Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

CS1981

Incident date

June 9, 2022

Location

العطالة, Al-Atta, Hassakah, Syria

Airwars assessment

At least one man was killed during an airdrop operation carried out by the Syrian Democratic Forces and alleged US-led Coalition in the village of Al-Atta in the countryside of Al-Shaddadi city at dawn on June 9, 2022. Sources were conflicted as to whether the man killed was a civilian or a member of ISIS.

Al Khabour reported that one person was killed during an airdrop operation by the international coalition backed by helicopters at dawn on June 9th. Coalition forces carried out the operation at the house of “Hamed Al-Nasser” in the village of Al-Atta, storming his house after imposing a curfew on the people through loudspeakers and asking them not to leave their houses.

According to Al-Khabour Network correspondent, Al-Nasser worked in an agricultural pharmacy and was the imam of a mosque in the area, adding that “he was arrested for a year and a half by the militias of the Democratic Union Party “PYD” and released earlier.” @asdaslm9 added that Al-Nasser was from the Baggara tribe.

Euphrates Post identified the operation as being carried out by both the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Coalition, adding that Al-Nasser was killed for resisting arrest during the operation. However, Al Mahjar reported that the “young man” was killed after the attacking forces arrested him.

According to @alhariri58, Hamed Al-Nasser’s house was a “civilian house” while @jamlyyyyy_ referred to Al-Nasser as being a “leader of the ISIS organization.” Other sources that reported on the incident were also conflicted as to whether the man killed was a civilian or a militant, with Athar press referring to him as a “civilian who had never participated in any armed action”.

All of the sources reported that the operation was carried out by the Coalition, the SDF, or both, with Syrian Observatory for Human Rights adding that “Al-Atta village is not far from the American base in the city of Al-Shaddadi”, with Athar Press pointing out that it was “remarkable” that the “American forces” would use the airdrop method for a raid so close to their base.

The SDF released a statement that “Special united of the Syrian Democratic Forces carried out a security operation with the support of the International Coalition forces in the southern countryside of Hasaka. The operation targeted a wanted ISIS leader in the village of Al-Atta in Al-Shaddadi countryside, south of Al-Hasakah. He was active in transferring and distributing funds to the organization’s cells and their families, in addition to promoting the organization’s ideological messages, and participating in planning operations targeting service, military and security institutions. The forces executing the raid pursued the desired target after he fled his house, and appealed to him to surrender, but he opened fire, which prompted our forces and the international coalition to deal, and after the shooting stopped and the place was combed, it was found that he had died due to his injury. The weapon that was in the target’s possession was confiscated, the place was thoroughly searched, and other documents belonging to him were found.”

The incident occured around dawn.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Known attacker
    Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (25) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Man killed during alleged Coalition airdrop operation in Al-Atta village on June 9, 2022. (Image posted by Al Khabour)

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Syrian Democratic Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Syrian Democratic Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

Syrian Democratic Forces

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Special units of the Syrian Democratic Forces carried out a security operation with the support of the International Coalition forces in the southern countryside of Hasaka.
The operation targeted a wanted ISIS leader in the village of Al-Atta in Al-Shaddadi countryside, south of Al-Hasakah. He was active in transferring and distributing funds to the organization’s cells and their families, in addition to promoting the organization’s ideological messages, and participating in planning operations targeting service, military and security institutions.
The forces executing the raid pursued the desired target after he fled his house, and appealed to him to surrender, but he opened fire, which prompted our forces and the international coalition to deal, and after the shooting stopped and the place was combed, it was found that he had died due to his injury.
The weapon that was in the target's possession was confiscated, the place was thoroughly searched, and other documents belonging to him were found.
Our special units concerned with combating terrorism continue with our security forces, in partnership with the international coalition, their activities in combating terrorism and the cells of the terrorist organization ISIS, in order to maintain the security of the region and stabilize the stability that terrorist cells and their supporters seek to undermine.


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Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Known attacker
    Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (25) [ collapse]

Published

May 27, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read our full letter here and below:

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

27th May 2022

Dear Secretary of State,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

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

▲ The UK Ministry of Defence, Whitehall

Published

May 10, 2022

Written by

Imogen Piper

Number of civilians killed decreases across monitored conflicts, while focus on explosive weapons use grows

Civilian harm dropped across most of the major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa in 2021, Airwars’ annual report has found.

The number of allegations of civilians killed by nearly all belligerents monitored by Airwars fell in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, though there was an escalation in the Israel-Palestinian conflict which caused significant human suffering.

