News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

March 15, 2020

Written by

Chris Woods

Assisted by

Abbie Cheeseman

Key European allies are denying dozens of civilian deaths from their own actions - even where the US-led Coalition finds such cases to be credible.

A major international investigation has found compelling evidence that several of the US’s key European allies in the war against so-called Islamic State routinely deny civilian harm from their own actions – even where specialist US military personnel within the international Coalition have assessed such cases to be credible.

Three European countries are implicated – the United Kingdom, France and Belgium – a lengthy investigation by the BBC, Libération, De Morgen and RTL Netherlands has found.

BBC News: US military says strikes may have killed civilians

Libération: Syrie-Irak : ces frappes meurtrières que les Etats refusent de reconnaître

De Morgen: De veertig burgerslachtoffers die niemand erkent, ook België niet

A total of eleven specific civilian harm events have so far been identified – involving the officially confirmed deaths of at least 40 Iraqi and Syrian civilians during 2017 and 2018. No European ally will admit to the fatalities.

“Cases like this expose a fundamental gap in accountability created by multinational coalitions,” notes Dan Mahanty of the US advocacy organisation CIVIC. “If warring parties simply collude to hide their actions, they can also evade their responsibilities. For civilians who lost loved ones or had their livelihoods destroyed, it means losing any hope of remedy, or even basic acknowledgement of their loss. It’s a pretty significant affront to their dignity.”

US admissions

The problem incidents came to light after the US Defense Department was legally required to report to Congress in May 2019, on all recent confirmed civilian deaths from US military actions. That Pentagon report declared 170 incidents for Iraq and Syria during 2017; and a further 13 events during 2018.

However, when Airwars then crossmatched the 183 declared US civilian harm events against those cases the anti-ISIS Coalition had officially conceded during the same period, it identified 14 further incidents which had been omitted. Several senior US defense officials independently confirmed to Airwars that all credible non-US civilian harm events had been explicitly excluded from the list given by DoD to Congress.

Three of these ‘missing’ events were previously confirmed Australian civilian harm cases. That left eleven civilian harm incidents which had not publicly been admitted by any US ally – for example the deaths of three civilians on May 28th 2017 including Hayat, the wife of Mustafa al-Saguri, who died alongside her young daughter and a third unknown civilian at al Hammam in Raqqa province.

The US-led Coalition had admitted those deaths in April 2019, noting that “Regrettably, the strike on an associated target building unintentionally resulted in the deaths of three civilians.” But which US ally was responsible?

During 2017 and 2018, five partners were still active alongside the US in the war against ISIS: the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. With the al Hammam incident not included in the Pentagon’s report of US-caused civilian harm events to Congress, Airwars then crossmatched this and ten other unclaimed incidents, against published strike reports by the US’s allies for the dates in question.

In June 2019, Airwars wrote to each nation’s military, requesting confirmation of whether its forces had been responsible or not for specific confirmed civilian harm events.

Australia quickly responded that it had not conducted either of the incidents it had potentially been flagged in, noting definitively that “Australian aircraft did not conduct either of the strikes on 9 January 2017 and 15 May 2017.” Nine months later, the Dutch ministry of defence finally confirmed that it was not responsible for those deadly strikes it had in theory been linked to.

With indirect confirmation that the eleven officially confirmed civilian harm events had been the responsibility of three European militaries, Airwars then approached major news organisations with which it had engaged previously on civilian harm issues. The BBC, Libération, RTL Netherlands and De Morgen each then pursued its own national investigation, with an agreed joint embargo.

 

Britain: admits strikes but denies civilian deaths

The most comprehensive admission during the investigation came from the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), which is among the more transparent members of the US-led Coalition.

Of the six potential UK events flagged to it by Airwars, the MoD confirmed by letter that it had been responsible for three of the strikes which the Coalition assessed had killed at least 15 civilians. However, the UK then refuted the US-led Coalition’s findings, insisting that no civilians had in fact died.

The first event took place at Mosul, Iraq on January 9th 2017, and had already sparked a BBC investigation after a military whistleblower within the Coalition had reported civilian deaths from an RAF strike. The Ministry of Defence had over-ruled that view, determining that no civilians had been harmed.

Following the BBC’s investigation, US military personnel at the Coalition had themselves then assessed the event – determining it to be Credible in March 2018 and noting that “two civilians were unintentionally killed.” In a detailed letter to Airwars, the MoD justified its own continuing refusal to accept civilian deaths:

We looked at this incident very closely indeed. It happened in an area of active fighting between Daesh and the Iraqi security forces, and neither the troops on the ground nor the coalition aircraft detected any signs of a civilian presence in the area either before or after the truck-bomb was destroyed. The group of men, by their movements and behaviour, showed every sign of being Daesh fighters – particularly the presence of a motorcyclist, frequently used by the terrorists to scout ahead during the street fighting…. We therefore concluded that, if the group did indeed sustain casualties, they were extremely likely to have been Daesh terrorists; we have no reason to believe, on the evidence available, that they were civilians.

The second RAF strike took place at Raqqa, Syria on August 13th 2017. According to the US-led Coalition, 12 civilians died after “Coalition aircraft engaged ISIS fighters utilizing a mortar system in a building used as a defensive fighting position.” Among the victims locally named that day were Walid Awad Al Qus and his young daughter Limar.

The Coalition’s admission of 12 deaths in this event represented one of the highest confirmed tallies for the entire battle of Raqqa, which an Amnesty International/ Airwars investigation later concluded had seen at least 1,600 civilians killed by Coalition actions.

Once again accepting the strike but denying the civilian deaths, the MoD asserted: “A single individual was seen on weapons system video moving in the area just prior to the impact of one of our weapons. There is no evidence that this individual was a civilian, as opposed to one of the Daesh fighters engaged with the [SDF]. We have certainly not seen any evidence that twelve civilian casualties were caused.”

In the final event, an RAF drone strike on January 20th 2018 killed one civilian nearby, according to an internal assessment by the US-led Coalition. Once again, the British reached a different conclusion. “Careful analysis was conducted of the available footage and of all available reports from the area. These showed that there was no evidence of civilians being present in the location, and the footage identified a weapon being carried by the likely casualty. It was therefore concluded that said individual was very likely a Daesh extremist and not a civilian.”

Senior defence officials confirmed to both the BBC and to Airwars that the UK presently requires what it calls ‘hard facts’ when assessing civilian harm claims – an apparently higher standard even than the ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ used by UK courts. Civilian casualty assessors within the US military instead use a ‘balance of probabilities’ approach, Airwars understands – allowing them to consider local credible reports of civilian harm in their own investigations.

