News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Damage in the industrial area of Hawijah, years after the attack in June 2015 (image via NOS).

Published

October 29, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers and Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Maysa Ismael

Header Image

Damage in the industrial area of Hawijah, years after the attack in June 2015 (image via NOS).
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A Dutch airstrike on Hawijah in 2015 led to the deaths of at least 70 civilians. In a key interview, the city's Mayor discusses events that day - and the ongoing suffering of affected civilians.

On the night of June 2nd to June 3rd 2015, Dutch F-16s bombed an ISIS Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosives Devices (VBIED) factory in the city of Hawijah, in Iraq’s Kirkuk province. Secondary explosions triggered by the airstrike killed at least 70 civilians and wounded hundreds more. Today, the city of Hawijah is still recovering – not only from long-standing ISIS control of the area, but also the lasting impact on civilian lives of the Dutch airstrike five years ago.

For their new joint report, Seeing through the rubble: The civilian impact of the use of explosive weapons in the fight against ISIS, Airwars and PAX interviewed Hawijah Mayor Subhan Al Jabouri about the direct, indirect, and ongoing effects of the strike.

The questions were answered via e-mail on September 28th, 2020. The first part of the interview discusses the direct consequences of the Dutch air raid. The second focuses on the indirect effects. In the third section, the Mayor was asked about the impact the Dutch air raid still has on the lives of civilians in Hawijah. Finally, the Mayor examines the overall damage that both the ISIS occupation and the anti-ISIS Coalition have caused in his city.

Subhan Al Jabouri, the Mayor of Hawijah, in his office (Image courtesy of the Mayor)

Interview with Subhan Al Jabouri, Mayor of Hawijah

Part I: Direct harm

1. What is Hawijah Council’s present estimate of civilian deaths and injuries resulting from this Dutch airstrike?

According to preliminary reports, more than 70 civilians were killed and more than 500 others injured.

2. Can the Council please characterise the damage caused to civilian objects such as houses, roads, medical facilities, shops, schools, childcare facilities, pharmacies, factories? Is there a list of damaged properties?

Besides severe damage to civilian properties, factories, workshops and homes in the surrounding area of the explosion, a power station, civil defence centre and a wheat mill were also destroyed.

3. How many schools were damaged in the attack, and are these functional again?

A total of 37 schools were damaged and four schools are out of service and no longer running and these have not yet been rebuilt.

4. How many pharmacies were damaged and are these open again? 

No answer.

5. Is it true that an ice- and brick factory were damaged, and are these operational again?

Yes, it was confirmed that more than one ice production plant and brick factories were destroyed as a result of the airstrike. The factories have not completely reopened, nor have their owners returned to the area.

6. Is it true that the surface water sewage system was damaged, and is that operational again?

No answer.

7. Is there an overall estimate of buildings both damaged and destroyed in the Dutch airstrike?

According to the first assessment of the size of the destruction and the diameter of the impact of the shock wave of the explosion, the size of the damage reached a diameter of more than 2km and 500 buildings were subject to major damage.

8. Can the Council please outline damage to infrastructure, such as electricity, gas pipelines, water pipelines, communication lines, etcetera?

The infrastructure in the area of the explosion and the surrounding neighbourhoods were damaged, which led to the suspension of a large number of facilities, including a power station, main communication lines and water pipes in the area.

Part II: Indirect harm

9. What has been the impact of the damage to civilian objects and infrastructure from the Dutch airstrike such as a decline in access to water, electricity, heating or other essential services such as water and sanitation services, health services, displacement, environmental impact, rubble and waste management

The great damage caused to the infrastructure of the region and the surrounding areas, as well as damage to the power station and water pipelines, led to the displacement of a large number of families from the affected areas and a significant decrease in access to basic services to them.

10. What psychological impact on local communities does the Council believe has occurred?

The horror of this strike had a profound psychological effect on the psyche of the victims, as it led to the death of dozens of families and the injury of hundreds. Some families were completely wiped out, others lost at least three or four family members. The absence of direct health care and the inability of the people to help their families and watch them die under the rubble induced trauma for the people. This is in addition to the loss of their homes, properties and sources of income and their experiences of being displaced.

11. It has been reported that Hawijans remain concerned about possible radiological and other contaminant effects of both the Dutch strike and the broader campaign to remove ISIS. Can the Council please update us on these concerns?

Despite the liberation of the area and the return of locals and their attempts, the industrial zone and surrounding residential areas have not been rebuilt. However, there are still concerns among the residents about the radiological effects and polluting materials as a result of the tremendous force of the explosion, as some believe that radioactive materials are present in the area.

Part III: Long-term effects   12. How are survivors of the Dutch airstrike presently doing?

The Al-Ghad organisation, in cooperation with the local authorities, is ensuring the registration of survivors and those affected by the airstrike through voluntary work. The information currently recorded shows that the survivors are divided between internally displaced persons in Kirkuk and Salah al-Din governorate, and internally displaced persons inside Hawija as a result of the destruction of homes, sources of income and laboratories, and the lack of basic services in the area.

13. Can the local authorities please confirm the estimate that as a result of this attack, that around 2,000 people experienced psycho-social problems?

Yes, and the number of people affected may exceed this number due to the side effects of the strike.

14. Are psychological and physical rehabilitation programs available?

There are no specialized rehabilitation or psychological support programs that specifically target survivors of the Dutch airstrike, but they may be included in public programs that target the Hawija area or Internally Displaced Peoples.

15. Have victims been compensated in any way? Can the Council confirm that there has been only one family that has received compensation? 

No compensation programs were implemented for survivors.

The aftermath of the Dutch strike on Hawijah in 2015 which killed an estimated 70 civilians (via Iraqi Revolution).

16. Have the homes of citizens been repaired? If so, how many? Could the Council please confirm the estimate that 50-60 per cent of the buildings in the area have now been rebuilt?

The houses have not been completely rebuilt, and the percentage of repaired homes does not exceed 40% of the homes. Families returning to the area live in houses damaged by the effects of the strike, as they are unable to repair their homes. It is difficult to confirm this percentage, as there are many buildings that were completely destroyed and the owners of those buildings have not returned.

17. Have people returned or are they still displaced and under which circumstances are they living now?  How many Hawijans remain displaced from the neighbourhood damaged in the Dutch strike?

Living conditions are very difficult due to the lack of basic services, sources of income and the destruction of homes. It is difficult to determine the percentages of returnees in these areas because some displaced persons from outside these areas have returned to live in the affected areas and many of them are still displaced or settled in other areas such as Kirkuk and Salah al-Din.

18. Has infrastructure and or factories/shops/facilities been repaired? What has and has not so far been repaired?

The local government has launched plans to rebuild the infrastructure, but it has not been fully implemented and the region still suffers from a lack of services. Some factories have been rebuilt, such as the wheat mill and a few workshops and shops, but a number of factories are still destroyed along with many car showrooms, workshops and schools.

19. Do people have access to water and electricity again? Did they have access to it before the attack?

A number of transmission lines and water pipes have been repaired, but the main station that was damaged as a result of the bombing has not been operational yet.

20. Have roads been repaired? If so how many?

Yes, only the main road in the area has been repaired. 

21. Has the rubble been cleared? How much?

Some of the debris has been removed but the bigger proportion remains in the area.

22. Is it safe to live in the affected neighbourhoods again? Or is there a risk of unexploded ordnance?

Yes, it is safe, and the Al-Ghad Organisation for Women and Children’s Care is implementing an awareness project about the dangers of war remnants in Hawija now.

23. Do people have access to the same local facilities as before, such as medical facilities, shops, daycares, pharmacies etcetera?

Yes, some facilities were reopened thanks to individual efforts.

24. Can the local authorities confirm the loss of jobs which resulted from this attack (because stores, workshops and factories closed and are still not opened because the area still lacks electricity and has not been rebuilt)?

Hundreds of Hawija residents lost their jobs and sources of income as a result of the destruction of workshops, car showrooms and factories, as well as the destruction of the basic infrastructure of the area. Some people have reopened a small number of workshops and shops, and the mill was rebuilt too, but the lack of services hinders the complete restoration of economic and urban life.

Part IV: General damage ISIS occupation and anti-ISIS Coalition

25. One source mentions that one of two water treatment plants (WTP) in the city were damaged in another airstrike. However another source says the WTP itself wasn’t damaged by an airstrike, but instead a power station was damaged that normally provided the WTP with electricity to pump the water. Was it the WTP itself or the power station and pipelines that were damaged? 

Yes, the water transmission lines, the supplied electricity network and the power station were all damaged.

26. The source also mentions that currently, only one WTP is functioning in Hawijah, through the public grid. However because the grid is not reliable, the functioning of the WTP is limited and it cannot cover the needs of the population.  Can the Council please confirm if this was and remains true?

Yes, it is true and the situation is still as mentioned.

27. A 2018 report noted that two of the three healthcare facilities in Hawijah had been damaged by fighting with only one functioning at that time – meaning people had to travel to Kirkuk for specialized care. However, a separate local source asserts that “No health care center has been damaged because airstrike, only some minor damages in the Directorate of Health building and it already been rehabilitated, Hawija General Hospital and public health center is functioning now – but according to field staff there are huge gaps in sanitation facilities.”

Could the Council please confirm whether two out of three health centres were or were not damaged – and if so, whether they have now been repaired?  

The Health Directorate, known to the government as the ‘second health sector’ was affected by the strike.

28. Can the local authorities please confirm that there are no rehabilitation or psycho-social support programmes for the victims presently available in Hawijah?

Humanitarian organizations generally implement psychological support programs in Hawija, but there are no programs specifically for survivors of the strike.

محافظ الحويجة سبهان الجبوري في مكتبه. الصورة مقدمة من المحافظ.

مقابلة مع محافظ الحويجة: سبهان الجبوري

ليلة الثاني إلى الثالث من حزيران عام 2015، قصفت طائرة حربية هولندية من نوع F-16s معملاً  لداعش متخصصاً في تصنيع القنابل في الحويجة بالعراق. قتلت الانفجارات الثانوية التي سببتها الضربة ما لا يقل عن 70 مدنياً وأدت لجرح مئات آخرين. اليوم، لا تزال مدينة الحويجة تتعافى، ليس من حكم داعش طويل الأمد على المنطقة فقط، بل من التأثير المستمر على حياة المدنيين من الضربة الجوية الهولندية قبل خمس سنوات.

أجرت Airwars و PAX مقابلة مع محافظ الحويجة سبهان الجبوري عن التأثير المباشر وغير المباشر للضربة الهولندية، لتقريرهما المشترك الأخير “الرؤية من خلال الركام: تأثير استخدام الأسلحة المتفجرة في الحرب ضد داعش على المدنيين”.

تمت الإجابة على الأسئلة عبر البريد الإلكتروني يوم الثامن والعشرين من أيلول 2020. يدور القسم الأول من الأسئلة حول التأثيرات المباشرة للغارة الجوية الهولندية، فيما يركز القسم الثاني على الآثار غير المباشرة. في القسم الثالث سئل المحافظ عن التأثيرات المستمرة للضربة على حياة المدنيين في الحويجة حالياً. يبحث المحافظ في القسم الرابع الضرر الإجمالي الذي سببه احتلال داعش والتحالف المضاد لداعش على المدينة.

القسم الأول: الأذى المباشر

1.ما هو تقدير مجلس الحويجة الحالي للقتلى والجرحى المدنيين نتيجة هذه الغارة الجوية الهولندية؟ 

بحسب التقارير الاولية لأعداد القتلى المدنيين فقد بلغت أكثر من 70 قتيلا وأكثر من 500 جريح.

2.هل يمكن للمجلس أن يصف الأضرار التي لحقت بالممتلكات المدنية مثل المنازل والشوارع والمرافق الطبية والمحلات التجارية والمدارس ومرافق رعاية الأطفال والصيدليات والمصانع. هل توجد قائمة بالممتلكات المدمرة أو المتضررة؟

تعرضت الممتلكات المدنية إلى أضرار كبيرة حيث تعرضت المعامل والورش والمحال التجارية والمنازل المحيطة بمنطقة الانفجار الى محو ودمار بالكامل، إضافة إلى تدمير محطة الكهرباء ومركز للدفاع المدني ومطحنة.

3. كم عدد المدارس التي تضررت جراء الهجوم، وهل عادت للعمل مجدداً؟

تعرضت 37 مدرسة للضرر في المجمل،  مع خروج 4 مدارس عن الخدمة، ولم تتم إعادة بنائها.

4. كم عدد الصيدليات التي تضررت وهل تم فتحها مجدداً؟

لا جواب

5. هل صحيح أن معمل ثلج وطوب تضرر نتيجة الضربة وهل عاد للعمل مجدداً؟

نعم، تم تأكيد تدمير أكثر من معمل لإنتاج الثلج وكذلك معامل للطوب نتيجة الضربة الجوية . لم يتم اعادة افتتاح المعامل بشكل كامل او أن أصحابها لم يعودوا للمنطقة.

6. هل صحيح أن نظام الصرف الصحي السطحي تضرر وهل عاد للعمل مجدداً؟

لا جواب

7. هل هناك تقدير إجمالي للمباني المتضررة والمدمرة في هذه الغارة الجوية الهولندية؟

حسب التقييم الأولي لحجم الدمار وقطر تأثير الموجة الارتدادية للانفجار، وصل الدمار الى  دائرة يزيد قطرها عن 2 كيلومتر وتعرض 500 مبنى لدمار بنسبة كبيرة.

·8. هل يمكن للمجلس أن يحدد الأضرار التي لحقت بالبنية التحتية مثل الكهرباء وأنابيب الغاز وأنابيب المياه وخطوط الاتصال وما إلى ذلك؟

نتيجة للأضرار الكبيرة التي لحقت بالبنى التحتية للمنطقة والمناطق المحيطة وتعرض البنى التحتية في منطقة الانفجار والأحياء المحيطة بها إلى أضرار، توقف عدد كبير من المرافق منها محطة كهرباء و خطوط الاتصالات الرئيسية وأنابيب الماء في المنطقة.