Read Airwars’ full annual report here

US actions decline

The United States, which has fought multiple campaigns across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia over the past two decades, saw a significant decrease in its activities.

Across all the US campaigns Airwars monitors, including in Syria and Iraq, as well as counterterrorism campaigns in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, civilian harm from US actions fell in 2021, continuing a downward trend in recent years.

In Iraq there were no reports of civilian harm from US actions, while in Syria at least 15 and up to 27 civilians were likely killed by US-led Coalition actions in 20 incidents throughout the year – mostly in combined air and ground actions that appeared to target alleged remnant ISIS fighters.

In Yemen at least two civilians were reportedly killed by US strikes during the year while there were no reliable local allegations of civilians likely killed by US strikes in Libya or Pakistan, according to Airwars’ assessment of local sources.

Even taking into account hundreds of airstrikes in Afghanistan which both the Trump and Biden administrations had initially kept secret, 2021 saw the lowest numbers of declared US military strikes globally since 2006.

However, 2021 was also a year in which focus was again placed on civilian harm caused by historic US actions.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist atrocities, Airwars conducted an investigation to estimate how many civilians were likely killed by US forces alone in the subsequent 20 years of the so-called War on Terror. The research concluded that an estimated 22,000 to 48,000 civilians had been killed directly by US actions in two decades of war according to public records –  the vast majority of fatalities were in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  The findings were cited in the opening remarks of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “’Targeted Killing’ and the Rule of Law: The Legal and Human Costs of 20 Years of U.S. Drone Strikes,” and were covered by more than 60 news outlets globally, in at least ten languages.

The Pentagon’s troubling management of civilian harm allegations was highlighted by another Airwars investigation during 2021, leading the Pentagon to withdraw and republish their own annual report to Congress. Airwars uncovered nine historic incidents in Iraq and Syria that the US had declared responsibility for killing civilians in, which were actually conducted by US allies including Australia, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Brief but brutal Gaza conflict

In May 2021 an intense and deadly conflict lasting just eleven days erupted between Israeli and Palestinian forces. As on previous occasions, civilians paid the highest price. Airwars documented the human impact of this short but brutal conflict in both Gaza and Israel, working for the first time in three primary languages – Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The research found that Israeli strikes, continually impacting across the densely populated streets of Gaza, led to the likely deaths of between 151 and 192 civilians. Over a third of civilians killed in Gaza were children and in more than 70% of the allegations documented by Airwars, civilians – not militants – were the only documented victims. In Israel, ten civilians were directly killed by rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza.

The report also documented civilian harm from Israeli strikes in Syria, which across eight years had led to the deaths of between 14 and 40 civilians. Comparatively this civilian harm estimate stands in stark contrast to the numbers of those killed in just eleven days. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, whilst Israeli strikes in Syria were conducted on military targets mostly in sparsely populated areas.

Airwars’ Senior Investigator Joe Dyke partnered with the Guardian on a piece interviewing the residents of a tower destroyed by Israel Defence Forces during the May 2021 conflict. Al-Jalaa Tower was home to dozens of civilians and a number of offices, including those of Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. All were given an hour’s notice to evacuate the tower and scramble together their possessions before seeing their homes destroyed in front of them. The investigation recently won an Amnesty Media Award.

Russian assault in Syria

Long before Russia’s assault on Ukraine in February 2022, Airwars had been tracking civilian harm caused by extensive Russian actions in Syria.

Whilst allegations of civilian harm fell to their lowest rate this year since 2015, after a 2020 ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey continued to hold, Putin’s forces continued to strike Idlib and other rebel-held areas of Syria with air and artillery strikes.

Approximately 48% of civilian harm allegations against Russia during 2021 occurred in Idlib, whilst 2% occurred in Hama, and 23% in Aleppo governorate. In total as many as 280 civilians were killed by Russian and/or Syrian regime air and artillery strikes.

This significant but comparatively lower civilian casualty count came alongside Russia’s escalation of military operations in preparation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has subsequently led to mass civilian harm.

Explosive weapons

An overarching theme throughout Airwars’ work during the year, and a key focus for our advocacy outreach, was on restricting the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

Whether in Syria, Iraq, Gaza or any of the other conflicts Airwars monitors, when explosive weapons are used in densely populated areas, the potential for civilian harm dramatically increases.