In effect, the UK has set the burden of proof so high that it is almost impossible for the MoD to reach a determination of civilian casualties – even when its most powerful ally the US concludes the exact opposite, critics say.

Chris Cole of the advocacy group Drone Wars UK accused the Ministry of Defence of overly focusing on managing public perceptions of war, rather than looking at appropriate levels of transparency: “We end up with obfuscation, secrecy and – as these revelations show – a kind of internal structural self-denial, where it has become seemingly impossible for the MoD even to accept that civilian casualties have occurred.”

Library image: Missiles being loaded onto an RAF Tornado prior to a mission against Daesh (via Ministry of Defence)

Belgium: “Certainly not involved in all events”

Belgium, which ended its involvement in the war against ISIS in late 2017, was potentially implicated in at least nine incidents which the US-led Coalition had deemed credible, an initial review concluded. While two of the strikes were later admitted by the UK, at least 23 civilians had died in the other seven events in which Belgium was implicated, according to US officials.

Several of these incidents were already known. In May 2017, a senior Belgian official had briefed Airwars that the Government was planning to admit two civilian harm events in Iraq earlier that year – one at al Qaim on February 27th, and a second event on March 21st near Mosul. Between them, the US-led Coalition had itself concluded, the strikes had killed at least two civilians and injured four others.

However Belgium then failed not only to declare its role in the strikes, but also publicly denied any civilian harm – which led in turn to a front page news story in De Morgen at the time.

Asked in June 2019 to say whether its aircraft were responsible for officially declared civilian harm in up to nine incidents, the Belgian Ministry of Defence told Airwars by email: “For the year 2017, BAF [Belgian Armed Forces] was certainly not involved in all events. With regard to the other data given, BAF was no longer present in theatre. BAF completed its role at the end of 2017. Our conclusion is that all ROEs [rules of engagement] were respected as confirmed by our federal court.”

That comment by Belgium – that it “was certainly not involved in all events”, appears to be tacit confirmation that their aircraft were involved in confirmed civilian harm events. However it remains unclear whether the Ministry accepts the Coalition’s own findings in any Credible case.

In its own investigation, De Morgen features Muhammad Sheikh Sa’ab, whose leg was amputated following a likely Belgian or French airstrike on May 12th-13th 2017. He was one of the lucky ones. The US-led Coalition acknowledges at least 10 deaths, while locals insist more people died. Survivors and relatives may never know which military was responsible.

“Belgium and other Coalition countries cannot bomb and then simply decide to look away from the deadly consequences. If there is proof of civilian casualties, the Belgian government needs to take responsibility,” argues Willem Staes of the Belgian advocacy organisation 11.11.11. “Mature democracies need to ensure both transparency and accountability, and provide civilian victims with adequate compensation and restitution.”

De Morgen interviewed the survivor of a probable Belgian or French airstrike which in 2017 killed at least 10 civilians, according to the US-led Coalition.

The Netherlands: Last minute transparency

When the Dutch government admitted in November 2019 that its aircraft had been responsible for the deaths of approximately 70 civilians in Hawijah, Iraq almost five years earlier – a fact which had been hidden from both Parliament and the Dutch people – defence minister Ank Bijleveld promised new transparency standards. Yet for much of this investigation, it seemed little had changed.

In June 2019, Dutch defence officials were informed of two Coalition-confirmed civilian harm events in which their aircraft were potentially involved.

While one of those events was later confirmed to be a British strike, a second at al Bahrah, Syria on February 9th 2018 still implicated both the Dutch and French militaries. “One civilian was unintentionally killed as a motorcycle entered the impact area moments before the strike,” US military investigators had concluded in August of that year.

In late January 2020, Dutch officials verbally informed Airwars that they would be neither confirming nor denying their involvement in the two Coalition-confirmed civilian harm events.

However, in a last minute turnaround, on March 13th defence officials informed Airwars and RTL Netherlands that they had not, in fact, been involved in either of the incidents, stating that “In the interests of increased transparency, we can now explicitly answer your question about these air raids. As far as the Ministry of Defense is aware, these attacks did not involve Dutch forces.” It was also indicated that from now on, the Netherlands planned to be more transparent in such cases.

“Better late than never, this is a major step in the right direction for Dutch military transparency and accountability. If implemented fully, this should benefit past and future civilian victims seeking information, assistance or compensation and it should benefit parliamentary oversight of Dutch participation in military operations,” says Wilbert van der Zeijden, a team coordinator focused on Protection of Civilians at PAX.

Library image: A Dutch F-16 pilot checking missiles before take-off from an airbase in Jordan (Netherlands Defence Ministry)

France: a refusal to engage

According to an initial review, France was potentially implicated in up to nine Coalition-confirmed civilian harm events during 2017 and 2018. While the UK has since explicitly confirmed its role in several of those strikes, France remains implicated in seven events which between them killed at least 24 civilians.

Despite conducting more air and artillery actions than any Coalition member other than the United States, the French have yet to admit to a single civilian death in their six year war against so-called Islamic State.

That silence continues. After confirming receipt from Airwars in June 2019 of details of possible French civilian casualty events, the defence ministry then ceased communication – refusing to answer all emails ever since.

Marie Forestier, who is part of the Libération team investigating civilian harm from French strikes, previously reported for the newspaper that “200 allegations of civilian casualties potentially involving the French military have been investigated.” Yet details of those investigations remain secret.

Officials do not deny that civilians have been killed by French actions. Even so, they insist that those numbers must remain buried within broader Coalition numbers.

With the United States, the UK and the Netherlands each explicitly denying involvement in a Coalition-confirmed event near al Bahrah village in Syria on February 9th 2018, only France now appears liable. Yet Ministry officials are still refusing to confirm or deny their involvement in the confirmed death of a civilian that day, according to Libération.

“The French Ministry of Defense has refused to answer direct questions and followup questions. As there is a total lack of interest from MPs, media, and public opinion in France, the Army remains unchallenged and is not encouraged to reveal more information. As a result, there is no scrutiny on French airstrikes and no accountability” asserts reporter Marie Forestier, who has been examining French accountability for civilian harm for several years.

Library: French artillery crews in action against ISIS in May 2019 (Image via Armee francaise)

Widening gulf between US and Europe

Airwars is calling for a major review by European powers of their approach to civilian harm assessments – where the US now leads on best practice.

“US military officials are certainly no pushover when it comes to determining civilian harm. Around nine out of ten claimed civilian casualty events assessed by the Coalition since 2014 have been rejected, our analysis shows,” says Dmytro Chupryna, deputy director of Airwars.