القسم الثاني: الأذى غير المباشر

9. ما هو تأثير الأضرار التي لحقت بالممتلكات المدنية والبنية التحتية من الغارة الجوية الهولندية مثل: صعوبة الوصول إلى المياه والكهرباء والتدفئة أو غيرها من الخدمات الأساسية مثل خدمات المياه والصرف الصحي والخدمات الصحية والنزوح والأثر البيئي والأنقاض وإدارة النفايات؟

أدت الأضرار الكبيرة التي لحقت بالبنى التحتية للمنطقة والمناطق المحيطة وتضرر محطة الكهرباء وأنابيب الماء إلى نزوح عدد كبير من العوائل من المناطق المتضررة وتدني نسبة وصول الخدمات الأساسية إليهم .

10. ما هو الأثر النفسي الذي حدث على المجتمعات المحلية؟

كان لهول هذه الضربة أثر نفسي عميق على الضحايا حيث أدت إلى مقتل العشرات من العوائل وإصابة المئات. بعض العوائل محيت بالكامل والبعض الآخر خسر ما لا يقل عن 3-4 أفراد من أفراد الأسرة . تسبب غياب الرعاية الصحية المباشرة وعدم قدرة الأهالي على إسعاف ذويهم ومشاهدتهم يتوفون تحت الركام بصدمة كبيرة لدى الأهالي، إضافة لخسارتهم منازلهم وممتلكاتهم ومصادر الدخل اليوم وتعرضهم للنزوح .

11. أفادت التقارير أن أهالي الحويجة ما زالوا قلقين بشأن الآثار الإشعاعية المحتملة وغيرها من الآثار الملوثة من الضربة الهولندية والحملة ضد داعش. هل يمكن للمجلس إطلاعنا على هذه المخاوف؟

رغم تحرير المنطقة وعودة الأهالي ومحاولاتهم لإعادة بناء المنطقة الصناعية والمناطق السكنية المحيطة إلا أن المخاوف ما زالت مستمرة بين الأهالي من الاثار الإشعاعية والمواد الملوثة نتيجة لقوة الانفجار الهائلة حيث يعتقد بعضهم وجود مواد إشعاعية في المنطقة.

القسم الثالث: الآثار طويلة المدى

12. كيف حال الناجين من الغارة الجوية الهولندية حالياً؟

تقوم منظمة الغد بالتعاون مع السلطات المحلية بعملية تسجيل للناجين والمتضررين من الغارة الجوية بعمل تطوعي، حيث بينت المعلومات المسجلة حالياً أن الناجين منقسمون بين نازحين داخلياً الى محافظة كركوك وصلاح الدين، و نازحين داخل الحويجة نتيجة دمار المنازل ومصادر الدخل والمعامل ونقص الخدمات الأساسية في المنطقة .

13. هل يمكن للسلطات المحلية أن تؤكد التقديرات أنه نتيجة للهجوم تعرض حوالي 2000 شخص لمشاكل اجتماعية – نفسية؟

نعم ويمكن أن يتجاوز عدد المتضررين هذا العدد بسبب الآثار الجانبية للضربة.

14. هل تتوافر برامج للتأهيل النفسي والجسدي؟ 

لا توجد برامج تأهيل أو دعم نفسي متخصصة تستهدف الناجين من الضربة الجوية الهولندية تحديداً، لكن قد يتم شمولهم بالبرامج العامة التي تستهدف منطقة الحويجة او النازحين.

15. هل تم تعويض الضحايا بأي شكل من الأشكال؟ وهل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد أن احدى العائلات تلقت تعويضاً؟

لم يتم تنفيذ أي برامج تعويضات للناجين.

آثار الضربة الهولندية على الحويجة عام 2015 والتي أدت لمقتل ما يقارب 70 مدنياً (عن صفحة الثورة العراقية)‎.

16. هل تم إصلاح منازل المواطنين التي تضررت؟ في حال تم ذلك، كم عددها؟ هل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد أن ما بين 50-60 بالمئة من المباني في المنطقة أعيد بناؤها؟

لم يتم ترميم المنازل بشكل كامل ولا تتجاوز نسبة المنازل المرممة 40% من المنازل رغم عودة العوائل للمنطقة، إلا أنهم يسكنون في منازل متضررة من آثار الضربة لعدم قدرتهم على إصلاح تلك المنازل .

قد يكون من الصعوبة تأكيد هذه النسبة لوجود العديد من المباني التي دمرت بالكامل وعدم عودة أصحاب تلك المباني .

17. ما الظروف التي يعيشها الناس الآن؟ هل عادوا إلى ديارهم أم لا يزالون نازحين؟ كم عدد سكان الحويجة الذين ما زالوا نازحين من المناطق المتضرر من الضربة الهولندية؟

الظروف المعيشية صعبة جداً بسبب نقص الخدمات الأساسية ومصادر الدخل ودمار المنازل. من الصعب تحديد نسبة العائدين في تلك المناطق بسبب عودة بعض النازحين من خارج تلك المناطق للسكن في المناطق المتضررة،  ومازال العديد منهم نازحين او استقروا في مناطق أخرى مثل كركوك وصلاح الدين.

18. هل تم إصلاح البنية التحتية و المصانع و المحلات والمرافق؟ ما الذي تم إصلاحه ولم يتم إصلاحه حتى الآن؟

أطلقت الحكومة المحلية خططاً لإصلاح البنى التحتية إلا أنها لم تنفذ بشكل كامل ومازالت المنطقة تعاني من نقص الخدمات. تم اعادة بناء بعض من المصانع مثل مطحنة الحنطة وعدد قليل من الورش والمحال لكن لا يزال عدد من المصانع مدمراً والكثير من معارض السيارات والورش والمدارس.

19. هل يحصل الناس على الماء والكهرباء من جديد؟ (هل تمكنوا من الوصول إليهما قبل الهجوم)؟

تم إصلاح عدد من الخطوط الناقلة وأنابيب المياه لكن المحطة الرئيسية التي تضررت نتيجة القصف لم تعمل حتى الآن.

20. هل تم إصلاح الطرق؟ إذا كان الأمر كذلك فكم منها تم إصلاحه؟

نعم،  تم إصلاح الطريق الرئيسي للمنطقة فقط.

21. هل تمت إزالة الأنقاض؟ في حال حدث ذلك فكم حجمها؟

تم ازالة جزء من الركام لكن الجزء الاكبر باق في المنطقة.

22. هل الأحياء المتضررة آمنة للعيش فيها مرة أخرى (بالنسبة للألغام و ما إلى ذلك)؟

نعم آمنة وتقوم منظمة الغد لرعاية المرأة والطفل بتنفيذ مشروع التوعية من مخاطر المخلفات الحربية داخل الحويجة حالياً.

 23. هل تتوفر نفس المرافق المحلية لأهالي الحويجة كما كانت من قبل (مثل منشآت طبية، محلات، ومراكز رعاية للأطفال، وصيدليات)؟

نعم،  تم إعادة افتتاح بعض  المرافق بجهود ذاتية بسيطة.

24. هل يمكن للسلطات المحلية أن تؤكد خسارة وظائف بسبب الهجوم (باعتبار أن محالاً وورش عمل ومصانع أغلقت ولا تزال غير فاعلة لأن المنطقة لا تزال تعاني من انقطاع الكهرباء ولم تتم إعادة بنائها)؟

فقد المئات من أهالي الحويجة وظائفهم ومصادر دخلهم نتيجة لدمار الورش ومعارض السيارات والمصانع وكذلك دمار البنى التحتية الأساسية للمنطقة. أعاد بعض الناس افتتاح عدد قليل من الورش والمحال وكذلك إعادة بناء المطحنة إلا أن نقص الخدمات يعرقل إعادة الحركة العمرانية بالكامل.

القسم الرابع: التأثير العام لاحتلال داعش و للتحالف المضاد لداعش على الحويجة.

25. يذكر أحد المصادر أن إحدى محطتي معالجة المياه (WTP) في المدينة تضررت في غارة جوية أخرى. ومع ذلك ، يقول مصدر آخر إن محطة المعالجة نفسها لم تتضرر من جراء الغارة الجوية  ولكن بدلاً من ذلك تضررت محطة طاقة  كانت تزود محطة معالجة المياه بالكهرباء لضخ المياه. هل تضررت محطة المعالجة نفسها أم محطة الطاقة وخطوط الأنابيب؟

نعم تضررت الخطوط الناقلة والشبكة المجهزة للكهرباء ومحطة الطاقة.

26. ويشير المصدر أيضًا إلى أن محطة معالجة واحدة فقط تعمل حاليًا في الحويجة من خلال الشبكة العامة. ومع ذلك ، نظرًا لأن الشبكة غير موثوقة ، فإن تشغيل محطة المعالجة محدودة ولا يمكنها تغطية احتياجات السكان. هل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد ما إذا كان هذا صحيحًا ولا يزال كذلك؟

نعم صحيح ومازال الوضع كما هو مذكور.

 27. أشار تقرير صدر عام 2018 إلى أن اثنتين من مرافق الرعاية الصحية الثلاثة في الحويجة تضررت بسبب القتال وكان هناك مركز واحد فقط يعمل في ذلك الوقت – مما يعني أن الناس اضطروا أن يسافروا إلى كركوك للحصول على رعاية متخصصة. ومع ذلك، أكد مصدر محلي منفصل أنه “لم يتضرر أي مركز رعاية صحية بسبب الغارة الجوية، فقط بعض الأضرار الطفيفة في مبنى مديرية الصحة وتم إعادة تأهيله بالفعل، ومستشفى الحويجة العام ومركز الصحة العامة يعملان الآن – ولكن وفقًا للموظفين الميدانيين هناك فجوات هائلة في مرافق الصرف الصحي”. 

هل يمكن للمجلس أن يؤكد ما إذا كان 2 من أصل 3 مراكز صحية قد تضررت أو لم تتضرر – وإذا كان الأمر كذلك ، فهل تم إعادة إعمارها الآن؟

تضررت مديرية الصحة من أثر الضربة واسمها المعروف لدى الحكومة حالياً القطاع الصحي الثاني.

28. هل يمكن للسلطات المحلية أن تؤكد غياب وجود برامج دعم اجتماعية نفسية للناجين الموجودين حالياً في الحويجة؟

تقوم المنظمات الإنسانية بتنفيذ برامج الدعم النفسي في الحويجة بشكل عام،  لكن لا توجد برامج مخصصة للناجين من الضربة.

Subhan Al Jabouri, de burgemeester van Hawija in zijn kantoor (foto via de burgemeester).

Interview met Subhan al-Jabouri, burgemeester van Hawija

In de nacht van 2 op 3 juni 2015 bombardeerden Nederlandse F-16’s een ISIS Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosives Devices (VBIED) -fabriek in Hawija, Irak. Secundaire explosies veroorzaakt door de luchtaanval hebben minstens 70 burgers gedood en honderden anderen raakten gewond. Vandaag de dag is de stad nog steeds aan het herstellen van niet alleen de langdurige ISIS-controle over het gebied, maar ook van de blijvende impact op het burgerleven van de Nederlandse luchtaanval vijf jaar geleden.

Voor hun recentelijk gepubliceerde gezamenlijke rapport Seeing through the rubble: The civilian impact of the use of explosive weapons in the fight against ISIS, interviewden Airwars en PAX de burgemeester van Hawija Subhan Al Jabouri over de directe en indirecte aanhoudende gevolgen van de aanval.

De vragen zijn op 28 september 2020 via e-mail beantwoord. Het eerste deel van de vragen gaat over de directe gevolgen van de Nederlandse luchtaanval. Het tweede deel focust op de indirecte gevolgen. In het derde deel is de burgemeester gevraagd naar de impact die de Nederlandse luchtaanval vandaag de dag nog altijd heeft op het leven van burgers in Hawija. In het vierde deel gaat de burgemeester in op de algehele schade die de ISIS-bezetting en anti-ISIS Coalitie hebben achtergelaten in zijn stad.

Deel I: Directe gevolgen  1. Wat is uw huidige inschatting van het aantal burgerdoden en gewonden door de Nederlandse luchtaanval op Hawija in de macht van 2 op 3 juni? 

Volgens de eerste rapportages zijn er meer dan 70 burgers gedood, en meer dan 500 gewond geraakt. 

2. Kunt u de schade aan civiele objecten omschrijven; zoals schade aan huizen, wegen, medische voorzieningen, winkels, scholen, kinderopvang, apotheken, fabrieken, enzovoorts? Is er een lijst van beschadigde objecten?

Er zijn behalve zware beschadigingen aan civiele objecten zoals fabrieken, werkplaatsen, winkels en huizen in de directe omgeving van de explosie ook een elektriciteitscentrale, een Civil Defense Center en een molen vernietigd. 

3. Hoeveel scholen zijn beschadigd geraakt, en zijn deze inmiddels weer operationeel?

Er zijn in totaal 37 scholen beschadigd waarvan vier scholen volledig zijn gesloten; deze zijn nog niet opnieuw opgebouwd. 

4. Hoeveel apotheken zijn beschadigd, en zijn deze weer open?

Geen antwoord.

5. Klopt het dat er ook een ijs- en een baksteenfabriek zijn beschadigd, en zijn deze weer operationeel inmiddels? 

Ja, het is bevestigd dat er meer dan een ijsproductiefabriek en steenfabrieken zijn verwoest door de luchtaanval. De fabrieken zijn nog niet volledig heropend, of de eigenaren zijn nog niet teruggekeerd.

6. Klopt het dat het (oppervlakte water) riool is beschadigd; is dit inmiddels weer gerepareerd? 

Geen antwoord.

7. Is er een schatting van de totale schade van gebouwen die beschadigd of vernietigd zijn door de Nederlandse luchtaanval?

Volgens het eerste onderzoek naar de reikwijdte van de schade, en de doorsnee van het gebied dat door de drukgolf van de explosie is geraakt, heeft de vernietiging een diameter van meer dan 2 kilometer, waarbij 500 gebouwen voor een groot deel werden verwoest. 

8. Kunt u de schade aan infrastructuur zoals elektriciteitsvoorzieningen, gasleidingen, waterleidingen, communicatie infrastructuur etcetera beschrijven?

De infrastructuur van zowel het explosiegebied als de omliggende buurten is beschadigd, wat heeft geleid tot gebrek aan veel diensten die deze faciliteiten leverden, zoals een elektriciteitscentrale, communicatielijnen en waterbuizen. 