Throughout 2021, Airwars worked with international partners to support a strongly worded UN-backed international political declaration against the use of EWIPA. The final UN-backed conference debating this declaration will be held in summer 2022, with Airwars playing a key role advocating for change.

▲ An airstrike in Gaza is the front cover image for Airwars' 2021 annual report (Credit: Hani al Shaer)

Published

April 22, 2022

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Civil society consortium cautiously welcomes Ministry's letter to Dutch Parliament - but also urges bolder stance.

The Dutch Ministry of Defence, Defensie, has finally outlined to Parliament the steps it expects to take in both the short and long term, to address civilian casualties from Dutch actions.

Since late 2020, Airwars has been part of a consortium of civil society and academic organisations working with the Defensie to help improve the Dutch approach to civilian harm tracking and mitigation. This process was launched in response to revelations that the Dutch MoD was responsible for an airstrike in the Iraqi town of Hawija in 2015, which killed between 70 and 85 civilians. There was then a four-year cover-up of Dutch involvement in the deadly incident.

On April 7th, Minister of Defence Kajsa Ollongren wrote to Parliament outlining the expected route forward for Defensie. According to the Minister, “These steps go further than just transparency. It also involves tightening up internal (military) procedures, decision-making processes, monitoring, evaluation and accountability.”

Ollongren said that the Ministry recognises that preventing civilian harm “is a responsibility that arises not only from international humanitarian law, but also from a moral obligation” and within her letter to Parliament, the Minister laid out ways that that Defensie must act to improve its systems.

These include five thematic short steps concerning the processes of decision-making, monitoring, evaluation, and accountability in future deployments. According to the Minister, these steps aim to ensure that Defensie improves the ways it considers risks to civilians; more clearly communicates transparency, and commits to periodically review the way this is done. Ollongren also highlighted the importance of transparency as a way to improve civilian harm accountability both for affected communities, and in providing more Parliamentary oversight in the Netherlands.

The plans also suggested that future mission evaluations will focus more on civilian casualty concerns. And Ollongren also promised in the letter that Defensie will be more involved in policy making on protection of civilians concerns, alongside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for example through follow-up training and exercises.

While there are positive developments and promising commitments in the letter, several significant gaps remain and vital opportunities were missed. the consortium believes. Below is our joint response to the policy announcement.

 

▲ Hawijah, Iraq in 2021. Six years after the Dutch airstrike, parts of the town remain destroyed (Image courtesy of Roos Boer, PAX)

Published

April 8, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

International gathering brings nearer a protocol on restricting explosive weapon use in urban areas.

States edged closer to a political declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas on April 8th, after three days of crunch talks in Geneva.

More than 65 states descended on the Swiss city for key talks on the wording of a political declaration that advocates believe would save thousands of lives by restricting the use of wide area effect explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). Detractors, such as the United States government, argue it would unfairly limit the freedom of their own military actions and have threatened not to sign.

While no final text was agreed upon Friday, all sides struck an optimistic tone at the end of the three-day meet – saying a deal was nearer than ever. Delegates will meet again for one day in two months before an adoption ceremony expected in the summer.

“There are clearly differences of opinion but we have seen a very positive, solution oriented approach,” the chairperson, Ambassador Michael Gaffey of Ireland, said. “We are not simply working on a formula of words in a political declaration –  we want to make a real difference and impact on the ground and foster behavioural change.”

The talks were given additional urgency by the ongoing war in Ukraine, and Russia’s extensive use of explosive weapons on its cities. Moscow did not attend the talks.

Even the United States, widely viewed as one of the most hostile states to a declaration with teeth, struck a more positive tone than in previous meets. “There are still tough drafting issues and decisions ahead, and we have to get them right. The US delegation pledges our goodwill, to help to get to a positive outcome. We look forward to doing so.”

Since 2018, Ireland has chaired consultations on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. In the sessions since, the need for such a declaration – which is not legally binding and so does not create new legal obligations – has only become clearer.

“The draft declaration text holds the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the protection of civilians, and negotiations over the past few days have overall been constructive,” Laura Boillot of INEW, a network of NGOs pushing for the protocol, told Airwars.

“But decisions will now need to be made if the final text is going to have humanitarian effect. Most importantly it needs to establish a presumption against the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in towns, cities and other populated areas.”