“Even so, this investigation reveals a complete unwillingness by most European allies to admit civilian harm from their own strikes – even where US military personnel determine otherwise. Europe’s civilian casualty assessment processes are presently unfit for purpose.”

On May 12th 2017, during the fierce battle for Raqqa, at least 10 and as many as 20 civilians died when Coalition aircraft attacked Asadiya farm, to the north of the city. According to local reports the dead included Khalil Dhammaage; Hassan Ismail Al Zeyabage; Muhammad Al-Nasehage; and Abu Baraa and his entire family.

Three months later, Coalition military officials concluded that “During a strike on ISIS fighters, it was assessed that 10 civilians were unintentionally killed in a building adjacent to the target.” Yet to this day, neither Belgium nor France will say whether their aircraft killed those ten or more civilians. Remaining families have no chance of an explanation, an apology, or compensation.

According to Dan Mahanty of CIVIC, “the record now clearly shows that a public accounting of civilian harm carries few risks and more than a few benefits for belligerents. It’s a shame that the overall record of transparency and accountability for the US-led Coalition is rendered less meaningful because a few governments prefer to hide in the crowd.”

In six weeks, the Pentagon is due by law to make its latest disclosure to Congress on civilian harm claims from US actions, covering a period in which at least 44 additional civilian harm events have been confirmed by the Coalition in Iraq and Syria. How many of these will again emerge as non-US events remains to be seen.

▲ A March 2017 airstrike during the battle for Mosul against Islamic State. While the US-led Coalition has admitted almost 1,400 civilian deaths during the war, European allies have remained almost silent about their own responsibility. (Via Reuters/ Alaa Al-Marjani)

Published

December 19, 2019

Written by

Chris Woods

Airwars analysis of official data indicates US officials were privately acknowledging 70 civilian deaths at Hawijah, long before the Dutch government admitted the event.

The Netherlands Ministry of Defence (Defensie) has provided an inaccurate statement to both MPs and the media, Airwars analysis indicates – on the eve of a critical parliamentary debate on the deaths of scores of civilians in Iraq which had resulted from a Dutch airstrike in 2015.

Credible reports at the time had indicated that at least 70 civilians died at Hawijah in June 2015, after a Coalition airstrike detonated ISIS explosives held in a VBIED factory. Much of the surrounding neighbourhood was destroyed, and the Coalition almost immediately ordered an inquiry into the attack, which has never been published.

However it was only on November 4th 2019 that the Dutch government finally admitted responsibility for Hawijah – following a major investigation by news organisations NOS and NRC.

Since then, as a political crisis has engulfed the coalition government, Defensie has sought to play down or dismiss reports that 70 civilians died at Hawijah – and also that US defence officials had privately conceded those deaths long before the Dutch admission.

Dismissing the evidence

One problem for Defensie was that several pieces of evidence appeared to contradict their denials of 70 civilian deaths. In April 2017 CENTCOM officials had declared 80 non-US civilian deaths, in frustration at their unnamed Coalition allies not accepting public responsibility for events. The suspicion remains that Hawijah formed a significant proportion of those 80 deaths.

Then in December 2018, an on the record email to Dutch reporters from then-Coalition official spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan explicitly stated that “The strike to the VBIED factory caused secondary explosions that unfortunately killed 70 civilians despite the precautions the Coalition took to mitigate civilian casualties.”

Finally, in a declassified 2018 Pentagon report produced by the US National Defense University (NDU) – which was obtained by the Washington Post and published in February 2019 – a graphic appeared to show a clear casualty spike in official US military tallies of civilian deaths in Iraq, at exactly the point at which Hawijah occurred.

With the US-led Coalition recently and inexplicably withdrawing its estimate of 70 civilians killed at Hawijah, Defensie is also now seeking to downplay the importance of the NDU graphic.

In a statement issued to parliament on December 18th, the defense ministry claimed that the NDU graphic did not in fact feature the Hawijah data, asserting instead that “It can be concluded from the table that, based on investigations into possible civilian casualties as a result of the Coalition’s deployment of weapons, CENTCOM was able to confirm [only] that a higher number of civilian casualties occurred in this period than in the preceding and subsequent period. [translated from Dutch]”

 

How Airwars assessment indicates Defensie is wrong

A review by Airwars shows that based on official Coalition data, the casualty spike in the NDU graphic can in fact only be explained if the Hawijah event had been included – indicating that US officials have long privately counted those 70 deaths in their own data, despite the Netherlands hiding its own involvement in the event.

For its assessment, Airwars examined all confirmed (‘Credible’) Coalition civilian harm events declared for the time window of May 1st to July 31st 2015. There were 17 such events totalling 106 confirmed deaths and 9 injuries if Hawijah was included – or 16 events with 36 deaths and 9 injuries if Hawijah was excluded, as Defensie claimed was the case.

However, the NDU graphic makes clear that the 2015 casualty spike relates only to Iraq – meaning that twelve Syrian events should be discounted. Three of the incidents had also been confirmed only in 2019, meaning that they were deemed Credible only after the NDU study was published.

That left just three events in Iraq: Hawihjah with 70 deaths; and two incidents in July 2015 each injuring one civilian according to the official data.

The casualty spike in the NDU graphic could only therefore be explained if the Hawijah estimate of 70 deaths had been included in the official tally, Airwars concluded.

“Defensie appears to have made a major error in claiming to the Dutch parliament that Hawijah  was excluded from the NDU study data,” notes Airwars director Chris Woods. “In fact, the only possible explanation for the visible casualty spike in summer 2015, depicted in the NDU graphic, was that the Hawijah event was already being included privately by the Pentagon in its own assessments of civilian harm resulting from Coalition actions.”

Screenshot of Airwars assessment of all declared Coalition civilian harm events for the period May 1st 2015 to July 31st 2015.

▲ The controversial NDU graphic which indicates that by 2018, the Pentagon was already privately counting a major loss of civilian life in Iraq during the summer of 2015, at the time of the Hawijah event.

Published

April 2, 2017

Written by

Chris Woods

The US-led Coalition has conceded that a supposed ‘ISIS headquarters’ it targeted at Mosul in September 2015 was in fact a family home, noting in its latest civilian casualty release that “four civilians were unintentionally killed and two civilians were unintentionally injured in the building.”

Four members of the Rezzo family died when Coalition aircraft bombed their suburban Mosul villa on the night of September 20th-21st 2015. Despite a record 558 days between the incident and the Coalition’s public admission of error on April 1st, officials had known of possible civilian deaths within hours of the attack.