Deel II: Indirecte gevolgen 

9. Wat is de impact van deze schade aan civiele objecten en infrastructuur ten gevolge van de Nederlandse luchtaanval geweest, zoals verminderde toegang tot water, elektriciteit, verwarming en andere essentiële diensten zoals water en sanitaire voorzieningen, gezondheidszorg, ontheemd raken, de impact op milieu en vuilnis- en puinverwerking? 

De grote schade aan de infrastructuur van de buurt en omliggende buurten, maar ook de schade aan de elektriciteitscentrale en Waterbuizen heeft ervoor gezorgd dat een groot aantal families uit de getroffen gebieden ontheemd is geraakt en heeft geleid tot een significant verminderde toegang tot basisvoorzieningen. 

10. Wat is volgens u de psychosociale impact op de lokale gemeenschap geweest?

De verschrikking van deze aanval heeft een heftige psychologische impact op de zielen van de slachtoffers achtergelaten, aangezien het in tientallen families tot de dood heeft geleid, en honderden gevallen tot verwondingen. Sommige families zijn volledig weggevaagd, andere families verloren minsten drie of vier gezinsleden. De afwezigheid van directe medische zorg en het onvermogen van mensen om hun families te helpen en hen te zien sterven onder het puin veroorzaakten een enorme schok bij inwoners. Tel daarbij op het verlies van hun huizen, bezittingen, inkomstenbronnen en het verworden tot vluchteling. 

11. Er leven naar verluidt onder de mensen in Hawija zorgen over mogelijke radiologische en andere giftige effecten van zowel deze Nederlandse aanval, als ook de bredere militaire campagne om ISIS te verjagen. Kunt u ons over deze zorgen vertellen? 

Ondanks de bevrijding van het gebied en de terugkomst en pogingen van inwoners ten spijt, zijn het bedrijventerrein en de omliggende woonwijken nog niet opnieuw opgebouwd. Er zijn nog steeds zorgen onder de inwoners over stralingseffecten en verontreinigde materialen ten gevolge van de enorme explosie, aangezien sommigen zeggen dat er ook radioactieve materialen in de wijk aanwezig zouden zijn geweest. 

Deel III: Langdurige gevolgen

12. Hoe gaat het met de overlevenden van de Nederlandse luchtaanval?

De organisatie al-Ghad registreert samen met de lokale autoriteiten op vrijwillige basis de ontheemden (Internal Displaced People) en diegenen die schade hebben geleden door de aanval. De tot nu toe verzamelde informatie laat zien dat het ene gedeelte van de ontheemden in Kirkuk en de Salah al-Din provincie leeft, en het andere gedeelte in Hawija, aangezien hun huizen vernietigd zijn, hun bronnen van inkomsten en de fabrieken zijn weggevallen, en het aan basisvoorzieningen ontbreekt in het gebied.

13. Kunt u bevestigen dat als gevolg van de Nederlandse aanval rond de 2000 mensen psychosociale problemen ondervinden? 

Ja en mogelijk nog meer, gezien de neveneffecten van de aanval. 

14. Worden er psychologische en fysieke revalideringstrajecten aangeboden? 

Er zijn geen rehabilitatieprogramma’s of speciale psychologische hulpprogramma’s, specifiek voor de groep ontheemden van de Nederlandse aanval, maar mogelijk doen ze mee in de bredere programma’s die worden aangeboden in het gebied Hawija of aan ontheemden. 

15. Zijn de slachtoffers op welke wijze dan ook gecompenseerd? Kan de burgemeester bevestigen dat er maar een familie is die tot nu toe compensatie heeft ontvangen?

Er is geen compensatie geweest voor ontheemden. 

De ravage na de Nederlandse aanval op Hawija in juni 2015 (via Iraqi Revolution).

16. Zijn de huizen inmiddels weer opgebouwd? Zo ja, hoeveel? Klopt het dat rond de 50 tot 60 procent is herbouwd?

De huizen zijn niet volledig gerestaureerd, en niet meer dan 40 procent van de huizen zijn gerepareerd. Teruggekeerde families wonen in de door de luchtaanval beschadigde huizen omdat ze niet in staat zijn hun huis te repareren. Het is moeilijk het percentage precies te bevestigen, omdat er veel gebouwen volledig zijn verwoest en de eigenaren van deze gebouwen niet zijn teruggekeerd. 

17. Zijn de mensen inmiddels weer teruggekeerd, of zijn ze nog op de vlucht, en wat zijn hun leefomstandigheden? Hoeveel mensen uit Hawija zijn nog steeds dakloos door de door de Nederlandse aanval veroorzaakte schade? 

De leefomstandigheden zijn slecht vanwege het gebrek aan basisvoorzieningen, inkomstenbronnen en verwoeste huizen. Het is lastig een percentage te geven van hoeveel mensen zijn teruggekeerd, omdat sommige vluchtelingen van elders in het gebied zijn gaan wonen. En nog steeds zijn velen van hen ontheemd of hebben zich gevestigd in andere gebieden zoals Kirkuk en Salah al-Din.

18. Is de infrastructuur en zijn fabrieken/winkels/andere faciliteiten inmiddels gerepareerd? Wat is er wel en niet heropgebouwd tot nu toe?

De lokale overheid heeft plannen gelanceerd om de infrastructuur te repareren, maar ze heeft die niet volledig uitgevoerd en het gebied gaat nog steeds gebukt onder een gebrek aan voorzieningen. Sommige fabrieken zijn herbouwd, zoals de tarwemolen, en een paar werkplaatsen en winkels, maar nog steeds is een aantal fabrieken verwoest, net als veel autoshowrooms, werkplaatsen en scholen. 

19. Hebben mensen weer stromend water en elektra? (En hadden ze dit voor de aanval?)

Een aantal transportleidingen en waterbuizen gerepareerd, maar de centrale die verwoest werd door het bombardement is tot nu toe nog niet operationeel. 

20. Zijn er wegen hersteld, en zo ja hoeveel?

Ja, alleen de hoofdweg in het gebied is gerepareerd. 

21. Is het puin geruimd? Hoeveel?

Een deel van het puin is geruimd, maar het grootste gedeelte ligt nog in het gebied. 

22. Is het veilig om weer in de getroffen wijken te wonen? Of liggen er nog explosieve oorlogsresten?

Ja het is veilig, en Al-Ghad Organisation for Women and Children’s Care geeft momenteel voorlichting over de gevaren van oorlogsresten in Hawija. 

23. Hebben mensen weer toegang tot dezelfde voorzieningen als voor de aanval, zoals medische faciliteiten, winkels, kinderopvang, apotheken, etcetera?

Ja, sommigen zijn weer geopend met basale individuele inspanningen.

24. Kunt u bevestigen dat veel mensen als gevolg van deze aanval hun baan hebben verloren, omdat winkels, werkplaatsen en fabrieken zijn gesloten en niet meer open zijn gegaan, en het gebied nog steeds niet herbouwd is en gebrek heeft aan elektriciteit?

Honderden inwoners van Hawija hebben hun banen en hun bron van inkomsten verloren door de verwoesting van de werkplaatsen, autoshowrooms en fabrieken, en ook is de basale infrastructuur van het gebied verwoest. Sommige mensen hebben opnieuw een paar werkplaatsen en winkels geopend, en ook de meelfabriek is herbouwd, maar het gebrek aan voorzieningen hindert de volledige terugkeer van het economische en stadse leven. 

Deel IV: Algemene schade ISIS-bezetting en anti-ISIS Coalitie

25. Een van onze bronnen meldt dat een van de twee waterzuiveringsinstallaties in de stad is beschadigd in een andere luchtaanval, terwijl een andere bron zegt dat niet de waterzuiveringsinstallatie zelf geraakt is, maar de elektriciteitscentrale die de zuiveringsinstallatie normaal voorzag van elektriciteit, en dat deze daarom niet werkt. Was de waterzuiveringsinstallatie zelf beschadigd of de elektriciteitscentrale? 

Zowel de transportleidingen, het elektriciteit netwerk als de elektriciteitscentrale zijn beschadigd. 

26. Diezelfde bron rapporteert ook dat er op dit moment maar een waterzuiveringsinstallatie werkt, die afhankelijk is van het openbare elektriciteitsnetwerk. Maar omdat het elektriciteitsnetwerk niet betrouwbaar is, is de watervoorziening beperkt en dus niet genoeg voor de behoefte van de lokale bevolking. Is dit inderdaad het geval?

Ja, dit is correct en is nog steeds het geval. 

27. Een rapport uit 2018 meldt dat twee van de drie gezondheidscentra in Hawija beschadigd waren door de gevechten, en dat er op dat moment slechts een operationeel was – dit had als gevolg dat mensen naar Kirkuk moesten reizen voor meer specialistische zorg. Een lokale bron meldt echter dat er “geen gezondheidscentrum is beschadigd, maar dat er alleen kleine schade aan het “Directorate of Health”-gebouw was (inmiddels gerepareerd), dat het algemeen ziekenhuis in Hawijah weer open is, maar dat er wel enorme gaten zijn gevallen in de sanitaire voorzieningen in het ziekenhuis.” 

Kunt u bevestigen of er inderdaad twee van de drie gezondheidscentra zijn beschadigd, en zo ja, of deze inmiddels zijn hersteld? 

Het “Health Directorate” gebouw, ook bekend als de “tweede gezondheidssector”, is inderdaad beschadigd geweest.

28. Klopt het dat er geen revalidatie en psychosociale ondersteuning is voor de slachtoffers nu in Hawija?

Er zijn wel humanitaire organisaties die psychologische hulpprogramma’s bieden in Hawija, maar niet specifiek voor de overlevenden en ontheemden van deze aanval. 

▲ Damage in the industrial area of Hawijah, years after the attack in June 2015 (image via NOS).

Published

October 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily and Ned Ray

Assisted by

Alex Hopkins, Beth Heron, Chloe Skinner, Clive Vella, Hanna Rullmann, Laurie Treffers, Oliver Imhof, Poppy Bowers and Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Eroding Transparency: Trump in Yemen

Accompanying the launch of Airwars’ new public database tracking US counterterrorism actions in Yemen, Eroding Transparency provides a comprehensive review of more than 230 alleged and confirmed US actions and associated civilian harm under President Donald Trump.

Drawing on thousands of local sources – the majority in Arabic – the report reveals that at least 86 civilians likely died in US actions in Yemen from 2017 to 2020, although the Pentagon had itself admitted to a maximum of 12 deaths.

Eroding Transparency also raises broader concerns about US accountability for civilian harm – noting for example that recent Department of Defense claims to Congress that there were no known civilian harm allegations relating to US actions in Yemen during 2019 were incorrect.

Published

September 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Anna Zahn, Clive Vella, Dmytro Chupryna, Douglas Statt, Eleftheria Kousta, Giacomo Nanni, Hermes, Laurie Treffers, Maysa Ismael, Ned Ray, Oliver Imhof, Samuel Brownsword, Shihab Halep and Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Major Conflict Monitoring

While civilian harm from foreign actions in the conflicts monitored by Airwars mostly decreased during August, Ankara’s continuing air and ground campaign against Kurdish militants led to the worst reported civilian harm tally in northern Iraq from Turkish action since 2015.

Civilian harm incidents involving Russia in Syria (already at a low tempo) were less than half the previous month’s tally. Meanwhile the US-led Coalition continued its own operations against ISIS in Syria at a seemingly higher intensity, though with no local claims of civilian casualties.

Reported civilian harm incidents, as well as air and artillery strikes in Libya, saw a further significant decrease after warring parties continued their military stalemate at Sirte. Despite this – and increased international calls to end the fighting – both sides seemed unable to reach an agreement, with Khalifa Haftar’s LNA seemingly rejecting the Government of National Accord’s offer of a ceasefire.

Turkey in Syria and Iraq

Turkish-led actions against Kurdish irregulars in both Iraq and Syria continued throughout the month. Airwars researchers tracked 12 alleged civilian harm incidents in both countries during August – double the previous month’s tally and reflecting an escalation in Turkish actions. Five reported incidents took place in Syria, while seven occurred in Iraq. In total, between 12 and 18 civilians were alleged killed across all the locally reported events, and up to eight more were injured.

In Syria, three civilian deaths were reported across five events, and seven others were injured. The first incident took place in Ain Issa, where alleged Turkish shelling wounded three children. ANHA named the children as Hussam Ali (aged 12), Mahdi Ali (aged 10), and Muhammad Ali (aged 11). 

Additional civilian harm event took place in the village of Efdikê in western Tal Abyad on August 4th; in Qamishlo on August 6th; in Ain Issa on August 17th; and in Sheikh Hassan village in Raqqa Governorate on August 26th. The incident near Ain Issa caused the most civilian harm, with two civilians reportedly killed and two injured following Turkish shelling in the vicinity of the M4 highway.

BreakingA civilian injured by a shell probably from a drone on Allaya neighborhood, east to #Qamishli, northeast #Syria, Sources from Internal Security Forces told pic.twitter.com/oMKhoMSAdw

— (زانا العلي) Zana Al-Ali (@ZanaAlali) August 6, 2020

In Iraq, up to 15 civilian deaths were reported from seven civilian harm allegations – a stark increase from the previous month’s tally of two fatalities. In fact, according to Airwars data, August 2020 marks the highest civilian harm allegations against Turkey in Iraq since our tracking began in 2015. 

The first week of August saw two civilian harm incidents in northern Iraq. On August 1st, two civilians were killed in an alleged Turkish strike in Amediye in Dohuk province. Two days later, another strike reportedly took place in Nohadra in Dohuk province, also killing two civilians.

The incident which reported the highest number of civilian deaths occurred in the Bradost region of Erbil province on August 11th. Five civilians were killed along with five Iraqi border guards, and five Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) members, in one of the deadlist mass-casualty incidents involving Turkey this year. According to AFP, two high-ranking Iraqi military officers were additionally killed in the attack, prompting public outrage in Iraq. Following the event, Baghdad cancelled a visit by the Turkish Minister of Defence to Iraq, and summoned Turkey’s ambassador.