It will be a failure to leave this room agreeing that simply restating existing laws will reduce civilian harm – a failure for all of us who came here with the intention to reduce that harm in the first place." @alma_osta in HI concluding remarks at #EWIPA negotiations today. pic.twitter.com/pTKpgfqWWU

— HI_Advocacy (@HI_Advocacy) April 8, 2022

Civil society groups and international agencies made a strong case for restricting EWIPA.

Three days of consultations

During three days of focused talks, several key fissures bubbled. While states in attendance – and civil society organisations – repeatedly emphasised the shared desire to produce a tangible and meaningful political declaration that could help save civilian lives on the ground, the practicalities of the process made clear that good intentions weren’t going to be enough.

On the first day of the informal consultations on April 6th, states made general remarks – affirming their support for the proceedings as well as their national positions – after an introductory statement from Ireland, the penholder.

In these general remarks, most states tended towards re-affirming the positions they had made clear in previous negotiations. On the hawkish side, the UK, US, Israel and Canada all emphasized that their positions as militarily active states meant that they would not sign a declaration in its current form, which included strong language about avoiding the use of explosive weapons in urban areas. Throughout the week, the delegates from these countries could often be seen meeting as a bloc outside of formal proceedings.

Many of the sticking points that emerged on the first day continued to dominate both the main floor and side conversations. The predominant line of argument was between those who argued that the declaration needed only to reaffirm the importance of international humanitarian law and provide further guidance about how to do so in this context; and those who asserted that this declaration needed to strengthen existing commitments and add new ones for states around the use of explosive weapons.

The second day of discussions took a more technical turn, with the majority of interventions focused on the wording of specific clauses and paragraphs of the text.

Clause 3.3, which attracted much attention in previous consultations, was once  again hotly debated. It is one of the first clauses in Section B, the operative section – which lays out the actions that states have to comply with if they choose to sign onto the declaration.

In the current draft, Clause 3.3 says states must: “Ensure that our armed forces adopt and implement a range of policies and practices to avoid civilian harm, including by restricting or refraining from the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, when the effects may be expected to extend beyond a military objective.”

The bulk of the discussion around this clause was on the second sentence, as many states intervened on the use of “restricting or refraining,” with some suggesting it was strong enough while others lobbied instead for the use of “avoid”.

A split between the majority of civil society organisations and militarily-powerful states was apparent during these parts of the discussions, with NGOs and international agencies pushing for stronger language, rather than trying to place limits on what kinds of civilian harm would be protected under this new declaration.

Airwars’ incoming director and current head of research Emily Tripp also made an intervention – emphasising how crucial it was for states to actually track civilian harm.

Airwars’ incoming director Emily Tripp addresses a UN-backed conference on explosive weapons in Geneva on April 7th, 2022 (Image: Airwars)

At the end of day two INEW, one of the organisers, named nine states – Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Israel, the Republic of Korea, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States – that it said had “worked to weaken declaration provisions.” The UK delegation, for example, agreed that tracking civilian harm was a ‘moral obligation,’ but then highlighted ways in which it claimed this was not feasible – arguing that live hostilities made it near impossible to monitor casualties properly.

But INEW also said that there had been a “shift in the collective tone set by states since the last round of negotiations, with more governments explicitly committed to strengthening the protection of civilians through the declaration.”

The statement said this was likely as a response to the bombing of Ukrainian towns and cities, and the Ukraine crisis loomed large over the conflict. Not only did the majority of states open their remarks with condemnation of the Russian aggression in Ukraine, many also emphasised the importance of a meaningful political declaration with specific reference to Ukrainian cities and towns such as Mariupol, Bucha and Khrarkiv.

There was also an emphasis on the value of protecting civilian objects and infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, with states such as Mexico and the delegate for the Holy See (which holds observer state) urging specific language around the need to protect hospitals, blood transfusion centres, and environmental and religious sites.

Speaking at the end of the latest talks, Ambassador Gaffey said Ireland and organisers would review the submissions from all parties before a month or two of further work on the text. He said states and NGOs would then hold a final one-day consultation in a couple of months, before a political adoption ceremony where states would declare their support for the text.

As Alma Taslidžan Al-Osta, of Humanity and Inclusion, noted in her own concluding remarks to delegates: “Eleven years in Syria, seven years in Yemen and over a month in Ukraine have taught us that explosive weapons with wide area effects should not be used in towns, cities and populated areas. The status quo is no longer an option.”