“This report was opened and a credibility assessment completed in 2015. However, the report was never officially closed or reported publicly. I do not know why that was,” Colonel Joe Scrocca, Director of Public Affairs for the Coalition told Airwars. “The case was brought to our attention by the media and we discovered the oversight, relooked [at] the case based on the information provided by the journalist and family, which confirmed the 2015 assessment, and officially closed the report in February.”

There was relief among family members that the deaths had finally been admitted – but also concern: “For eighteen months, we have been fighting for this admission of a mistake, for our loved ones to be counted as civilians,” Professor Zareena Grewal told Airwars from New York. “It is a small relief to have the US government concede that this airstrike was a mistake, that they mistakenly targeted the residential homes of a family that opposed ISIS. It is also deeply frightening because this case is an indictment of the quality of US intelligence.”

The Coalition admission – one of five newly confirmed civilian casualty events, all in Mosul – brings to 229 the number of Iraqi and Syrian civilians so far admitted killed in the US-led air war against so called Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS.) Airwars presently estimates that at least 2,831 civilians have so far died as a result of Coalition actions.

A family’s home destroyed

Among the declared targets struck by the US-led alliance on September 20th 2015 were “an ISIL VBIED facility, an ISIL bunker, an ISIL building, [and] an ISIL C2 node.” Now the Coalition says it also conducted “a strike on what was evaluated at the time to be an ISIS headquarters building.”

Cousins Najib and Tuka, both killed in a Coalition airstrike on September 20th-21st 2015 (Picture courtesy of the Altalib family)

Instead the home of a middle class family was destroyed. University professor Mohannad Rezzo; his 17-year old son Najib Mohannad Rezzo; his brother Bassim’s wife Miyada Rezzo and their 21-year old daughter Tuka Rezzo all died.

“Mohannad’s wife, Sana, survived the explosion, which flung her, burned, from her second-floor bedroom to the driveway below. Mohannad’s older brother, Bassim, also narrowly survived,” US-based relative Zareena Grewal wrote in the New York Times just days after the strike. “Bassim’s pelvis and leg were shattered in the attack and require surgery, but it is his emotional pain that consumes him.”

According to CENTCOM, military officials were aware of civilian casualty allegations within a day of the incident. Professor Grewal noted on October 4th 2015 that she had already been told that “Centcom was assessing the credibility of the reports, before determining any follow-on action, which might include a ‘formal investigation.'”

Yet despite Rezzo family members long ago coming forward with key photographic and other evidence, the alliance has continued publicly to deny any casualties until now. So confident were officials they had destroyed the right target that for more than a year, an official video of the Mosul attack was posted on the Coalition’s YouTube channel. It has since been removed, though not before being preserved by a pair of reporters who have been instrumental in helping secure a public admission of the Coalition’s error.

The Coalition’s own video of its attack on the Rezzo family home – since removed from its official YouTube channel

‘A long time coming’

Investigative journalists Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal have spent more than a year working closely with family members to secure an admission from the Coalition that it made a deadly error.

“Today’s official recognition of this airstrike having killed civilians has been a long time coming, and should have been made public previously. It is also a searing reminder of the immense difficulty families face in getting the loss of their loved ones recognized, even in cases in which there is ample evidence of civilian loss,” Azmat Khan told Airwars in an emailed comment.

“There is still information that the Coalition has refused to provide us, for example, the kind of aircraft and munitions used in this airstrike, as well as the reason why the Rezzo family homes were hit. We are also still awaiting the results of our Freedom of Information Act requests for the government’s own investigations into this incident.” Khan and Gopal’s major investigation into the incident is expected to publish in the near future.

Family members – while welcoming the official admission that their relatives were accidentally slain – remain angry that the process took so long. “Despite eyewitness testimony, a UN investigation, photographic evidence, and video footage of the strike that clearly demonstrated Coalition forces had hit two residential homes, the Pentagon did not count our family members as civilian victims and simply lumped them together with the death toll of Islamic State fighters,” says Professor Grewal. “The claim that our military air strike campaigns are precise is a dangerous and bloody myth.”

“We regret the unintentional loss of civilian lives resulting from Coalition efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and express our deepest sympathies to the families and others affected by these strikes,” the Coalition noted in its own press release.

Asked how the Coalition could have mistaken a family home for an ‘ISIS headquarters, a spokesman told Airwars: “ISIS uses many different types of structures to plan its terrorist activities. Many of which are residential homes taken from the people of Iraq and Syria.”

Backlog of allegations

The Rezzo admission is one of five new Mosul cases confirmed by the Coalition in its latest monthly civilian casualty report.

A Coalition strike on ‘an ISIS weapons manufacturing facility’ on January 30th 2017 is now thought to have unintentionallly killed one civilian in the building according to officials. Airwars understands that this event took place at Tanak neighbourhood, where up to 11 civilian deaths were reported by ISIL in a Coalition attack that day. Among those said by local monitors to have been slain were a young man Mustafa Mayser Mahmoud, his mother, and his father Mayser Mahmoud.

On February 6th the Coalition now says that “during a strike on ISIS fighters, it was assessed that three civilians were unintentionally injured when they entered the target area after the munition was released.” A similar attack against an ISIL truck bomb facility six days later also saw two civilians accidentally killed “when they entered the target area after the munition was released.”

The previously-unknown fifth incident on February 16th, again on “an ISIS VBIED facility” – this time in West Mosul’s Ar Rabi neighbourhood – killed a further two civilians according to officials.

Airwars is currently seeking to ascertain whether all five newly confirmed events were, as on previous occasions, the result of US-only actions.

In a mark of how steeply civilian casualty allegations are now rising, the Coalition announced in its latest report that it is still assessing 36 additional claimed civilian casualty events for February – on top of six more incidents for the month it has already deemed ‘not credible.’ Even so, this record monthly tally of 45 events under investigation still represents only half of the 90 claimed cases for February so far tracked by Airwars.

The international alliance admits it is falling behind on claims, though insists it intends to work through all cases: “The Coalition does have a backlog of allegations it is currently waiting to assess, to include additional allegations brought to our attention by Airwars. Credibility assessments take time and manpower to complete thoroughly,” Colonel Scrocca said in an emailed statement.

“While the primary mission of the Coalition is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, we should not and will not rush through this process for the sake of expediency. We take this responsibility very seriously and will continue to scrupulously assess every single allegation to ensure a full accounting of our findings.”

Mustafer Mayser Mahmoud died with his father (right) and mother in a reported airstrike on January 30th 2017, which the Coalition now appears to have conceded killed at least one civilian (via Mosul Ateka)

Published

February 2017

Written by

Chris Woods

Recent improvements in the US military’s reporting of civilian casualties from Iraq and Syria remain in place, despite a transition of presidential power from Barack Obama to Donald Trump – with one senior US military official indicating to Airwars that it is ‘business as usual’ so far.