Other civilian harm incidents took place in the Ardana area of Dohuk on August 13th; in Kani Mazi in Dohuk on August 19th; in the village of Bhrava in Nineveh on August 25th; and in the Zab area of Dohuk on August 30th.

Kurdish counterfire in Syria

Airwars tracked no locally reported civilian harm incidents resulting from Kurdish counterfire actions during the month of July. Since the end of March 2020, Airwars researchers have tracked only one civilian harm incident allegedly involving Kurdish factions in Syria.

Doctors treating one of the children injured by alleged Turkish shelling of Ain Issa on August 1st 2020 (via ANHA)

Civilian harm in Idlib down as high-profile assassination shifts Russian focus to ISIS

August 2020 once again saw relatively low levels of civilian harm from Russian actions in Syria. Airwars researchers tracked a total of three reported civilian harm incidents – less than half the previous month’s tally of eight civilian harm claims. According to local reports, between five and six civilians were killed and up to 11 more were injured in these latest attacks. Two of the incidents took place in Idlib Governorate, while one took place in Homs Governorate.

The first incident of the month took place in the town of Binnish on August 3rd, where three civilians from one family were killed and seven others were injured. According to STEP Agency, those killed were displaced civilians who were residing in camps in the area. Later, the Syrian Network for Human Rights revealed their names to be Majed Jasem al Muhammad, and two brothers, Zaid and Majed Mesleh al Muhammad from Burj village in the eastern countryside areas of Idlib. The apparent Russian strike was linked with artillery shelling carried out by Syrian regime forces in the same area.

The second incident took place on August 14th in the Syrian Badia, although reporting on this incident was scarce. According to local reports, Russian planes targeted a civilian car, wounding those in it. 

On August 18th, Russian Major General Vyacheslav Gladkikh was killed on August 18th by an improvised explosive device that detonated under a convoy of Russian soldiers and Syrian pro-regime forces in the desert near the city of Deir Ezzor. Three other Russian military personnel were wounded and a local commander of Syria’s National Defense Forces was also reportedly killed in the attack. The killings prompted several days of continuous Russian strikes against ISIS targets in the eastern Homs countryside; in southern and western Raqqa governorate; and in Deir Ezzor. 

The final civilian harm incident tracked by Airwars took place on August 30th after shrapnel from a Russian strike fell on a displacement camp near the village of al-Sheikh Bahr in the Armanaz area of Idlib, reportedly injuring an unspecified number of civilians.

The children of Majed Mesleh al Muhammad, killed by a reported Russian airstrike in Binnish on August 3rd (via @abuhuzaifa_)

US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

The month of August saw no locally reported civilian harm incidents involving the US-led Coalition in Syria. This was the second recent month in a row where no civilian harm claims were made against the International Coalition. However, US-led Coalition actions in Syria continued throughout the month, in conjunction with local partners.

According to the International Coalition’s Strike Summary Report for August 2020, the alliance conducted six strikes in Syria against ISIS targets throughout the month, a slight increase on the four strikes conducted in July. Throughout August, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also continued to carry out anti-ISIS operations. The SDF confirmed for example that on August 7th, they were able to capture eight ISIS militants in a major operation in Deir Ezzor, following air support from the US-led Coalition.

.@CJTFOIR air strike in support of our security partners, 20 Aug. in Iraq🇮🇶. The @coalition provides aviation, intelligence and logistical support to @modmiliq in the fight to #DefeatDaesh https://t.co/FDpoeWGqGr

— Inherent Resolve (@CJTFOIR) August 27, 2020

Meanwhile, reports of unilateral US airstrikes were reported throughout the month. On August 13th, a drone targeted a car in the town of Sarmada. Local sources reported that Abu Yahya Al Uzbaki, a leading figure in the al Qaeda linked group Huras al-Din, was killed in this attack. There were conflicting reports about whether the drone strike was conducted by the International Coalition, or unilaterally by the United States.

Tensions later flared up between Regime forces and the US-led Coalition in the town of Tal al Zahab in Qamishli’s countryside areas in northern Hasakah Governorate. This came as a result of clashes between both sides on August 17th. According to local sources, the Coalition launched airstrikes that targeted regime forces, killing two members. However, the Coalition, in an official statement, denied launching an airstrike in the area saying that its routine patrol came under fire at the time and that Coalition troops returned fire in self-defence.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the International Coalition was significantly more active. The alliance declared 11 strikes against Daesh targets which it said consisted of 36 engagements, killing nine suspected ISIS militants. The Coalition confirmed it had conducted strikes in Wadi al-Tharthar, in the Qara Chokh Mountains; and at Tarmiyah, north of Baghdad, in a bid to provide air cover for Iraqi Special Forces in their own operations against ISIS. 

Amidst these actions, International Coalition forces once again came under fire in Iraq from unidentified armed groups during the month. On the evening of August 15th, two rockets landed near the Taji military base, although there were no casualties reported. This came eight days before the International Coalition officially departed the Taji military base, transferring $347 million in equipment and property to Iraq. It was described as the eighth base transfer by the International Coalition to Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) so far this year.

White Helmet members near the car that was targeted by a US drone strike in Sarmada (via SCD)

Libya ceasefire brings month of calm to beleaguered country

The number of air and artillery strikes in Libya once again dropped in August as most parties to the fighting abided by a ceasefire deal. Only seven strikes were locally reported, two less than in July. No civilian harm was reported from any of these actions.

Six of the strikes were allegedly conducted by the Libyan National Army (LNA), while one Government of National Accord (GNA) attack was reported.

Reports continued that both sides were continuing to re-arm, even as international efforts to secure a lasting peace continued.

Smoke rising after an alleged GNA drone strike on fuel smugglers near Zintan on August 12th, 2020 (via 218TV)

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

Airwars recorded five reported US actions in Somalia in August, one more than in the previous month.

On August 8th two US strikes were claimed by local sources – one in Haway and the other in Sablale, allegedly killing one senior Al Shabaab operative in each. However AFRICOM denied conducting the strikes, leaving open the possibility either of an AMISOM or CIA operation..

Twelve days later, the US confirmed conducting an airstrike on al Shabaab near Kurtun Warey. An “unnamed senior member of the group’s local bomb-making and IED explosives unit was killed in the strike”, according to VOA.

An August 24th US strike in combination with US and Somali ground operations killed six Al Shabaab fighters and injured three more near Darusalaam in Lower Shabelle, AFRICOM said. Al Shabaab claimed that US service members had been injured in the fighting, an allegation which Africa Command later rebutted.

One day later Sheikh Abduqadir Kumandos, an Al Shabaab senior leader was killed by a confirmed US strike near Saakow.

Yemen

According to CENTCOM, there were no US military strikes during August 2020 in Yemen.

The last publicly declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province. Airwars researchers also tracked no local claims of US actions in Yemen during the month. 

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during August 2020. The last such reported US strike was in August 2018.

Advocacy

UK advocacy

The Integrated Review is a strategic look by the UK Government at its foreign policy objectives, along with its future defence, security and international development strategies. During August, Airwars and our UK partners continued discussions and the sharing of policy ideas, in preparation for our evidence submission to the Integrated Review. 

Furthermore, Airwars continued coordination with the Security Policy Alternatives Network (SPAN) Accountability group coordinated by Saferworld. The group is currently working on a research paper examining accountability for military actions in West Africa. 

European advocacy

During August, Airwars continued building a coalition of partners in Belgium. Given that Belgium has been one of the least transparent countries in the International Coalition against ISIS, and there are no accountability mechanisms in place for potential civilian casualties, Airwars aims to conduct a collective engagement approach with the Belgian government to improve its poor track record in this regard. The initial steps of the joint advocacy approach will be discussed at the roundtable scheduled for early September.   

Military advocacy

For the sixth successive month, the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria conceded no additional civilian harm during August from its long running war against ISIS.

During the same six month period, the alliance rejected 190 further locally reported civilian harm claims from Iraqis and Syrians as ‘non credible.’

▲ The family of civilian Khalid Ebdulrehman who was killed in a reported Turkish drone strike in Kani Masi, Dohuk on August 19th (Image via Rudaw)

Published

August 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Anna Zahn, Clive Vella, Dmytro Chupryna, Douglas Statt, Eleftheria Kousta, Giacomo Nanni, Hermes, Laurie Treffers, Maysa Ismael, Ned Ray, Oliver Imhof, Riley Mellen, Samuel Brownsword, Shihab Halep and Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Major Conflict Monitoring

July 2020 saw a continuation of a trend observed the month before, with foreign action in Syria slowly increasing, particularly by Russia. Meanwhile, the US-led Coalition continued its operations against both ISIS and Iranian-backed groups in Syria, though at a seemingly lower intensity.

In Iraq, ISIS’s insurgency had slightly increased in tempo, owing to a renewed campaign by the group at the end of the month known as the ‘Raids of Attrition’, which saw 60 synchronised attacks in both Syria and Iraq. Meanwhile, Turkey’s air and ground campaign against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq continued, though also at a lower intensity

Meanwhile, reported civilian harm incidents in Libya decreased significantly, as warring parties reached a military stalemate. Fears remained that Egypt’s potential intervention in the conflict could escalate tensions further – as well as signs that both the GNA and LNA were using the pause in fighting to secure fresh arms shipments.

Air and artillery strikes see a sharp decrease in Libya

Both reported strikes and civilian harm majorly decreased in July as the military stalemate between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Libyan National Army (LNA) continued. The number of tracked air and artillery actions by all parties to the fighting fell from 94 to nine, while alleged civilian deaths dropped from between 44 and 54 casualties to zero.

Most reported strikes during July were LNA actions, with four attributed to Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Two further strikes were allegedly conducted by the GNA and/or Turkey. Three more strikes were either contested between parties, or conducted by an unknown belligerent.

Even though none of these events led to reported civilian harm, explosive remnants from the recent battle for Tripoli posed a significant problem for the local population. Many deaths and severe injuries were reported from landmines, allegedly planted by LNA and Wagner forces after abandoning the capital.

In a major political development, Egypt threatened to intervene in Libya should GNA and Turkish forces go east of what was described as a ‘red line’ at Sirte and Jufra airbase. However, parliamentary approval in Cairo of sending troops has so far only contributed to the standoff in central Libya.

Civilian allegedly injured by a landmine explosion near Ain Zara, Libya on July 6th 2020 (via Field Medicine and Support Center)

Russian strikes resume as fears of an imminent Idlib campaign increase

Following on from June, which saw Russian airstrikes resume after three months of calm in northwestern Syria, Russian actions saw a notable increase in July, particularly in the middle of the month. Airwars researchers tracked a total of eight civilian harm incidents – doubling the previous month’s figure. According to local reports, five civilians were killed and up to 27 others injured in these incidents. Two occurred in Hama Governorate, while the other six events took place in various towns in Idlib Governorate.

Four incidents occurred on a single day: July 14th. This sequence of strikes came after a roadside landmine hit a joint Russian-Turkish patrol in the M4 area, wounding three Russian soldiers. Immediately following that attack, Russian warplanes carried out more than a dozen airstrikes on rebel-held parts of Idlib and Latakia, with the Syrian Observatory for Human rights claiming that 23 separate Russian airstrikes occurred on that day.

This sudden escalation raised fears that Russia’s aerial campaign on Idlib might resume. Tensions between Turkey and Russia seemed to escalate even further after Russian airstrikes were conducted on July 15th on the city of al-Bab, where Turkey and its proxies enjoyed a significant military presence. These strikes – the first to occur in the city since 2017 – resulted in the reported death of one civilian and left as many as eleven more injured, eight of whom were children. However, just one week later, Russia and Turkey resumed their joint patrolling of the M4 highway and completed the first end-to-end patrol, which many observers saw as a sign of de-escalation.

Apart from the airstrike on al-Bab, the town of Ariha witnessed a brutal action on July 14th which killed two civilians, named by Ariha Today as Muhammad Deeb Halbiya (40 years old) and his son, Karam Halbiya (12 years old), and injuring up to five others, including four children [Mohammed Al-Mady (13 years old), Mohammed Al-Hassan (12 years old), Noor Aberas (30 years old) and Youssef Al-Hassan]. According to MMC, this came after Russian warplanes allegedly launched 40 missiles on the town of Ariha on that day.

The destructive aftermath of the alleged Russian airstrike in al-Bab on July 15th (via Syrian Civil Defence)

US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

July 2020 saw no locally reported civilian harm incidents involving the US-led Coalition in Syria. This follows on from just one such claim in June.

However, US-led Coalition actions in Syria continued throughout the month, in conjunction with local partners. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) conducted a number of raids on suspected ISIS hideouts in eastern Syria with the support of the Coalition. The first took place on July 3rd in Deir Ezzor province, where SDF special forces dismantled an ISIS terror cell and arrested three suspected ISIS members, confiscating a number of weapons and equipment. The second phase took place on July 17th-18th in the areas of al-Busayrah and al-Shuhail in Deir Ezzor, with the International Coalition providing advice and intelligence. According to the Coalition, ‘several’ ISIS militants were arrested and dozens of weapons were seized during the operation.

Meanwhile, local sources reported that an International Coalition drone targeted a vehicle, north of the town of Ahtamilat in Aleppo’s northern countryside on July 20th. According to Step News, the vehicle belonged to a man named Shujaa al-Muhammad from the town of al-Safira in Aleppo. Local sources said that the driver and two others in the car who were reportedly killed had been ISIS operatives.

Local sources also reported one strike against Iran-backed groups by planes locally identified as belonging to the International Coalition on the town of Duwair in Deir Ezzor’s countryside areas. 

The Iraqi Falcons Intelligence Cell and Baghdad Intelligence Directorate🇮🇶, alongside the 54th Brigade, eliminated 4 suicide bombers💀💣with a fifth self destructing🔥, in the village of Ma'amra al-Zaidan. CJTF-OIR drones supported the operation.💪 #defeatdaesh https://t.co/vlZdAkoXXr pic.twitter.com/QFJnh95RyG

— Inherent Resolve (@CJTFOIR) July 13, 2020

In Iraq, the International Coalition supported Iraqi Security Forces in their own operations against ISIS throughout the month. On July 1st, two French Rafale jets launched a series of strikes in northern Iraq, destroying three ISIS caves and killing an unspecified number of reported ISIS militants. A day later, Coalition F-15E jets targeted an ISIS cave complex in Wadi al-Shai, in the Tuz Khurmato district of Kirkuk. Additionally, during the last week of July, the Coalition provided close air support for Iraqi Special Forces in operations on the outskirts of Baghdad, and south of Kirkuk.