Civilians increasingly bear the brunt of modern conflicts. Addressing the devastating harm to civilians from Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas is a priority for 🇮🇪. We welcome states, international organisations and civil society to consultations in Geneva this week #EWIPA pic.twitter.com/pAyglwZO9D

— Disarmament IRELAND (@DisarmamentIRL) April 6, 2022

Ireland chaired Geneva talks on restricting urban use of explosive weapons

▲ The three-day EWIPA conference in Geneva sought to reach a deal on the use of explosive weapons in urban environments (Airwars)

Published

April 7, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

Crunch talks in Geneva aim to hammer out protocol on explosive weapons in urban areas

The shadow of the Ukraine conflict loomed large over the first day of the informal UN-backed consultations on a political declaration on restricting the use of wide area effect explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA), currently underway in Geneva.

Delegates from more than 65 nations have gathered to fine tune the language of the political declaration, along with more than 15 civil society organisations including Airwars. The chairperson, Michael Gaffey of Ireland, opened the proceedings by calling for a minute of silence for Ukraine.

Nujeen Mustafa, who had fled the war in Aleppo, then powerfully testified via a video message, saying, “throughout history, diplomats have discussed world problems while sitting at a table with a nice coffee. People trapped in a conflict zone cannot do that. Today, you have the possibility to change a terrible situation and protect civilians.”

Nujeen Mustafa, a Syrian who fled Aleppo after it was largely destroyed by explosive weapons, addresses delegates:“While you’ve been negotiating whether a declaration should be made, 11,076 people have fallen victim to these weapons" she sayshttps://t.co/DI9vYhD6nq

— Airwars (@airwars) April 6, 2022

While there are two days of discussion left before proceedings close on Friday evening, many of the most pressing issues arose in proceedings on Wednesday – particularly as states laid out their own positions during opening remarks. Here are five key themes from the first day of EWIPA negotiations.

1. The conflict in Ukraine adds a sense of urgency

The first statement was made by the Ukrainian delegate, who noted that “our cities and towns have been turned into dead ash because of the use of these explosive weapons” – highlighting a new sense of urgency and relevance which the negotiations have taken on.

Every delegate who spoke made reference to the Ukraine conflict, with many emphasising that the violent and horrific violence against Ukrainian civilians must move states to act more effectively. The French delegate noted that Russia did not attend the proceedings, while the Japanese delegation emphasised the importance of documenting civilian harm in Ukraine.

Many other states called on Russia to cease its aggression and indiscriminate bombing of civilians and it was noted multiple times that Russia’s campaign has targeted and destroyed civilian neighbourhoods using wide area effect explosive weapons – referring to the scenes of destruction in Kherson, Mariupol, and Kharkiv.

2.  The gap between ‘IHL is enough’ and ‘IHL does not go far enough’

Broadly the delegates and countries fall into two groups – those that believe international humanitarian law (IHL) is enough to protect civilians under attack in urban areas – and those that argue more is needed to protect civilians.

States such as the USA, UK, France and Israel argued that any political declaration could not introduce new legal requirements (which it cannot) and that the requirements currently set out under IHL should be sufficient protection for civilians. Currently, these frameworks emphasise for example that deliberately attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure constitutes a violation of IHL – and that any military actions must be both proportionate, and distinguish between civilians and combatants.

Those backing strong wording to the political declaration text – from Ireland to the ICRC – insist that adherence to IHL alone is not doing enough to protect civilians during much urban fighting.

The US nevertheless called on those states gathered not to produce an “unrealistic impression” that civilians would not be harmed in conflict, while emphasising that explosive weapons are “considered a legitimate and lawful means of warfare when used in accordance with IHL.”

But other states, as well as civil society organisations such as Human Rights Watch, emphasised that any resolution which merely restated the value of IHL – and how states must abide by it – would effectively be useless, as it would be an iteration of what states have already committed to.

States such as Finland and Sweden remarked that there are gaps within IHL around EWIPA , and mere compliance with IHL is not enough to protect civilians.  This has been an ongoing fissure during previous consultations, and continues to be a major fault line.

3.  Reverberating effects

The particularities of the language used in the eventual political declaration are at the heart of the ongoing consultations in Geneva – with discussions about whether to “avoid” or “restrict” the use of explosive weapons in populated areas already a key sticking point.

An additional area of tension appears to the so-called “reverberating effects” of EWIPA, which are essentially the long-term effects.

An example of a reverberating effect would be the destruction of a bridge. If destroyed, it has the immediate effect of removing a crucial piece of civilian infrastructure. But even after the conflict finishes the destruction could also mean that people can’t travel across a certain river, making it harder to access other kinds of civilian infrastructure such as hospitals or schools.