A total of 26 new civilian deaths from Iraqi and Syrian airstrikes have so far been admitted in 2017 by the Coalition, with details continuing to be published in regular monthly civilian casualty releases.

These latest confirmations bring to 199 the number of civilian deaths so far conceded in the 30-month international campaign against so-called Islamic State – all from US actions, according to officials. None of Washington’s twelve allies in the Coalition has so far admitted causing any civilian casualties – despite more than 3,800 airstrikes between them.

January 2017 report

The Coalition’s January 2017 report contains details of 24 alleged civilian casualty events dating back to September 2015. Five of these incidents – all of which took place in November 2016 – are confirmed as having killed 15 civilians between them.

The Coalition provides sparse details on the five new admitted cases in its January report – though the public record is often clearer. On November 21st, a dawn US airstrike on al Salhiyeh village in Syria killed up to ten civilians according to local sources. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered named the family as “Mustapha al Farwa [pictured below] and his wife, and two of his daughters and one of his sons Mohammed Mustapha al Farwa.” Also reported killed were Mohammad Al Ahmad al Hraiwal, and Abd al Rahman Al Abd al Karim al Zagheer (or Abboud Al Abd al Karim).

ISIL’s media wing said at the time that the target of the raid was a cotton factory in the village where three workers also died, while Ara News cited a local activist as saying that “the raids came after false information came to the Coalition that the factory is used for the manufacture of [ISIL] weapons.” Syria News Desk said there were six raids on the village in total – which also injured 13 civilians.

The US now admits responsibility though only confirms two deaths, noting that “During a strike on ISIL-held buildings it is assessed that two civilians were unintentionally killed.”

This disparity between the number of civilian fatalities admitted by the Coalition – and the number of deaths credibly reported by public sources – shows the limits of air-only monitoring. While the Coalition now admits 199 deaths from 71 events, the public record suggests at least 369 civilians died in these same incidents.

As Airwars noted in its recent transparency audit Limited Accountability, “any [military] assessments which focus overly on internal intelligence – particularly on air-only analysis – are likely to miss the majority of credibly reported civilian fatalities from airstrikes.” In short, the Coalition confirms only what its analysts are able to see from above.

Mustapha al Farwa – killed along with four family members in a confirmed US airstrike in Syria on November 21st 2016 (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)

The four other cases admitted by the Coalition in its January 2017 report were identified only as a result of internal reporting by pilots and analysts – with Airwars unable to identify any public reports of civilian deaths at the time.

On November 6th 2016 for example, the US now says it killed seven civilians near Shahid-Yunis in Iraq, during an airstrike in support of the Mosul offensive. “During a strike on ISIL fighters in a moving vehicle it is assessed that seven civilians were unintentionally killed when the targeted vehicle came into close proximity to two stationary vehicles just prior to the munition’s impact.”

Despite an extensive search of local media and social media channels, Airwars has been unable to find any public reports of these seven deaths – a reflection of the ongoing challenges the Mosul campaign presents to casualty monitors.

New ‘friendly fire’ deaths conceded

In the January report, 13 additional claimed incidents are dismissed as ‘not credible’ by the Coalition, which adds the following clarification: “Non-credible means that at this time there is not sufficient information available to assess that, more likely than not, a Coalition strike resulted in civilian casualties.”

However, the Coalition has since admitted to Airwars that an unspecified number of friendly tribal forces were actually killed in one of these ‘non credible’ events.

On October 5th 2016, up to 21 tribal Sunni fighters of the Hashd al-Ashayeri militia – allied with the Iraq government – were reported killed in a Coalition action. Militia leader Sheikh Nazhan Sakher Al Lahib said at the time that his fighters died after they took refuge in a house in Haj Ali during a struggle with ISIL, at which point the Coalition accidentally bombed them.

An investigation was announced by Coalition commander General D.J. Anderson that same day, who noted: “We are aware of the alleged reports that Coalition forces mistakenly fired on Sunni tribal fighters.  As will all allegations received, we are looking into this to determine the facts that surround the case.“

In its January report the Coalition dismissed the incident as ‘Not Credible’ – noting that “After a review of available information and strike video it was assessed that no civilians were harmed in this strike.” In a followup note to Airwars, a senior Coalition official added: “Allegation was based on regional media reports of tribal fighters and possible civilians killed by strike. This is a CIVCAS report. There were no civilians killed in this strike.” Only when asked for further clarification did the official concede “It was assessed that tribal forces were killed in this strike.”

Russian allegations

At least three of the cases dismissed in January’s casualty report were the result of allegations by Russia against the Coalition.

Russian foreign ministry officials in Geneva issued a document in November 2016 alleging a number of such incidents – including a claimed Coalition attack on an MSF hospital in Syria’s Idlib province. “On 15 February 2016 the airstrike by the US-led coalition was delivered on the ‘Medecins sans frontierès’ hospital near the Maared al-Nuuman village. As a result of this attack 9 people were killed and 26 wounded,” Moscow claimed.

Not mentioned was the fact that Russia itself was accused by almost all local sources of having caried out the hospital attack – which killed as many as 26 civilians.

Shaam News Network said Russian warplanes conducted four consecutive strikes on the MSF hospital, and that the Health Directorate in Iblib had issued a statement which said the first attack was at 9am which severely damaged the building. “The planes came back and targeted the hospital again when  rescue teams had arrived to look for survivors.” According to the Health Directorate, eight of those killed were staff of the hospital. Al Jazeera put the death toll at 18, including nine doctors.

Dismissing any role in the hospital attack, the US and its allies drily note in their January 2017 report: “No Coalition strikes were conducted on that day in the geographic area of the reported civilian casualties.” Two other Russian allegations in and around Mosul in October were dismissed on similar grounds.

So many allegations were made by Russia at the time that the Coalition’s chief spokesman noted in a tweet: “@CJTFOIR found 10 Russian CIVCAS allegations against coaliton in the last 24 hrs. We will assess, but smells like a #firehoseoffalsehood.”

The Russian government accused the US-led Coalition of killing nine civilians in a strike on a hospital on February 15th 2016 (image via Russian Foreign Ministry)

February 2017 report

The Coalition’s February 2017 report  – which deals primarily with alleged events in December – contains brief details of 22 alleged incidents. Four cases are confirmed, with eight more cases dismissed as ‘non-credible’. A further ten cases – one dating back 16 months – remain under assessment.