The aftermath of a reported Coalition drone strike Ahtimalat on July 20th (via Step News)

Turkey in Syria and Iraq

Turkish-led actions in both Iraq and Syria continued. Airwars researchers tracked six civilian harm incidents in both countries during the month of July. Four took place in Syria, while two occurred in Iraq. Tracking for Iraq indicated a notable decrease in Turkish operations after it had launched an aggressive campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in June, which had seen up to 150 PKK positions targeted by Turkish jets, helicopters, drones and artillery.

The four incidents in Syria caused up to eight civilian deaths and as many as 15 injuries. Meanwhile, the two civilian harm incidents in Iraq resulted in two civilian deaths and five more injuries.

The first incident in Syria took place at 10am on July 16th in the district of Derbasiyah. Local reports suggest that the incident was either caused by Turkish shelling or by a drone strike which injured a civilian. Later that day, another more significant strike, allegedly launched by a Turkish drone, took place in the same district targeting a Russian communication centre. According to local sources, this attack injured two Russian soldiers, a Regime soldier and two Asayish members. The event came amidst heightened tensions following recent Russian airstrikes on al-Bab [see above].

The incident which reported the highest number of civilian deaths occurred in the villages of Qurt Wiran and Willanli, just northwest of Manbij on July 27th. According to local reports, six civilians were killed and up to ten more were injured after Turkish-led forces shelled the two villages. Three of those killed were reportedly children Hawar news agency obtained the names of five of the victims: Alia Diab (60 years old), Fatima Makhlouf (35 years old), Fares Diab (13 years old), Ghofran Diab (7 years old) and Jamila Diab (11 years).

The incident in Qurt Wiran and Willanli on July 27th prompted a large number of locals to come out to protest Turkish action in Syria on July 30th. (Image via ANF)

Meanwhile in Iraq, the two Turkish strikes resulting in civilian harm occurred within the space of three days. The first took place in Hasinpirka village in the Amedi district of Dohuk. According to reports, a Turkish strike hit two vehicles in the area, reportedly killing two civilians. However, Hamid Zubair, the mayor of the sub-district of Bamarne told Rudaw that the vehicles in fact belonged to PKK fighters, and not civilians. According to reports, the victims’ names were Abdulla Ahmad and Dilovan Shahin. On July 29th, another incident involving Turkish forces occurred in Mount Shekif in Erbil province. According to ANF, Turkish forces shelled the area and injured civilians collecting herbs in the mountains. One woman was reportedly severely injured in the attack.

Kurdish counterfire in Syria

Airwars tracked no civilian harm incidents resulting from Kurdish counterfire actions during the month of July. Since the end of March 2020, Airwars researchers have tracked only one civilian harm incident involving Kurdish factions in Syria.

Russian soldier limping out of hospital following a Turkish drone strike in Derbasiyah on July 16th (via FM Dirbesiye)

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

After a lull in airstrikes from mid-May – likely at least partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic – the US resumed activities in Somalia in early July. Three strikes were confirmed by AFRICOM, with one allegedly leading to civilian harm. 

On July 9th, one Al Shabaab fighter was allegedly killed by a US strike on a checkpoint near Hantiwadaag.

On July 21st the US conducted its first strike against ISIS Somalia since October 2019 near Timirshe, killing seven members of the terror organisation. The operation was accompanied by Puntland Security Forces on the ground who allegedly killed around 12 ISIS fighters in an exchange of gunfire. US partner forces assisted.

And on July 29th a US strike in Jilib killed one Al Shabaab member and injured another one, according to AFRICOM. However, local media sources close to the terror organisation said  that in fact three named children had been killed when their home was hit by a US missile.

AFRICOM also published its second quarterly civilian casualty assessment report, acknowledging responsibility for one civilian death and three more injured during an event on February 2nd 2020. For six further incidents, AFRICOM denied causing civilian harm, while four recent cases were described as still pending.

Home allegedly destroyed by US strike on Jilib on July 29th, 2020 (via Somali Memo)

Yemen

Airwars tracked one US drone strike allegation in Yemen during July.

According to some local reports, a strike took place in the town of Ateq in Shabwa province on July 3rd. This reportedly hit the house of Bin Adio, the Governor of Shabwa. However, this claim has not been corroborated by other reports from prominent Yemeni outlets such as the Yemeni Press Agency, which says that the fire was instead caused by an electrical fault. CENTCOM itself told Airwars that its forces did not carry out any strikes in Yemen during the month.

Image showing a house on fire after an explosion in Ateq on July 3rd (Image via @Mohamme19780462)

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during July. The last such reported or claimed US action was in July 2018.

Advocacy

UK advocacy

In July, our UK Advocacy Officer attended a virtual Panel Discussion on preventing internal displacement due to armed conflict/violence and disasters. Among the suggestions made was that belligerents avoid the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, as a way to prevent reasons of internal displacement.

Also, Airwars and others in the UK’s Protection of Civilians (PoC) working group – which consists of partners including Crisis Action, STC, AOAV, and the APPG on Drones -resumed regular meetings, and agreed to request an update from the UK Government on its ongoing PoC strategy review. Members also discussed upcoming opportunities for engagement and future actions. 

Airwars additionally attended a webinar organised by EveryCasualty on ‘COVID-19 and Casualty Recording’. Insights into statistics gathering and data analysis will help inform our own work at Airwars. 

European advocacy

On July 3rd, our European advocacy officer virtually attended a meeting with the Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges (Utrecht University). One of the topics discussed was how Community Service Learning (CSL) programmes can connect academia and practice. Airwars is currently exploring with the Centre how we can help create spaces for students, for example those studying Conflict Studies, International Affairs or International Humanitarian Law, to better learn from and engage with the work we do at Airwars.

On July 7th, we published a story with updates on progress at the Dutch Ministry of Defence on revising its transparency and accountability practices, in the aftermath of the Hawijah scandal. In a letter to Parliament on June 29th, Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld laid out a number of changes which she claimed would improve both transparency and accountability regarding civilian harm.

“While Airwars welcomes this next step towards a more transparent Defensie, the content of the data [of airstrikes] is still below standard,” Airwars deputy Dmytro Chupryna noted at the time. ”Other Coalition allies such as the UK already report the specific date, targets and near locations of their airstrikes. For Defensie to become more transparent, improving their reporting on airstrikes really is one of the first steps to take.”

▲ Local Syrians volunteer to help rebuild a hospital damaged in the fighting to oust ISIS from Al Shaddadi, Syria, July 16th 2020. (Image via @SOJTFOIR)

Published

August 7, 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily

A protracted conflict against the terror group ISIS has left much of Iraq in ruins - though there are signs of rebirth.

On the fateful evening of August 7th 2014, then-US President Barack Obama gave a live address to the nation announcing the beginning of military actions in Iraq against so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS and Daesh), ushering in a new era of US involvement. The following day, US Navy F-18 Hornet fighters launched the first airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Six years on, and 14,700 international air and artillery strikes later as well as thousands more by Iraq government forces, Iraqis are still reeling from the war against ISIS and its aftermath.

The conflict itself displaced over five million Iraqis and left schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure in affected provinces across northern and central Iraq in utter ruin. While statistics on the number of civilians who perished overall during the war against ISIS varies, Iraq Body Count estimates that 67,376 civilians were killed between January 2014 and December 2017. According to the World Bank, the total cost of the conflict amounts to a staggering 124 trillion Iraqi Dinars ($107 billion), which is equivalent to 73% of the country’s entire GDP in 2013.

It is also estimated that 138,051 residential buildings and units were damaged, half of which were destroyed beyond repair in Iraq during the long war on ISIS. Meanwhile, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has estimated that the conflict left 6.2 million people in need of targeted humanitarian assistance.

Beyond the cold statistics showing the impact of war on an already beleaguered country, personal testimonies of Iraqis themselves give a more visceral idea of life under ISIS, and the aftermath of the military campaign. They also speak to the ongoing challenges that Iraqis living in formerly ISIS-occupied areas continue to face six years on.

Life under ISIS

By the time the US began its military campaign in Iraq, so-called Islamic State had already seized significant territories in northern and western parts of the country including Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city – plunging the nation into its most serious crisis since the US-British invasion in 2003.

The announcement of a US air campaign came shortly after ISIS’s genocidal campaign on the Yazidi community in Sinjar and its surrounding areas in Nineveh province had begun – and almost two months after ISIS’s notorious massacre [Warning: GRAPHIC] of up to 1,700 unarmed Iraqi military cadets in Camp Speicher. The next three years would see the lives of millions of people change radically. The terror group’s occupation of these territories ravaged communities and decimated the social fabric of many of the cities under the group’s rule. Locals living in areas under ISIS occupation recount wanton acts of brutality by the group, in a bid to enforce their control and dominance.

Khalid al-Rawi, a musician and community activist in Mosul [see main picture], describes the state of fear instilled by the group during their occupation of Iraq’s second city. “I know many musicians who destroyed their instruments [out of fear of being caught] or would go far away in order to play a bit of music… If anyone played music openly, they could have been killed, but musicians wouldn’t have dared to do this”, Khalid recalled to Airwars this week. “People were killed for the smallest reasons by them [ISIS] – I was one of the people who if they caught me, I would have been killed instantly.”

Ziad Ghanim Sha’ban, a lawyer from Tikrit in Salahuddin province, paints a similar picture of violence and fear under ISIS, particularly when it came to religious and ethnic coexistence. “Iraqi society, as you know, is like a mosaic [of different ethnic and religious groups],” explains Ziad. “We have Kurds, we have Sunnis with Shia parents and Shias with Sunni parents, as well as Turkmen in our community – we are one country, but when ISIS came, this changed. They rejected and fought this vigorously, and killed anyone promoting this [coexistence] – this instilled great fear in society and many families were torn from the community.”

Ziad goes on to recall how some husbands and wives who had spouses from southern Iraq – where the population is predominantly Shia Muslim – divorced and ran away to avoid persecution by the group.

War on ISIS and the legacy of the International Coalition

Following a series of gains made by ISIS throughout 2014 that saw the terror group control up to a fifth of Iraq’s territory and 6.3 million people (19% of the population), the Iraqi Government, with the support of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) consisting of numerous armed groups, as well as international allies led by the United States, began pushing back against ISIS, slowly reclaiming territory until the group’s territorial defeat in December 2017.

The role played by the US-led Coalition was instrumental in eventually defeating ISIS. The US-led alliance has declared 14,771 air and artillery strikes in Iraq since its inception, providing air cover for Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and decimating ISIS positions in northern and western Iraq. Today the group exists only on the margins of Iraq, harried by ISF and Coalition attacks. However, the human and material cost of this campaign has been immense – and experienced almost exclusively by Iraqis themselves.

ISIS killed and injured many thousands of civilians during its occupation, and many more died in ISF actions. Using local sources, Airwars has also to date tracked 895 separate civilian harm allegations against the International Coalition in Iraq. According to local reports, between 9,801 and 14,037 civilians were claimed killed in these incidents and up to 12,248 others injured. The US-led alliance itself has so far publicly admitted 688 deaths from its actions in Iraq.

Beyond this, the military campaign has left vast swathes of the country in ruins, making it almost impossible for hundreds of thousands of civilians – still displaced by the conflict – to return to their homes.

Khalid recalls a number of instances where families were caught up in airstrikes targeting ISIS militants: “I have a friend whose family, including uncles and aunts, were living in the same house. From what was explained to me, there was one ISIS member on the roof of the house so an International Coalition missile struck the building, killing 13 or 14 members of that family.”

Ziad also recounts the tragic story of his younger brother, who was killed by what he says was an International Coalition airstrike in Tikrit. “I have my brother, a child, named Muhanad aged only 11 years old, who was injured in an airstrike and died immediately and we have still, to this day, not received any compensation or acknowledgement from the Coalition.”

In almost all cases, those interviewed say that very few, if anyone, receives any form of acknowledgement or compensation from the Iraqi Government or from the International Coalition. “The reality is that as a lawyer, as part of a team of lawyers, we submitted more than a hundred complaints against Coalition forces, calling for compensation…In the end we didn’t even receive 5% of the compensation we were entitled to,” Ziad told Airwars.

Reconstruction and Reconciliation

Six years on from the beginning of the International Coalition’s own campaign against ISIS, the societal impact of the group’s occupation and the conflict that ensued has been transformative, and will likely remain with Iraqis for decades. In many parts of the country that were under ISIS rule, communities remain divided, and little effort has been made by central and local governments to bring people together. In the absence of government action, locals have taken it upon themselves to repair the social fabric of their communities, in the days following liberation from ISIS.

Khalid al-Rawi points out that despite the immense challenges faced by the people of Mosul and the difficulties of the last few years, the re-emergence of a vibrant civil society in the city has been an unexpected yet significant silver lining in the post-ISIS years. “A number of initiatives have emerged aimed at promoting reconciliation, which I myself have taken part in. For example, we went to Hamdaniya, [a predominantly Assyrian district, with a significant Christian population] and cleaned and helped rebuild churches; and a number of young people helped clean another church in Mosul.”

He also says that the city’s experience under ISIS rule has changed many people’s attitudes about music and the arts, which were previously, perhaps, looked down upon by many in more conservative parts of the city.

“There is a positive I see [from this experience], a new page has been turned for the youth of this community – a revolution has occurred….from an artistic perspective, before people [used to say to me] music is wrong and haram and if you learn music it means you work in a bar. Now that is not the case, there has been a lot more acceptance after liberation from ISIS.”

Music is back to Mosul.Mosul produced music for centuries and now it is all over the place again.Let's play music… #Mosul2019 #ReviveThespiritOfMosul pic.twitter.com/dTqIrTuDlq

— Mosul Eye عين الموصل (@MosulEye) October 24, 2019

However, Ziad paints a bleaker image of the societal impact of ISIS rule and the subsequent fighting that emerged. In contrast to Mosul’s civic revival, many in Tikrit are afraid to engage in civic activities, he says. “Since the violence we saw in Hawijah and Tikrit in 2013 against protesters and by ISIS during their rule, activists have not emerged in our areas because they saw the executions that would take place if they did come out… Even when protests emerged in Baghdad and the south [in 2019 and 2020], there were no protests in Salahuddin, Anbar, Hawijah and Mosul because [people] knew they could be killed,” explains Ziad.