These long-term impacts were the subject of much discussion on Wednesday – with some states, such as the US, Israel, and the UK all noting that ‘reverberating effects’ is neither a legal term nor – they claimed – a widely accepted term with a clear definition. The US also said it would not accept a ‘novel’ term such as reverberating effects in the eventual political declaration.

However, civil society organisations such as PAX and observer states such as the Vatican suggested that it would be difficult to meaningfully understand the full implications of how civilian populations were impacted without incorporating ‘reverberating’ effects.

4. Focus on the humanitarian impacts

The Holy See opened its own remarks by noting that it believes conventional weapons should be named “weapons of mass displacement,” a nod to the ongoing long term effects that explosive weapons can have. The Danish Refugee Council also noted that the use of EWIPA can contribute to displacement, and in time, continuously produce forms of renewed displacement.

Some other states such as Uruguay emphasised the need to collect and monitor the impacts of EWIPA on specific groups – such as those with disabilities, or those who face discrimination because of their gender. Organisations such as CIVIC, PAX and Humanity and Inclusion also spoke about the psychological and mental effects of the use of explosive weapons, notably the need for a survivor-centric approach to any kind of political declaration.

 5. The impact of non-state actors 

While the political declaration is primarily a matter between states, the UK, Israel, the US and others asked that the considerations around EWIPA must also extend to non-state actors, such as armed groups, in the interest of maintaining what they termed a balanced account of how explosive weapons are actually used in populated areas.

The US noted for example that “the declaration has to make it clear that all belligerents, including non-state armed groups, must take steps to address the harms to civilians and civilian objects.” The Turkish delegation argued that asking non-state actors to really consider these impacts would also mean they would be considered as legitimate parties to an international armed conflict – which they are currently, for the most part, not.

The declaration has to make it clear that all belligerents, including non state armed groups, must take steps to address the harms to civilians and civilian objects,” says the USA, intervening for the second time today. pic.twitter.com/cNBYvzncqN

— Airwars (@airwars) April 6, 2022

▲ MPs from various European countries attend the first day of EWIPA talks on April 6, 2022 (Photo: INEW)

Published

March 31, 2022

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

US-led coalition against Islamic State had not admitted harming civilians in eight months

The US-led International Coalition has quietly admitted to killing 18 more civilians in Iraq and Syria and injuring a further 11, its first such public concession in eight months.

On March 10th, Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) – the US-led coalition against the so-called Islamic State – quietly released on its website its first public civilian harm assessment since July 2021. It assessed a total of 63 incidents dating back to 2015, of which 10 were assessed to be ‘credible’ – meaning the Coalition accepted causing civilian harm.

The statement conceded that 18 civilians were killed and 11 were injured cumulatively in these ten events. Matching the incidents to its own archive, Airwars put the likely casualty numbers far higher for these events, with between 45 and 166 civilians reportedly killed. The remaining 53 incidents were deemed ‘non-credible.’

Unlike previous Coalition announcements on civilian harm, there was no accompanying public press statement or social media commentary. In a phone call to Airwars, CENTCOM confirmed it had published the information without any public announcement.

The release came after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had ordered a comprehensive review into US military civilian harm processes following intense media scrutiny. As the Coalition itself noted in its opening paragraph, “this report is released as part of the commitment by the U.S. government to increased transparency and accountability.”

In total since the beginning of the war against ISIS in 2014, OIR has assessed 3,034 incidents of reported civilian harm from its air and artillery strikes. The alliance has only conceded 360 of these events to be credible allegations of civilian harm, according to Airwars analysis.

While the Coalition now concedes killing, overall, at least 1,437 civilians in its long war against the Islamic State, Airwars believes the likely tally is in fact at least 8,192 to 13,243 civilians killed.

Decline in releases

Civilian harm assessments released by the US-led Coalition were published monthly for a number of years, although they have significantly dropped in frequency since 2020. Last year, only seven such reports were released – four of them in the month of July. This was the first report since then.

Of the 10 incidents designated credible by the Coalition in its new report, seven were referrals from Airwars’ own archive. We were able to match an eighth event which was referred via both Amnesty and Airwars, to an incident within Airwars’ own database.

In only two of the eight events in the Airwars database admitted by CENTCOM did its own civilian casualty estimates match the public record. In the other six, US military concessions were far lower than the figures local communities had reported.