Of the four admitted events, only one was previously known to Airwars researchers. On December 7th 2016, a strike on “a compound occupied by ISIL fighters” at al Msheirfa in Syria led to the deaths of two nearby families. The Coalition itself now admits that seven civilians were “unintentionally killed” in that attack.

Between 11 and 20 civilians in fact died according to local sources, including the families of Rajab Al-Ali Al-Hilal Al-Taweel and Ahmad Al-Rajab Al-Askan. ISIL’s media wing placed the toll higher still, reporting “20 killed in an American air raid targeting with four missiles civilian homes in the village.”

Local Syrian network al Jisr TV reported the deaths of 18 civilians at al Msheirfa at the time

The three other events conceded by the Coalition in February are known only because of internal reporting by pilots and analysts. During a December 9th 2016 strike on Mosul for example, the Coalition now states that “during a strike on ISIL construction equipment in the process of repairing cratered roads it is assessed that two civilians were unintentionally killed by the munition’s strike blast when they entered the target area just prior to the munition’s impact.”

Overall, of 71 civilian casualty events conceded by the Coalition from the beginning of the war to February 2017, more than half (37 cases) were identified only via such self-reporting by military personnel. While this does show that US pilots and analysts are coming forward and reporting problem events, it also makes clear that the Coalition’s civilian casualty monitoring remains heavily skewed against credible public reports. Hundreds of alleged casualty incidents have still to be properly assessed and investigated by the US-led alliance.

Airwars itself estimates that as of February 8th, the Coalition had likely killed between 2,350 and 3,455 civilians in Iraq and Syria – far above the alliance’s admitted tally of 199 deaths. This suggests that the Coalition is under-reporting more than 90 per cent of civilian deaths from its war against ISIL.

By way of example, the Coalition publicly lists only twelve claimed incidents for December 2016 – far fewer than the number of publicly alleged events for that month. As part of its ongoing advocacy work, Airwars alerted the Coalition to 39 alleged incidents for December, including reported casualty figures and approximate GPS locations. According to officials, 14 of these claimed events have since been deemed not credible. Five additional cases have now been sent for review, along with 11 cases already under assessment. And the Coalition has requested additional details relating to a further nine reported  events.

▲ A B-52 Stratofortress receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq, July 16, 2016. Airmen from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refueled F-15 Strike Eagles, Belgian Air Force F-18 Super Hornets, a B-52 Stratofortress and F-16 Fighting Falcons support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. The U.S. and more than 60 coalition partners work together to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr., Released)

Published

December 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

Limited Accountability: A transparency audit of the Coalition air war against so-called Islamic State

A detailed assessment of transparency and accountability issues among the 13-member alliance. The audit – commissioned by UK defence think tank the Remote Control Project – worked with four sample militaries (the US, UK, Canada and Denmark) to build a detailed understanding of how militaries track and assess civilian casualty assessments. It also gauges transparency by partner, measuring whether each ally can be held publicly accountable for its actions.

Published

August 8, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

Research by Latif Habib, Kinda Haddad, Alex Hopkins, Basile Simon and Christiaan Triebert

The US-led Coalition enters the third year of its war against so-called Islamic State having already conducted more than 14,300 airstrikes against the terror group – and with thousands of ground forces also now committed.

ISIL is under significant pressure on multiple fronts, having lost much of its territory over the past year. The cities of Ramadi and Fallujah are back in the hands of Iraq’s government, with Mosul encircled. The US’s Kurdish proxies have also captured a swathe of northern Syria from ISIL – and stand poised to seize the key town of Manbij after a brutal campaign.

But millions of civilians still under occupation face the greatest risk yet from Coalition actions, with the number of likely deaths almost doubling in the past year. In total, Airwars estimates that at least 1,568 civilians have so far died in strikes. The Coalition puts that figure at just 55 dead, despite an estimated 52,000 weapons so far being released.

War by the numbers

While the Coalition estimates it has killed more than 25,000 enemy fighters, just four of its own personnel have so far been declared lost in combat. Jordanian pilot Muath al Kasabeh was murdered by ISIL on January 3rd 2015, shortly after his plane came down in Syria. Three US fighters have also been killed in action – one each from the Army, Navy and Marines. Sixteen others have been wounded in ground actions, despite the US insisting it is not involved in a ground war aganist ISIL.

The war has intensified significantly. While the US and its allies conducted 5,977 airstrikes in the first year, attacks were up by 39% in year two – with 8,329 additional strikes declared to August 8th 2016. Washington continues to bear the heaviest burden, with 95% of all Coalition strikes in Syria and 68% of all actions in Iraq carried out by  the United States.

Among the allies the British remain the most active partner, with 905 airstrikes so far declared in Iraq and 53 in Syria. France (796 strikes), the Netherlands (an estimated 492 actions) and Australia (roughly 366 strikes) have also contributed strongly.

But others have now left the Coalition. Arab partners Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates had quit the air war by September 2015, after conducting about 135 Syria airstrikes between them. And Canada ended kinetic operations on February 15th 2016, after 251 airstrikes.

According to CENTCOM – which is leading the US military campaign – more than 26,000 enemy targets had been damaged or destroyed in the Coalition campaign to May 31st. More than 6,500 of these were buildings – illustrating the urban nature of the war.

To July 15th 2016, the war against ISIL had already cost the United States $8.4 billion – an average of $11.9 million per day. The UK – as the second most active member of the Coalition – has declared spending £280 million  ($365m) to March 2016.

A near-doubling of reported civilian deaths

The second year of the Coalition’s war saw a major jump in reported civilian deaths – a rise which cannot be explained alone by the 40% increase in the number of airstrikes. Likely civilian deaths from Coalition actions were up by 92 per cent on the first year.

While Coalition strikes present a significantly lower risk to civilians than those of Russia, the Assad regime or Iraqi forces,  Airwars still estimates that one civilian is being killed for roughly every nine Coalition airstrikes – a similar toll to that officially reported in Afghanistan, and in US covert strikes in places like Yemen and Pakistan.

In Iraq and Syria however, the US and its allies insist that on average one civilian dies for every 260 of their strikes – a highly implausible claim given the fierce tempo of the war and the routine targeting of heavily-populated areas.

In the first year of the war from August 2014, there were 193 alleged Coalition civilian casualty events tracked by Airwars across Iraq and Syria – with a claimed range of 1,130 to 1,561 fatalities. The US has confirmed 14 of these events, with 19 or more civilian deaths admitted. Airwars presently assesses another 80 of these events as having likely caused 496 to 692 additonal civilian deaths.

In the war’s second year the likely number of civilian deaths almost doubled – with 1,031 new fatalities thought likely. In total, 333 new alleged Coalition casusalty events were reported in the past 12 months, with a total claimed range of 2,332 to 3,177 deaths.