In terms of reconstruction, efforts by the Government have often seemed futile, with progress slow and, in many cases, non-existent. Despite liberation from ISIS, residents of Anbar, Salahuddin and Nineveh provinces face an uphill task in rebuilding their cities and communities, made even more difficult by government incompetence and widespread corruption.

Abdulrahman Mohammad, a businessman and community leader in Fallujah, who fled his hometown after the arrival of ISIS back in 2014, explains that upon returning to his city after three years, he found a city in ruins and a devastated local economy. “When we came back after ISIS, everything we had was lost. Our factories were destroyed. In the end, the economy of the province [of Anbar] had halted,” explains Abdulrahman. “Work is not given to anyone except to a specific group [of people] through patronage networks,” he elaborates.

“Anbar had 30 very large cement factories, each employing 500 people. To this day, these factories remain damaged and unusable,” laments Abdulrahman, adding that “Efforts to create jobs by the government are non-existent. None.”

The situation in other towns such as Sinjar in Nineveh, and Baiji in Salahuddin, is even more dire. According to the World Bank, 70% of housing assets in Sinjar were damaged, while in Baiji, 94% of residential buildings were damaged.

As Iraq now enters its seventh year following the beginning of the war against ISIS, many Iraqis have little faith in government efforts to rebuild their cities, and are instead forced to put up with the devastation wrought upon them by ISIS and years of war. While the post-ISIS period has brought security to the liberated provinces of Iraq – and has also created a space for local civil activism to flourish in certain areas – many know that there is still a long way to go before the majority can truly taste the fruits of liberation from ISIS.

▲ Musician Khalid Al-Rawi trained with his friends on the Oud secretly under ISIS. Once the city was liberated, he took to Mosul's streets spreading music and arts. This photo was taken near the central library of Mosul University during Mosul Eye's Save The Book campaign in August 2017.  Published with kind permission of Ali Y. Al-Baroodi

Published

August 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Anna Zahn, Douglas Statt, Eleftheria Kousta, Giacomo Nanni, Hermes, Laurie Treffers, Maysa Ismael, Ned Ray, Oliver Imhof, Samuel Brownsword, Shihab Halep and Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Major Conflict Monitoring

June 2020 saw a slight resurgence in foreign action in Syria, with sporadic Russian strikes being reported in Idlib; and with the US-led Coalition continuing its operations against Iranian-backed groups in Syria. In Iraq, ISIS’s insurgency has decreased significantly as Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have increased the tempo of their own Counter-Terrorism campaigns. Meanwhile, Turkey launched a major joint air and ground operation against Kurdish militants over the border into northern Iraq, in a bold attempt to dislodge the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the region. This led to several disturbing civilian casualty events. 

While the conflict in Libya continued to rage on, the number of strikes decreased significantly as the Government of National Accord (GNA), with Turkish support, continued to consolidate its gains from the previous month against the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its foreign allies. A stalemate at the frontline in Sirte led to almost complete inaction between the two sides. However, foreign actors reportedly used the impasse to funnel more weapons into Libya.

As the chart below shows, the number of civilian harm incidents decreased during June across all major conflicts tracked by Airwars apart from Iraq (due to Turkey’s Operation Tiger Claw against the PKK.) The number of reported civilian harm incidents in Libya decreased by almost 75%.

Air and artillery strikes decrease in Libya as GNA advances continue

June marked the first month in Libya where the GNA and Turkey allegedly caused more civilian harm than the LNA and its allies. While the number of tracked air and artillery strikes dropped significantly from 274 to 94, locally reported civilian deaths only decreased from 64-81 to 44-54.

The GNA and Turkey allegedly conducted 25 air and artillery strikes leading to between 24 and 32 civilian deaths in a successful effort to regain territory from the LNA. In the worst event of the month, between 12 and 20 civilians were killed by a GNA or Turkish drone strike on Qasr Bin Gashir on June 3rd.

Civilian harm reported from LNA and Emirati strikes significantly decreased compared to previous months, as the GNA finally managed to oust Khalifa Haftar’s forces from Tripoli. The siege of Libya’s capital officially ended on 4th June after more than 400 days. Between 16 and 17 civilian deaths were alleged from 59 LNA and Emirati actions in June. The most severe incident took place in Gheryan on June 2nd, when five civilian males were reportedly killed by a drone strike.

Another six strikes by unknown belligerents allegedly led to a further four to five civilian deaths.

The vast majority of these strikes were conducted at the beginning of June, with only seven reported towards the end of the month. Military activity had effectively stalled due to a stalemate at the Sirte frontline, where both sides were sending in reinforcements. AFRICOM also once again overtly called out Russia for supplying the LNA with fighter jets. Strikes by Russian-supplied MiGs reportedly led to civilian harm on two occasions.

Lujain Muhammad Buresh, allegedly killed by GNA shelling on Qasr Bin Gashir on June 1st, 2020 (image via Tarhuna 24)

Russian strikes resume in Syria as ceasefire slowly unravels

After three months of relative calm in northwestern Syria, Russian airstrikes were reported for the first time on June 3rd and then again on June 8th-9th, with some reportedly leading to civilian harm. These actions brought into sharp focus the fragility of a major ceasefire initially agreed in March – raising fears that Russia’s aerial campaign on Idlib could resume. In total, four civilian harm incidents allegedly involving Russia were reported during the month, resulting in eight civilian deaths and the injury of 16 others.

The June 3rd airstrikes took place in an area where the boundaries of Hama, Idlib and Latakia provinces meet, close to the highly strategic M4 highway, where Turkish and Russian forces conduct their joint patrols as part of the truce agreement. These strikes were aimed at pushing Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militants – who enjoy a significant presence in this area -further away from the M4 highway, to create a buffer from the Sahl al-Ghab area in northern Hama province. 

Five days later, Russian warplanes began reportedly striking a number of areas in Idlib. On June 8th, local sources reported that Russian warplanes hit the al-Muzarra village in Jabal al-Zawiya in southern Idlib, According to SMART News Agency, two civilians were killed and three others were wounded in the attack. According to Baladi News, four civilians from the same family were injured. 

The next day saw alleged Russian strikes in Balyoun, Kansafra, and Idlib city resulting in civilian harm. In Balyoun, one civilian was killed and eight others were injured in an aerial bombardment on residential areas in the western part of the village. According to Baladi News, the civilian killed was Abdullah Ahmad al-Dani from the neighbouring town of Kansafra. In Kansafra, Russian raids killed one civilian and injured four others. Meanwhile, on the same day, three children (Salah Ghajar, Rand Saed al Din and Rand’s brother Huthaifah) were killed when a cluster munition left behind from the previous bombing by Russian warplanes exploded near a farm in the al-Jedar area.

Following this June 8th spike in alleged Russian action, there were no further reports of civilian harm from Russian strikes for the rest of the month.

Civilian body being carried following an alleged Russian airstrike in Balyoun on June 9th (via Syrian Network for Human Rights)

US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

The month of June saw only one civilian harm incident locally reported to have involved the US-led Coalition in Syria. This was a welcome decrease from the four incidents reported for the previous month, which remains the highest monthly tally of the year to date.

On June 24th, on the road between Idlib city and the town of Binnish, a Coalition drone reportedly targeted a ‘Santa Fe’ car, allegedly killing Abu Adnan Al-Homsi, a senior figure in Huras al-Din, an affiliate of al-Qaeda. According to SMART, the drone strike also killed a civilian riding a motorbike near the targeted car. This came ten days after a similar incident, when a drone targeted a car carrying two members of Huras al-Din, known as Qasim al-Urduni and Bilal al-Sana’i. However, no civilians were reportedly harmed in that event. 

Another strike on Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham was reported by locals on June 16th, south of Sarmada in northern Idlib. According to local sources, the strike hit an Islamic tribunal in the area. However, both the number and combatant status of people killed in that event is still not known.

Meanwhile, military operations against ISIS targets were also reported throughout the month. On June 20th, the US-led Coalition allegedly launched a strike on the road between al-Dana and al-Bad in eastern Aleppo, killing ISIS commander Fayez al-Akkal, who also served as the former ‘governor’ of Raqqa. On June 21st, another International Coalition strike took place on a motorcycle belonging to an unidentified ISIS militant near the Kubaiba oil field in southern Hasaka Governorate.

Local sources also reported four strikes against Iran-backed groups by planes locally identified as belonging to the International Coalition. The first took place in the town of Maizilliah in Deir Ezzor province on June 6th, killing approximately eight people. The second was in the Thalathat area, west of al-Boukamal on June 8th. Another airstrike was reported in the al-Akershi desert, southeast of Raqqa city, and finally, the last locally reported strike took place in al-Abbas village near al-Boukamal, where according to reports, six headquarters were targeted in a major raid on June 28th.

In Iraq, there was one civilian harm incident reported in the Abu Zuwair area near Baiji. This came after a US MQ-IC Gray Eagle armed drone crashed in the area, which led to shepherds approaching the fallen drone. However, another drone arrived and struck the same area killing the four shepherds near the crashed drone. According to other sources, the shepherds had carried parts of the drone in a pickup truck and were then pursued by a second drone and killed as they tried to leave the area.

Turkey in Syria and Iraq

Turkish-led actions varied considerably in Syria and Iraq during June. The number of civilian harm incidents involving Turkish action decreased considerably in Syria, while Iraq saw Turkey escalating its ongoing anti-PKK campaign, after launching Operation Claw-Tiger.

Airwars tracked one civilian harm incident in Syria involving alleged Turkish action. On June 23rd, a Turkish drone strike reportedly killed three women in the village of Helince, east of Kobani. According to local reports, the house of Amina Waysi, was hit, killing her and two other women – Zehra Berkel, a coordinating member of the Kongra Star women’s movement; and Mizgin Xelil.

#UrgentThree civilians lost their lives due to the targeting of a drone believed to be a #Turkish drone in the village of Helinc east of #Kobanê. pic.twitter.com/0sRPoexp99

— Hoshang Hasan (@HoshangHasan1) June 23, 2020

In Iraq, Turkey launched a major joint air and ground operation against the PKK in northern Iraq on June 17th. According to reports, Special Forces were airlifted to the border region of Haftanin in the early hours of Operation Claw-Tiger. According to the Turkish Ministry of Defence, the campaign targeted 150 suspected PKK positions with jets, helicopters, drones and artillery. 

The unprecedented scale and scope of these latest operations posed a significant risk to civilians living near the Turkish border of northern Iraq. The week following the beginning of operations was particularly harmful to civilians in Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaimaniyah. 

As a result, five civilian harm incidents were reported during Juneh, four of which took place following the beginning of Operation Claw-Tiger. In these events, seven people were reported killed and at least nine others injured. 

The first alleged civilian harm case from Turkish actions took place in Sinjar on June 14th, where local sources reported that “several civilians” were injured in Turkish airstrikes on civilian areas – though the exact number of injured civilians was not specified in local sources. In the first two days of the campaign, three more? civilian harm incidents were reported. The first took place on June 17th, within hours of the launch of the operations in Bradost, northern Erbil province, where a shepherd by the name of Ebas Mexdid Nimet was killed and up to three others were injured. 

Two days later on June 19th, two civilian harm incidents took place. One took place in the Kokar area near the Avamark Resort in Dohuk province, where a Turkish airstrike killed three people and injured two others. Another airstrike on the same day in Barwari reportedly killed a civilian.

#BREAKING #Turkish war planes bombs #Shiladze town in #Dohuk province Iraqi #Kurdistan , killed 3 civilians injured 2 2 hours ago#TwitterKurds @AzadiRojava pic.twitter.com/vIEsaoEYCY

— Hana Çômanî (@HanaComani) June 19, 2020

The final incident took place in Kunamasi, near a resort in the Sulaimaniyah province on June 25th. That airstrikes hit a vehicle carrying PKK fighters, but also struck a mini market belonging to a local family. According to some reports, two civilians were killed and up to five others were injured. A widely shared video showed children playing nearby showered with debris. 

Turkish attacks in northern Iraq in the first week of the campaign drew widespread condemnation from neighbouring countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Iraqi Government also condemned the latest incursion by Turkey into Iraq’s territory as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

Is this okay with you? @masrour_barzani @qubadjt @jensstoltenberg this is my brother playing with my nephew when a Turkish bomb drops 20 meters away from them in Kuna Masi. #TwitterKurds pic.twitter.com/tNUK8HeWt0

— Jîl Şwanî (@thejilswani) June 25, 2020

Kurdish counterfire in Syria

After more than three months without any civilian harm incidents allegedly resulting from Kurdish counterfire, local Syrian news outlets said that a child was killed after a mortar shell, reportedly from the YPG, exploded near the city of Mare’a in Aleppo province on June 28th. According to Bawabat Aleppo, the child killed was 14 year-old Hamza Ibrahim. The explosion reportedly took place on the road to the nearby village of Esnabel. 

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

There were no publicly alleged or announced US strikes in Somalia during June, with the last declared AFRICOM action taking place on May 17th.  

Yemen

Airwars tracked one alleged US drone strike in Yemen during the month of June. According to local reports, the strike took place on Wadi Obeida, just northwest of Marib city on June 24th. The strike reportedly hit al-Qaeda militants, who had just escaped a battle with Saudi-backed Yemeni forces in the Qaniyah front of Baydha province. According to one source, the airstrike killed an unnamed senior figure within AQAP. However, this claim has not been corroborated by other reports on the airstrike.

CENTCOM itself said that it did not carry out any strikes in Yemen during the month. However it remains possible that the June 24th event was conducted by the CIA, which carries out a parallel, covert campaign in Yemen. 

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during May. The last such reported or claimed US action was in July 2018.

