that has been discussed goes through heavily populated areas,” Spencer told Airwars.

“Hitting any target, no matter how important, in heavily populated neighbourhoods is likely to result in civilian harm”

Updated on February 23rd to include additional civilian harm monitoring sources.

▲ Russian and Belarus forces hold a joint live fire exercise, February 2022 (via Russian Ministry of Defence)

Published

February 9, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

Header Image

President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, November 2021 (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

“For two decades, U.S. operations overseas have killed tens of thousands of civilians around the world – primarily from Brown, Black, and Muslim communities.”

On February 8th, Airwars joined its voice with 104 other organisations – including human rights, humanitarian, protection of civilians, peacebuilding, civil liberties, social and racial justice, government accountability, veterans, and faith based NGOs – to call for President Joe Biden to act urgently to overhaul US civilian harm policies and practises.

Recent New York Times investigations have documented significant shortcomings in how the US government – and its allies – monitors, investigates, and accounts for civilian harm as a result of its own military action. These have shown how the US military has routinely rejected civilian harm incidents, with decisions often riddled with basic errors, translation problems, or a lack of judgement and oversight. The Times reports echo years of similar findings by casualty monitors and human rights investigators.

There is now renewed attention within Congress and the Department of Defense on the vital changes needed, for example with the announcement of a Pentagon inquiry into how the military covered up civilian harm in Baghouz, and during recent sessions of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“As an organisation committed to reducing civilian harm in the battlefield, we join our many partners in urging President Biden to publicly recognise systemic and structural flaws in the US military’s approach to civilian casualties,” says Airwars advocacy officer Georgia Edwards. “Fulfilling his earlier pledges on human rights and moral leadership, he must now set a new course for the US government and military which opens up pathways to justice and accountability for civilians affected by US military actions.”

▲ President Joe Biden in the Oval Office, November 2021 (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Published

January 12, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

The longstanding Chair of Airwars Elizabeth Minor has stepped down due to ill health.

Elizabeth Minor, the longstanding voluntary Chair of Airwars, has sadly stepped down due to ill health, the organisation’s Board has announced.

Since joining the Airwars Board in summer 2016, Elizabeth has been a critical driver of the organisation’s many successes.

A leading conflict casualty recording expert, Elizabeth was a key contributor to Every Casualty Counts’ world first Standards for Casualty Recording; is a co-recipient of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for her work with ICAN in helping galvanize successful negotiations of a global treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons; and is a key adviser with Article 36, the international NGO focused on reducing harm from weapons.

Elizabeth Minor: stepping down due to ill health

Among many accomplishments during her time chairing Airwars’ volunteer Board, Elizabeth led on the development of the organisation’s secondary trauma reduction policy in partnership with the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma; and was a champion throughout of the highest ethical and research standards. She also chaired the Airwars Advisory Board.

“I’m very proud to have been able to contribute to Airwars’ Boards as the organisation has developed from a very small startup to the established, professional and widely respected organisation it is today,” Elizabeth said this week.

“Of the work we have done together, I’m particularly proud of our establishing procedures for trauma risk management within the organisation – which no similar NGO had comparable policies on at the time we did this work.

“I’m looking forward to seeing where Airwars goes next and collaborating in other capacities, and wish the team and Boards all the best. It has been wonderful to work with such an excellent group of people.”

Speaking about Elizabeth’s departure, Airwars’ outgoing Director Chris Woods described her as “a wonderful, passionate and expert Chair who along with her volunteer colleagues has made an immeasurable contribution to our successes as an organisation. Elizabeth will be very much missed, and we wish her the very best.”

New Board member announced

A new Chair is expected to be appointed at Airwars’ next Annual General Meeting in the Spring. In the meantime, Aditi Gupta has been seconded to the Board with the warm support of staff, volunteers and other Board members.

Director for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones and Modern Conflict, Aditi is also Deputy Director for the UK Chapter of Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security. She previously managed the Freedom Online Coalition Secretariat, through her role at Global Partners Digital where she worked on strengthening civil society advocacy in cyber policy processes.

“I’ve closely followed Airwars’ vital work since their inception, and I’m so proud to work with them officially as a member of the Board. Over the years, the team at Airwars has built an unignorable evidence base of allegations, putting the experience of and impact borne by civilians in conflict firmly at the door of those who need to take accountability,” Aditi said this week.

“I wholeheartedly support this important work, and hope my experience in parliamentary engagement, organisational management, and efforts working on intersectional justice and equality issues will bolster their strength further.”

Aditi Gupta has now joined the Airwars Board

Update on Director recruitment

In a further update this week, the Board said that it has unfortunately not yet been successful in its efforts to appoint a successor to Chris Woods, the founding Director of Airwars who announced he would be stepping down after more than seven years in the role.

Brexit and COVID between them have made for a very challenging UK jobs market at present, and the Board says it is determined to ensure the best possible appointment as Director to take the organisation forward. In the meantime the Board has asked Chris Woods to stay on temporarily as Director.

“The Board is immensely grateful to Chris for agreeing to delay his departure for a few months while we complete our process to find the right leader to build on his incredible work, and ensure a smooth transition once they are appointed,” notes Airwars Treasurer James Hirst.

Further updates on the recruitment process are expected in the weeks ahead.