Only 36 of these 2015-2016 deaths have so far been confirmed by the US – and none by its Coalition allies. Among those slain was Dr Ziad Kalaf, one of four civilians now admitted killed by the US during a targeted strike in Mosul against an Australian ISIL recruiter in April this year.

Dr Ziad Kalaf, killed in a US targeted killing operation in Mosul on April 29th 2016

One reason for the sharp jump in the number of likely civilian deaths has been an easing of battlefield restrictions. In the early phases of the war, Coalition partners were under strict instructions to limit to zero wherever possible the number of civilians killed.

But now, the US and its allies are prepared to accept up to 10 civilian casualties in any action according to reports. During one strike on a bank in Mosul, the US had been prepared to accept up to 50 casualties in an effort to destroy millions of dollars of ISIL funds. One woman is now admitted to have died in that event, with five other civilians injured.

The recent siege of Manbij in Syria may be a portent of worse to come. In July 2016 alone, Airwars tracked 36 separate Coalition civilian casualty allegations in the vicinity – the highest number of reported of civilian deaths in two years of war. At least 190 civilians died in those Manbij actions, Airwars presently estimates.

“As the war enters its third year the Coalition will increasingly set its sights on the ISIL-occupied cities of Mosul and Ar Raqqa – where millions of civilians remain trapped,” says Kinda Haddad, head of the Airwars Syria team. “The US and its allies must prioritise the lives of local civilians if they wish to be seen as liberators. Unfortunately much commentary from the ground is now hostile. The single most prominent reason given is the Coalition’s apparent disregard for civilian life.”

▲ Sailors load a 2,000lb bomb onto an FA/18 Super Hornet aboard the USS Dwight D Eisenhower , July 31st 2016 (US Navy/ Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard) ARABIAN GULF (July 31, 2016) – Sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) transport an MK 84/BLU 117 2,000-pound general-purpose bomb. Ike and its Carrier Strike Group are deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard/Released)

Published

July 28, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

Research by Latif Habib and Kinda Haddad

CENTCOM has conceded 14 additional civilian deaths from US military actions in the war against so-called Islamic State, in both Iraq and Syria. The admission brings to 55 the official tally of civilian dead, from more than 10,700 declared US airstrikes.

The newly-admitted deaths relate to six events between July 2015 and late April 2016. Public reports suggest the toll from these incidents could be as high as 27 civilians killed – including eight children.

“We deeply regret the unintentional loss of life and injuries resulting from our airstrikes and express our sympathies to those affected“, CENTCOM noted in a statement issued to media.

Contrasting starkly with US claims of 55 deaths, Airwars estimates that at least 1,521 to 2,308 non-combatants have likely died in Coalition strikes across Iraq and Syria since August 2014. Iraq Body Count says up to 2,554 civilians have been killed by the US and its allies in Iraq alone. And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that 594 civilians had died up to July 23rd in the Coalition’s 22-month Syria campaign.

None of the US’s 12 partners in the Coalition has so far declared any civilian casualties from their own actions – despite more than 3,200 additional airstrikes between them.

Targeted killing

Five of the newly declared US incidents took place during 2016 in Iraq. For February 15th, CENTCOM now says that “near Al Qaim, Iraq, during a strike on an ISIL staging area, it is assessed that three civilians were killed.” Reports from the time said up to nine non-combatants were killed in that attack.

#وكالة_أعماق 9 قتلى ودمار كبير في ممتلكات المدنيين جراء قصف عنيف لطيران التحالف الدولي منتصف ليلة أمس على مدينة #القائم غربي #الأنبار

— المكتب الإعلامي ( ج.م.ث) (@SYRIA_GID) February 16, 2016

A tweet from February 16th suggests nine deaths overnight in a Coalition strike on Al Qaim

The following day on February 16th, CENTCOM reports that “in Ar Rayhaniyah, Iraq near Mosul, during a strike on an ISIL vehicle, it is assessed that one person was injured along the side of the road.” No public reports are known for this event, suggesting that CENTCOM’s own post-strike assessment succesfully picked up the civilian casualty.

On April 5th the US carried out an airstrike on an ‘ISIL financial storage facility’ in Mosul which it now confirms killed three civilians. We know much more about this thanks to comments from a US commander shortly after the event.

General Peter Gersten, deputy chief of operations and intelligence for the Coalition, revealed on April 26th that US aircraft had detonated a Hellfire missile above the house as a ‘warning’ to a woman and her children known to be inside.

“We went as far as actually to put a Hellfire on top of the building and air burst it so it wouldn’t destroy the building, simply knock on the roof to ensure that she and the children were out of the building. And then we proceeded with our operations.”

But the tactic failed according to Gersten: “As much as we tried to do exactly what we wanted to do and minimize civilian casualties, post-weapons release, she actually ran back into the building. That’s a — we watched, very difficult for us to watch.”

On April 26, 2016 in Sharqat near Qayyarah, the US attacked an ISIL checkpoint. According to CENTCOM “it is [now] assessed that one civilian was killed when a motorcycle unexpectedly appeared in the target area after the US aircraft had already released its weapon.”

That attack on a checkpoint near the Jumeila bridge was reported at the time – though there was no mention of civilian casualties.

In the final Iraqi event on April 29th, the succesful US targeted killing of the Australian Neil Prakash, ‘an ISIL external operations facilitator’ also “struck three civilians on the road and one civilian located on an adjacent compound.”

One of the four civilians killed in the airstrike that day has been named by local sources as Dr Ziad Kalaf,  a university teacher.

Dr Ziad Kalaf, accidentally killed in a US targeted killing operation in Mosul on April 29th 2016

Underestimate

CENTCOM has also reassessed a Syrian incident near Idlib dating back to July 28th 2015, noting that “during a strike on a senior Khorasan Group advisor, it is assessed that three civilians were killed and one vehicle destroyed when their vehicle appeared in the target area after the Coalition aircraft released its weapon.”

Alongside the Coalition’s war against ISIL, the US is also conducting a unilateral campaign against elements of the Al Qaeda-linked al Nusra Front – the so-called Khorasan Group. That July 28th strike was almost certainly carried out by US Specal Forces.

The US may be under-estimating the number of people it killed that day. The Syrian Network for Human Rights concluded in its own investigation that at least eight named civilians died at Kafr Hind – six of them children – after the attack ignited nearby gasoline containers.