Advocacy

UK advocacy

Airwars participated, along with 1,000 other organisations, in a high level virtual convening on United Nations Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, which reflected on how the UN’s present counter-terror policies impact on peace, human rights and development

Airwars also observed discussions and side events of the ‘Supporting the future of Syria and the region – Brussels IV Conference,’ and sent a followup question to the panel on ‘Ensuring accountability and civilian protection in Syria’. The question focused on the need for accountability from all the actors involved in the Syrian conflict: 

While casualty tracking indicates that the Syrian regime and its Russian allies are responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Syrian civilians, including women and children, as a result of airstrikes on civilian residential areas, research from monitoring organisations shows that other international actors – such as Turkey and the US-led Coalition – are also responsible for civilian harm, often at significant levels. How can we hold the Syrian regime and its allies to account, while ensuring that other States calling for the protection of civilians are themselves fully committed to meeting accountability standards?

The US State Department – which hosted the ‘Brussels IV’ discussion on Syria – has yet to respond to those questions which resulted from the session.

European advocacy

In June, the Airwars European advocacy team held several roundtables with our Dutch civil society partners. As Dutch Minister of Defence Ank Bijleveld wrote in her letter to Parliament on June 30th, several NGOs, including Airwars, have been meeting with the Ministry to discuss our previously submitted roadmap to improve Dutch policy regarding transparency and accountability for civilian harm. The aim is to agree on a joint plan by the end of the summer, as stated in the Minister’s letter. 

On June 25th, the Utrecht Centre for Global Challenges (UCGC) at the University of Utrecht launched its latest project War/Truth: Civilian harm in remote warfare. In January, Airwars’ European advocacy officer moved into the UCGC office as a societal partner of the centre in order to help facilitate better collaboration on the topic of civilian harm. The goal of our collaboration is to “connect Airwars’ work recording civilian harm with research carried out by the Intimacies of Remote Warfare programme (Utrecht University) into wider questions of transparency, accountability, responsibility and legitimacy.”

Military advocacy

All 38 historical civilian harm allegations from US-led Coalition actions in Iraq and Syria, covering a period from January 2015 to July 2017 – and reviewed by the Coalition for its June report – were rejected as ‘non credible. Each of the 38 cases had been an Airwars referral. 

As Airwars noted in a letter of concern to Coalition commanders, this meant that of the 257 incidents so far reviewed by OIR for 2020, only eight had been deemed Credible – or just 3.1%. 

Airwars expressed concern “that OIR may once again be moving away from engaging with external sources on civcas claims – and instead [is] institutionally focusing on self-reported events. If that is the case it would represent a backward step – particularly with DoD itself now emphasising the value of external sources.”

▲ 'From Idlib to Suwayda. Together we will save the boat from sinking. Revolution from the North to the South' Mural in Idlib, June 8th 2020 (via Enab Beladi)

Published

June 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Clive Vella, Dmytro Chupryna, Douglas Statt, Eleftheria Kousta, Giacomo Nanni, Hermes, Laurie Treffers, Maysa Ismael, Ned Ray, Oliver Imhof, Samuel Brownsword and Shihab Halep

Major Conflict Monitoring

Following on from April, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to deliver a limited ‘peace dividend’, at least in some conflict nations. Civilian harm allegations against international actors in Syria continue to be minimal – though with a spike in claims against the US-led Coalition. In Iraq – despite reports of an ISIS resurgence – no civilian harm incidents from International Coalition actions were reported. And in Somalia too, the most intensive US campaign ever seen against al Shabaab, which began earlier this year, now appears to be on hold. 

Meanwhile, the violence in Libya continued unabated, with the Government of National Accord (GNA), supported by Turkey, making significant headway in its bid to retake areas in western Libya recently lost to Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

The above graph shows the number of alleged civilian harm incidents from tracked belligerents in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Somalia. In Syria, all the incidents reported were conducted either by the US-led Coalition, or by Turkish-led forces. In Iraq, the solitary incident was allegedly the result of a Turkish airstrike. More than six times the number of civilian fatalities resulting from actions by tracked belligerents were reported during the month in Libya than in Syria.

Civilian harm in Libya increases as Turkey and GNA turn the tide against the LNA

Libya saw another increase in both airstrikes and reported civilian harm during May, with the GNA and Turkey for the first time since the beginning of the Tripoli offensive out-bombing the LNA and its allies. However, the LNA was still reportedly responsible for the majority of civilian harm.

The number of overall reported air and artillery strikes by all belligerents slightly rose month on month, from 245 in April to 274 in May. The number of locally reported civilian deaths also increased, from 44-52 to 64-81.

Between 33 and 44 civilian deaths were reported from 52 LNA or Emirati airstrikes. The high ratio of civilian harm stemmed from the often indiscriminate nature of shelling on Tripoli neighbourhoods. In one of the worst LNA incidents, six civilians were killed and up to 24 injured on May 9th on the capital’s Al Sour road.

Some 120 reported GNA and Turkish air and artillery strikes allegedly resulted in 18 to 21 civilian deaths. Between nine and ten civilians were allegedly killed by a Turkish airstrike in the worst event of the month in Qasr Al Hajj on May 8th, 2020.

While 95 further strikes could not be attributed to any one belligerent, 6 were contested between GNA and LNA. These allegedly led to 10 to 13 additional civilian deaths.

After the LNA’s withdrawal from Tripoli in late May, landmines and IEDs left behind by Haftar’s forces posed an additional risk for civilians. AFRICOM also called out Russia for allegedly supplying combat aircraft to the LNA. According to the US military command “there is concern these Russian aircraft are being flown by inexperienced, non-state PMC mercenaries who will not adhere to international law.”

Tariq Mustafa Homs, who reportedly lost a leg after shelling by LNA on Tripoli on May 31st, 2020 (via Burkan Al Ghadab)

The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

The month of May saw an unexpected increase in US-led Coalition military activity in Syria. Airwars researchers tracked four separate claimed civilian harm incidents throughout the month, the highest monthly tally this year so far, leading to eight locally reported civilian deaths. All four incidents took place in Deir Ezzor governorate, which has seen most of the Coalition’s military actions in Syria during 2020.

The first incident took place on May 1st in the Koniko oil fields of Deir Ezzor. According to local reports, a civilian was killed by a US sniper. The victim, who worked as a teacher in Raqqa city, was identified as Yasser Al-Asman. According to Step News, he “was heading on the main road from the countryside of Deir Ezzor Al-Sharqi to Raqqa, but his car veered off the road towards the [oil] field by mistake, which drove the American forces to kill him instantly.”

On May 16th, a major air raid was conducted in the vicinity of the Abu Bakr Mosque in al-Basira, Deir Ezzor. As part of a joint operation between Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the International Coalition, a number of houses were reportedly bombed. According to Euphrates Eye, Coalition forces struck three buildings housing Internally Displaced People (IDP) in the town, killing five civilians in Ibrahim al-Baraka’s house. The day after saw another civilian harm allegation in al-Zir town. According to local reports, a civilian named Muhammad Khleif Al Hamra was killed on the roof of his own house, while watching Coalition forces conduct a raid on neighbouring properties in al-Shouhaibi town.

The final incident took place on May 22nd in al-Shabaka, once again in Deir Ezzor. According to Euphrates Post, Muhammad Al-Ouda Al-Khaled Al-Addad from the city of Al-Shuhail was killed during a joint operation led by the International Coalition. Further details of the raid are not presently known.

Reports also emerged that a senior ISIS figure, Mu’taz Numan Abd Nayif Najm al-Jabouri, was killed in a Coalition airstrike. Al-Jabouri, who went by the nom de guerre, Hajji Taysir, was known as the group’s ‘Governor’ of Iraq and head of foreign operations. He was also claimed to have overseen the group’s chemical and biological weapons research, as the deputy head of ISIS manufacturing in Syria.

Additionally, there were six other unilateral actions that were allegedly conducted by the US during the month. These took place in a number of different Governorates in Syria such as Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, Aleppo and Hasaka. Most of these incidents targeted Iranian-backed groups in Syria – suggesting that these attacks may instead have been the work of Israel.

Meanwhile, International Coalition airstrikes in Iraq also continued. On May 13th, the US-led alliance conducted a major strike on a cave system used as a hideout by ISIS cells in the southwestern desert of Hadar, in Nineveh province. The attack reportedly killed four militants. Five days later, the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (ICTS) confirmed that 11 airstrikes were conducted against ISIS remnants in Mount Ghurra, south of Dibis in Kirkuk. Additionally, the US-led Coalition conducted another strike on ISIS targets in Wadi Ashi in Kirkuk on May 31st, as part of the Iraqi-led “Heroes of Iraq” operation.

May 13, @modmiliq requested Coalition bombs an ISIS cave. We did. ISF found 4xEKIA. #ReadyAF #DefeatDaesh 💥🇮🇶 في 13 آيار ، قصف التحالف كهف لداعش في نينوى، ممّا أدى الى مقتل 4 إرهابيين وقد تبين ذلك من خلال عمليات التفتيش التي قامت بها الفرقة 20 في الجيش العراقي بعد الغارة pic.twitter.com/MPTzYaGSqA

— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) May 15, 2020

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has also remained active in Iraq, conducting four airstrikes against ISIS targets in May. On May 8th, an RAF Reaper targeted an ISIS bunker west of Tuz Khurmato in northern Iraq. On May 10th, a pair of Typhoons struck a cave system reportedly used by ISIS militants southeast of Hatra, on the banks of the Tharthar Lake in Anbar province. The third strike took place three days later in Tuz Khurmato against an ISIS bunker, and finally, on May 23rd a RAF Reaper targeted a group of ISIS militants in an unidentified location in northern Iraq.

Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service forces advance across a field near Dibis, southern Kirkuk on May 18th 2020 (via ICTS social media)

In total, the US-led Coalition confirmed that in the month of May, Partner Forces in Iraq and Syria conducted 52 anti-ISIS operations.

Syria: Another quiet month for Russian airstrikes  

For the second month in a row, Airwars did not monitor a single locally reported civilian harm incident from Russian actions in Syria. April and May of this year mark the only complete months without civilian casualties claimed from Russian military actions – and the longest continuous period without reports of civilian harm since the beginning of Moscow’s campaign began in Syria in September 2015.

Despite the absence of Russian actions, there were concerns that hostilities could resume at any moment. Sporadic reports emerged throughout the month of attacks by both Syrian Government forces and rebels.

On May 10th for example, al-Qaeda-linked Huras al-Din reportedly attacked regime forces in the Ghab plain area of Idlib. It was said the fighting had left 21 troops and 13 Huras al-Din members dead. Additionally, on May 15th, there were reports that regime shelling on the town of al-Bara in Idlib killed at least two civilians and injured up to five others.

Turkey in Syria and Iraq

Airwars tracked five separate civilian harm allegations against Turkish-led forces over the course of May – three less than last month’s tally. According to local sources, these incidents led to three civilian deaths, compared to two such deaths in April. At least one child was harmed from alleged Turkish actions.

All the civilian harm incidents which took place in May occurred in the week starting May 13th. That day in the town of Maranaz in Aleppo governorate, a young boy was reportedly severely injured after being peppered by shrapnel from alleged Turkish shelling on the town. Three days later, up to two civilians were killed when according to pro-regime outlets, Turkish-backed forces opened fire on a van coming from Raqqa city near a checkpoint in Ras al-Ain. Kurdish expert Wladimir van Wilgenburg reported that the two civilians killed were Mihemed Xidir Husên and Ziyab El-Elî.

The third incident occurred in Deir Ghosn in Hasaka Governorate on May 17th, when Turkish forces allegedly opened fire on farmers in the area. Just two days later, 30-year-old Mohammed Hajj Hussein Al Khalaf was wounded by an artillery strike on the village of Arab Hassan Kabir, Aleppo governorate. Hawar News spoke to the uncle of the victim, Ali Al Khalaf, who stated that the shelling occurred at 5am while his family was sleeping. The final incident took place in the town of Şiyûx, west of Kobani city after Turkish forces shelled the town, reportedly injuring two civilians.

In Iraq, Turkish fighter jets continued to target Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions throughout the month. On May 30th, a Turkish airstrike reportedly hit the Deralok sub-district of Amedi, close to the border with Turkey in the province of Dohuk. The strike killed a father and a son in the area and injured another person. The Turkish Ministry of Defence, however, claimed that the attack had killed two PKK fighters, and not civilians.

Mohammed Hajj Hussein Al Khalaf was injured in alleged Turkish-backed artillery strikes on the village of Arab Hassan Kabir on May 19th, 2020 (via Hawar News).

Kurdish counterfire in Syria

Airwars tracked no civilian harm incidents resulting from Kurdish counterfire actions during the month of May. This is the second month in a row that no civilian harm allegations against Kurdish armed groups have been locally reported – and marked the longest period without reports of civilian harm from Kurdish actions since July 2019.

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

Airwars recorded four locally alleged US strikes in Somalia during May, of which only one was officially declared. In two events, civilian harm was claimed against AFRICOM.

Up to two civilians were allegedly killed by a US or Kenyan strikes on Araboow on May 13th. The strikes reportedly hit minibuses departing from Mogadishu. AFRICOM denied any involvement in the event.

On May 17th, a US strike allegedly injured four civilians in Kunya Barrow. Sources close to Al Shabaab reported that the strike hit a civilian home, injuring a mother and three of her children.

Picture of an alleged victim of US strike on Kunya Barrow on May 17th, 2020 (via Halgan Media)

Yemen

On May 13th, Yemen Press Agency alleged that US drones had targeted positions in both Marib and Abyan. The first attack occurred in the Wadi Obeida area of Marib city. According to reports, a drone strike hit a house, killing an al-Qaeda operative named Shurfan and injuring the group’s alleged communications officer, Abdullah al-Maliki. Photographs published locally showed an injured Maliki receiving medical treatment.

Yet according to an email from CENTCOM to Airwars, there were no US military strikes during May 2020 in Yemen. This was despite the US Justice Department confirming that a senior Qaeda operative was targeted in a drone strike during the month, with an official press release on May 18th noting that “a counterterrorism operation targeting AQAP operative Abdullah al-Maliki, one of Alshamrani’s overseas associates, was recently conducted in Yemen.”