Aftermath of a US targeted strike in Syria on July 28th 2015 which is now confirmed to have killed at least 3 civilians (via Shaam News)

‘Worst reported incident’

In related news the US has also announced a formal investigation into a confirmed July 19th Coalition airstrike at Tokhar, which public reports suggest killed at least 78 named civilians. Tokhar may be the single worst civilian fatality event in the Coalition’s two year air war.

Chief Coalition spokesman Colonel Chris Garver told Pentagon reporters on July 27th that a credibility assessment had been completed into Tokhar “and the result was that the information available was credible enough to warrant formal investigation, which we have initiated.”

Garver also disclosed that an additional event was being looked at: “The second allegation is from July 23rd of an alleged strike in the village of Al Nawaja, which is east of Manbij. That credibility assessment is still ongoing.” Between 10 and 22 civilians are reported to have died at al Nawaja in a ‘Coalition strike’, during a fierce ground battle between US proxies the Syrian Defence Force and so-called Islamic State.

The reported incidents at al Nawaja and Tokhar are just two of more than 50 alleged civilian casualty events tracked by Airwars in and around Manbij since an assault on the city began more than two months ago. CENTCOM officials are still refusing to disclose how many of these claimed incidents have so far been assessed for potential civilian casualties.

Airwars tracking shows that July is by far the worst single month for reported civilian deaths from Coalition strikes since the Syrian air campaign began in September 2014. Almost all of the alleged deaths reportedly occured in and around Manbij.

Reported civilian casualties from Coalition airstrikes in Syria have tripled in July, according to Airwars monitoring

▲ A US targeted strike on an Al Qaeda-linkled commander on July 28th 2015 is now admitted to have killed at least three civilians. Credible reports say as many as 10 actually died (Picture via Syrian Network for Human Rights)

Published

July 19, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

Research by Kinda Haddad

A major Coalition-backed campaign to liberate the ISIL-occupied northern Syrian town of Manbij and surrounding villages has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians, according to local reports.

The Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) – a proxy US-trained force comprising mostly Kurdish fighters – is currently advancing on the town centre amid heavy streetfighting.

But at least 70,000 non-combatants remain trapped within Manbij – caught between US airstrikes, advancing SAC forces and ISIL snipers. Water and food is said to be running low following the two-month siege.

“There are corpses on the streets and under the rubble that people are not able to remove,” Free Manbij Media Centre told Airwars on July 19th. “The numbers of those killed is between 500 and 700 martyrs according to estimates, the majority of them a result of Coalition planes bombing.” The local Manbij Coordination Committee placed the overall number of civilian deaths lower, at 368.

Airwars’ own estimate – based on hundreds of reports from local journalists, media activists, rebel groups and casualty monitors – suggests at least 190 civilians may so far have died in Coalition strikes in and around Manbij since May 31st.

We're tracking the worst ever week of alleged Coalition civilian casualties in 2 years of war – almost all at Manbij https://t.co/aMO0BPXjfi

— Airwars (@airwars) July 18, 2016

Local monitors describe a desperate situation. The Manbij Agency for Documentation – a group trying to track civilians killed in the fighting – has given its own harrowing account of life under siege: “The smell of decomposing bodies fills the streets, as residents are unable to leave their homes for fear of snipers from both sides. Many of the civilians’ bodies are still stuck under the rubble of houses shelled by Coalition aircraft. Some of them are alive and others are dead.”

Airwars tracking indicates the situation is worsening. The period of July 11th-18th saw the greatest number of claimed Coalition civilian casualty events in two years of war against ISIL – with 14 of 15 alleged incidents taking place in or around Manbij.

In the latest reported event, at least 56 civilians from multiple families died in alleged Coalition airstrikes on the village of Tokhar in the early hours of July 19th. Victims were shown being buried in a mass grave. Though reporting remains confused, Tokhar may be the single largest alleged Coalition civilian casualty event since August 2014.

Victims of an alleged Coalition strike near Manbij July 19th are buried in a mass grave (via Manbij Mother of All Worlds)

450 airstrikes

Coalition attacks on Manbij began in earnest on May 21st, in support of a ground assault by the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC.) Since then more than 450 strikes have targeted the town and surrounding areas, hitting “Da’esh heavy weapons, vehicles, fortifications, VBIED facilities, armored vehicles, technical vehicles, bridges, and caches,” according to the Coalition.

The United States is responsible for almost every strike at Manbij. According to official data, between May 22nd and July 17th this year 637 US airstrikes were carried out in Syria – with just 13 by its Coalition partners.

The US-led Coalition initially focused on driving Islamic State fighters from nearby villages – a tactic “which is encouraging ISIL’s retreat into the city” according to a June 15th press release. By early July almost all strikes were hitting Manbij itself.

The Coalition claims civilians have been able to escape the siege thanks to evacuation corridors provided by advancing SAC forces. But monitors dispute this, insisting ISIL snipers try to kill any non-combatants attempting to leave Manbij.

Expect to see measured pace in the fight to liberate #Manbij. It will not be easy, and we are confident SDF will take city back from ISIL

— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) July 15, 2016

Civilian deaths

Casualty claims have been mounting since the siege began, with 40 separate alleged Coalition civilian casualty events reported in and around Manbij to July 19th.

Airwars presently assesses 29 of these events as fair: that is, featuring two or more credible reports, with Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. At least 190 civilians appear to have died in these actions, including 39 or more children and 23 women. A further 134 or more civilians were reportedly injured.

A significant number of these slain civilians  – 164 so far – have been named by local monitors. One such case is Leen Samer Yusuf Waik, a young girl who died with her grandfather and two other named victims in a July 9th incident.

11-year old Leen Samer Yusuf Waik among 3 named victims reported killed in Coalition strikes on Manbij centre July 9 pic.twitter.com/AOU7JT0wIu

— Airwars (@airwars) July 11, 2016

The Coalition has been aware of civilian casualty allegations at Manbij for some weeks. In the first known siege-related incident on May 31st, at least 3 and as many as 15 civilians died when the Coalition allegedly struck the al Hawatma area of the town. Yet despite widespread media reports on the day, the Coalition claimed to be unaware of civilian casualty allegations when approached by the Independent.

Despite numerous credible allegations of non-combatants killed since then, the US-led Coalition has yet to admit a single civilian casualty from its siege of Manbij.

A CENTCOM statement provided to Airwars and other media on June 19th noted: “We are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties near Manbij, Syria, recently. As with any allegation we receive, we will review any information we have about the incident, including information provided by third parties, such as the proximity of the location to CJTF airstrikes, and any other relevant information presented. If the information supporting the allegation is determined to be credible, we will then determine the next appropriate step.”

▲ Smoke bellows from Manbij following alleged Coalition strikes on June 22nd (via Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)