Meanwhile, a reported US strike in Abyan targeted an al-Qaeda site near the Shakra area, and resulted in the death of Abu al-Bara al-Qifi, a senior figure within the terror group. A third claimed US action took place in al-Arqoub in Abyan on May 16th, killing senior al-Qaeda figure Saad al-Atiqi al-Awlaki. According to Yemen Press Agency, the attack took place between the Laudar district in Abyan province and the Mokiras district of Bayda province. The action came as Saudi-backed forces also launched an attack in the area, which is held by fighters allied to the al-Islah party.

With multiple reports from local sources of US drone strikes in both Marib and Abyan provinces during May – and confirmation of a US attack on al-Maliki, despite CENTCOM denials – this strongly indicates that the US’s covert CIA campaign in Yemen is continuing.

Abdullah al-Maliki who was injured in a US drone strike on Wadi Obeida in Marib on May 13th 2020. Image via @YemeniFatima

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during May. The last such reported or claimed US action was in August 2018.

Advocacy

UK advocacy

Airwars marked the UN’s Protection of Civilians week in May 2020 with the Conflicting Truth project, in partnership with the Scottish-American design team Rectangle, who also produce the complex mapping and data representations on the Airwars website.

The project live-streamed the names of 8,337 civilian casualties which Airwars has documented in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Somalia in recent years. The Airwars/Rectangle project aims to show that those killed and injured in conflict are not mere statistics – they are people with names, friends and families. Their loss inflicts severe pain on relatives, and the communities they belong to.

Airwars also joined other international partners and organisations in a Civil Society Call for Action to Protect Civilians during PoC week. The joint statement, signed by 22 organisations, called on the UN Security Council, on Member States, and on the UN System to take urgent, bold and practical steps to respond to the challenges that remain in the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

Airwars’ Deputy Director additionally joined with US partners in a three-day virtual workshop hosted by InterAction, ‘Building the Evidence Base:  Addressing the Reverberating Effects of  Military Operations on Civilian Life’. This gathered together experts undertaking systematic research on the effects of explosive weapons in populated areas. Participants came up with a number of practical and methodological challenges associated with analysing the reverberating effects of conflict, and outlined a way forward to overcome them.

European advocacy

May was a busy month for European advocacy. In the run up to the fourth Dutch parliamentary debate on the Hawijah case, we published a blog with our partner the Open State Foundation (available in Dutch) about the poor quality of the Dutch Ministry of Defence’s recently released weekly reports on Dutch airstrikes as part of the US-led Coalition between 2014 and 2016. 

The parliamentary debate was itself held on May 14th. Our livetweeting of the nine-hour-long event was widely followed by international media. One topic discussed during the debate was our news story from March, in which Airwars revealed that at least one other Coalition ally had refused the airstrike on Hawijah, based on the available intelligence. During all four debates, Airwars was mentioned no less than 54 times.

Military advocacy

On May 1st, the US-led Coalition published its fifth civilian harm report of 2020, declaring that from August 2014 to March 31st 2020 it had conducted 34,819 strikes against so called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Of the 41 historic assessments reviewed by Combined Joint Task Force – Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), 40 locally reported civilian harm events were rejected as ‘non credible’ – with a single additional event flagged as a duplicate assessment. All but one of the events – covering civilian harm claims in both Iraq and Syria between September 2015 and November 2019 – were Airwars referrals.

This blanket rejection of all locally reported civilian harm events reviewed during May reflected a recent and concerning trend. Of 217 locally alleged civilian harm events in Iraq and Syria assessed by CJTF-OIR to May 2020, only eight events (3.6%) had been accepted as Credible.

On May 6th, the Pentagon also published its third annual report on civilian harm to Congress. This declared that US forces in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Somalia had between them killed at least 132 civilians and injured 91 more during 2019. The Pentagon also reported a further 79 historical deaths from its actions in Syria and Iraq during 2017-18.

Of the 21 historical cases officially conceded from US actions in Iraq and Syria for 2017 over the past year, 18 had been Airwars referrals. Yet every single allegation referred by Airwars to the Coalition for both 2018 and 2019 was rejected – amounting to many hundreds of dismissed local claims.

As Airwars director Chris Woods noted at the time, “Many hundreds of civilian deaths which were credibly reported by local communities appear to have been ignored. This goes against the Pentagon’s repeated promise to engage better with external NGOs including monitors, and we will be asking for an urgent explanation from officials of this apparent backward step.”

▲ An Iraqi Counter Terrorism officer overlooks fields reportedly burnt by ISIS in Dibis, Kirkuk (via @iraqicts)

Published

June 22, 2020

Written by

Laurie Treffers, Mohammed al Jumaily and Oliver Imhof

Foreign power involvement risks linking Syria and Libya wars, experts warn.

Civilians are continuing to benefit from a months-long ceasefire in northern Syria, which has seen casualty numbers sharply fall to levels last seen in the early months of the civil war. Experts remain divided however, on how long this pause in fighting will last – and what it means for Syria and its divided people.

April and May 2020 marked the first complete months since the beginning of the Russian campaign in Syria in September 2015, in which Airwars did not monitor any civilian casualty allegations against Moscow. A ceasefire beginning in early March – and international pressure in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis – brought an end to months of violent air raids on Idlib governorate, which had killed up to 556 civilians.

On March 5th, 2020, Russia and Turkey reached agreement on a ceasefire in Idlib governorate, after recent escalations had led to the deaths of 36 Turkish soldiers. Terms included the provision of a 12 kilometre long safety corridor alongside the M4 highway, which connects Aleppo with Latakia; and joint patrols by Russian and Turkish forces.

“The reason why Russia signed the ceasefire is because it got what it wanted. Their endgame has always been to secure the integrity of the Syrian regime,” argues Alexey Khlebnikov, a Middle East expert and Russian foreign policy analyst with the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). “The priority in Idlib was never to take it over in its entirety. The campaign was not targeted at getting every centimetre. There were and there are two major goals: securing the M5, which connects Aleppo and Damascus, and the M4 highway, connecting Aleppo with Latakia.”

According to some experts, Turkey did less well out of that agreement. Gerhard Mangott, a professor at the University of Innsbruck specialising in international relations and security in the post-Soviet region, notes: “The ceasefire is a compromise between Russian and Turkish interests, with poor results for Turkey and good results for Russia. Turkey had set an ultimatum to the Syrian government to withdraw to the front line of April 2019, when Syrian and allied forces started their offensive in Idlib. Due to Russian pressure, Turkey had to accept the actual front line.”

Idlib offensive: at least 423 civilian deaths

As the last remaining opposition stronghold, north west Syria was targeted heavily during a three-month campaign by the Assad regime and Russia as they sought to gain control of the region. Russian-backed pro-government forces (made up of Syrian Government forces, Hezbollah, and allied armed groups) attempted to push into both Idlib and Aleppo Governorates, and defeat remaining anti-government rebels.

The beginning of the offensive saw pro-government forces make quick advances against rebel troops. By the end of December 2019, the Assad government had captured large parts of the Ma’arat Al Nu’man countryside including Jarjnaz, the largest town in the area; and had completely encircled the main Turkish observation point in Sarman.

Then, following a short-lived ceasefire between January 9th and 15th, the Syrian Government made some of its most significant advances in Idlib since the civil war began in 2011. By January 28th, pro-government forces had managed to capture Ma’arat Al Nu’man, a city of major strategic and symbolic importance due to its position on the Aleppo-Damascus Highway, which serves as one of the country’s main economic arteries to areas under government control in northwestern Syria.

Just eight days later, the town of Saraqib – another locale which had served as a bastion against the Assad Government for many years – was captured. The following weeks saw more government advances including the full capture of the province of Aleppo for the first time since the outbreak of the civil war.

Russian airpower has been crucial to each pro-government advance. However, these military victories came at a catastrophic cost to civilians, in both Idlib and Aleppo. Heavily populated urban areas were pummelled before each incursion, with almost no respite for residents.

During the three months of the campaign, Russia was allegedly involved in 250 separate civilian harm incidents – averaging more than three events every day. These airstrikes led to between 423 and 556 civilian deaths and the injuring of up to 1,137 more, Airwars monitoring of local sources indicates. At least 128 children were killed during the campaign – more than a quarter of all tracked fatalities – showing that the most vulnerable often bore the brunt of a ruthless air campaign.

Additionally, crucial civilian infrastructure was hit numerous times. Schools were targeted on at least 15 occasions, while hospitals and medical centres were struck at least nine times. This targeting of civilian infrastructure by Assad and Russia was not new. According to the World Health Organisation, there have been 83 attacks on healthcare facilities in Syria since April 2019.

The Idlib campaign triggered a widespread displacement crisis in northern Syria. By the end of the assault, at least 980,000 people, most of them women and children, were forced to flee the violence. According to Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, these displaced people were struggling to survive in what he described as “horrific conditions”.

Tank rolling through ruins in Maarat Numan (via Oleg Blokhin).

Impact of Covid-19

The fighting in Idlib eventually stopped after Turkey escalated its own operations against pro-Assad government forces, following a devastating airstrike on a Turkish infantry battalion on the road between al-Bara and Balyun, which had left 32 Turkish soldiers dead and many others wounded.

Following this event, Ankara took the bold decision to intervene directly on the side of the rebels. The ferociousness of Turkey’s intervention was unprecedented, with Turkish forces launching a barrage of attacks on pro-regime positions, destroying dozens of military vehicles, equipment and several Russian-made air defence systems. These attacks devastated the Syrian Government, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting that 170 pro-regime forces died. Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar put the toll far higher – claiming that Turkish forces had destroyed two Syrian Su-24 fighter jets, two drones, 135 tanks, and five air defence systems; and had “neutralised” more than 2,500 fighters loyal to the Syrian government.

The risk of being embroiled in an all-out confrontation with Turkey forced the hands of both the Syrian and Russian governments, and prompted a formal ceasefire agreement between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladmir Putin of Russia. While the eventual ceasefire provided a much-needed respite for civilians in northwestern Syria, millions continued to suffer from the after-effects of the brutal campaign. And with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating in the region, refugees from the violence in Syria, clustered into overcrowded camps, may remain most at risk of suffering from the virus.

Khlebnikov at RIAC says he does not, however, think the Covid-19 crisis was the main driver of the ceasefire: “I wouldn’t say it is a game-changer or a strong factor in this ceasefire. The Ukraine crisis did not impact Russia’s foreign policy, even though the economy was under great distress. So why would Covid-19? It might affect the intensity of the conflict in the long run, and it slows things down because diplomats and leaders are unable to meet in person.”

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a Syria expert, agrees: “I don’t think the Covid-19 crisis impacted the calculations of the warring parties in this conflict.”

That the ceasefire has lasted following the Covid-19 outbreak might seem paradoxical, given that both Russia and Turkey recently increased their involvement in Libya. However, those contributions are relatively small for now, compared to Syria. That said, the conflict in Libya has become both interlinked with Syria – with Russia and Turkey again on opposite sides – and also a continuation of the civil war on different soil, as Syrian mercenaries recruited by both Turkey and Russia now fight each other in the Maghreb. Talks between Moscow and Ankara to explore a deal that might see the fates of Syria and Libya connected have been put off for now.

Disinfectant teams battling Covid-19 working in Northern and Eastern Syria (via Rojava Information Center).

“Costs of violating the ceasefire are much higher now”

Previous Syria ceasefires have been fairly short-lived. So why is the Idlib pause still holding more than three months on? “The situation on the ground is different from two years ago. Idlib is now the only lasting stronghold of opposition armed groups and terrorists. And a ceasefire during a civil war, it is not a literal thing. There are certain violations,” asserts Khlebnikov.

According to his own estimates, there were 80 violations of the ceasefire in the first half of May. Even so, Khlebnikov sees the ceasefire as quite successful: “Since March 5th, the violence fell significantly. The first [joint Russian and Turkish] patrols were 5 or 7 kilometres long, now they are 45 kilometres long. This builds trust; and the Russian and Turkish militaries are getting used to interacting with each other on hostile ground. That creates a certain restraint for [other] armed groups to escalate.”

Mangott also views the results of the ceasefire as so far positive: “I think it will last. Russia is in a difficult economic and financial situation, the GDP will drop by 10% this year. There will probably be a drop in military spending. The current spending priority is on social causes [at home] to take care of the economic crisis, so there is no money for an escalation in Syria.”

In mid June there were some reports of violations of the ceasefire, with Russian airstrikes on Idlib and reports of civilian casualties. These appeared to be in retaliation for attempts by the HTS to seize several villages, and attack Russian targets, however. Dr Elizabeth Tsurkov remains positive: “This is the first time in the history of ceasefires in Syria when Russia and the regime will be punished for violating it. Turkish drones will be up the skies, killing soldiers. The costs will be much higher for them. It is difficult to make predictions, because there are too many uncertain factors right now, also looking at the elections in the US coming up. But I think the ceasefire will last for the rest of 2020.”

Tsurkov adds: “The area north of the M4 highway will remain out of regime hands for the foreseeable future. Until a deal is reached, the area will essentially be annexed into Turkey. We are already seeing the dynamics of that in northern Aleppo.”

Amplifying fears in Damascus of a de facto annexation, in mid June Turkish-backed opposition groups introduced the Turkish Lira and the US dollar as local currencies in cities and towns across Idlib governorate in an effort, they claimed, to stabilise the local economy after the ongoing depreciation of the Syrian pound.

Russia’s endgame in Syria 

Whenever it might end, Khlebnikov sees the ongoing ceasefire between Russia, the regime and Turkey in northern Syria as a temporary solution: “It is definitely not a final solution. There are two options with the ceasefire: it will be cancelled, or updated. I don’t think there will be any major breaches.”

“On the other hand, there is a certain risk of escalation, because if Turkey won’t be able to deliver on its promises to clear the buffer zone, that may become a legitimate reason for Russia and the Syrian army to launch operations.” But, warns Khlebnikov: “In the last four months, Turkey allocated about 15.000 troops and upped military equipment. It is amassing its forces in Idlib. Any fight with Turkey will be a disaster for Russia.”

With a mass outbreak of the Covid-19 virus still threatening Syria – with its heavily weakened health care system after nearly a decade of war – a fight between Russia and Turkey on Syrian territory would not only carry great risk for Moscow. It is likely that Syrian civilians would bear the greatest losses, once again.

▲ Russia patrol in northern Syria (via Rojava News Network).