One of the ten ‘credible’ civilian harm incidents occurred on June 9th 2017 in Raqqa, during the most intense period of fighting for that city. Eight members of the al-Nasser family, including four children, were killed by a Coalition airstrike when their family home was hit. Najma Fadawi al-Nasser, whose 60 year old brother Faddawi was killed in the attack, had briefly left her cousin’s home when the strike happened. As she later told Amnesty “we were together and then I went to my cousins’ house across the road and my brother’s house was bombed and they were all killed. Why did they kill innocent people?” The incident was initially assessed by the Coalition as non credible. Now, four years later, the Coalition has conceded that eight civilians “were unintentionally killed due to their proximity to the strike.”

A further 53 incidents in the new report were assessed or reassessed by the Coalition to be  ‘non-credible.’ A range of reasons are usually given for such categorisation, including  ‘no strikes were conducted in the geographical area’; or that the ‘original allegations did not have sufficient information on the time and location of the incident’. However, these 53 incidents were all – highly unusually – designated as ‘non-credible’ for the same reason: that “after review of all available evidence it was determined that more likely than not civilian casualties did not occur as a result of a Coalition strike”.

Along with basic information about each incident, the Coalition’s own assessments also included an MGRS code, a military variation of latitude and longitude coordinates, which makes it possible to geolocate where each incident is alleged to have happened. Airwars found that at least one of the ‘non credible’ incidents had a location code in Turkey, indicating an error.

New York Times investigation

One of the ‘credible’ incidents in the new report, in Baghouz, Syria in March 2019, had previously been rejected twice by the Coalition as ‘non-credible’. A blockbuster New York Times investigation into the event recently led the Department of Defense to open an investigation into the incident – despite CENTCOM still classifying it as ‘non-credible’. While Airwars estimates that between 20 and 100 civilians were likely killed as a result of this strike, CENTCOM itself now says, “Regrettably, four civilians were unintentionally killed due to their proximity to the strike.” The release does not detail how this number was reached, or why it has only conceded four.

In January 2022, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a 90-day review into the Baghouz event and associated processes, which is due to publish by the end of April. Given that ongoing investigation by a four star US general – which Airwars has assisted – it remains possible that CENTCOM may yet release a fourth assessment of the event.

Speaking about the latest Coalition civilian harm release, incoming Airwars Director Emily Tripp noted: “While we welcome the release of these civilian harm assessments, it is clear that there still needs to be radical improvement in DoD processes.”

“We are seeking clarity in particular on when the remaining 37 open cases will be reviewed, as well as further information from DoD on their civilian harm assessment standards.”

▲ The aftermath of alleged Coalition shelling of Al Baghouz camp, March 18th - 19th 2019, which allegedly killed dozens of civilians (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)

Incident Code

CS1980

Incident date

March 28, 2022

Location

ذيبان, Thiban, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Airwars assessment

At least one man was killed and another was arrested during a joint airdrop operation carried out by the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Coalition on March 28, 2022. Sources were conflicted as to whether the man killed was a militant or a civilian.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the Coalition forces and helicopters carried out a raid at a house of a suspected ISIS member in Al-Litwah neighbourhood in Thiban city. After refusing to surrender, the man was killed and his house was blown up. Al Khabour identified the name of the man to be 35 year old Abdul Salem Al-Abo.

According to Euphrates Post, the SDF asked the man to surrender over loudspeakers after they had surrounded him and he was hit by helicopter fire after he tried to flee, which resulted in his death. The source also pinpointed his house as being near the al-Rudaini Mosque and added that his house was blown up with explosive devices by the SDF after his family was evacuated.

Local media @YusufAd76532779 tweeted that Abdul Salem Al-Abo’s father was arrested during the operation and that Abdul “returned from Turkey about five months ago and settled in the town of “Theban” and smuggled oil from the areas controlled by the PKK/PYD militia to the areas controlled by the Assad militia west of the Euphrates River (Shamiya)”.

Tweets from @NourYoussef111 and @WestAsia21, in addition to reporting from regime-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency, referred to a civilian being killed during the operation but it is unclear if they are referring to Abdul.

All of the sources that reported on the incident referred to the operation as being a joint operation between the SDF and the Coalition, with Euphrates Post specifying that the operation was carried out by a helicopter belonging to the International Coalition forces accompanied by a drone and a ground force from the SDF on the ground.

The incident occured at 01:00:00 local time.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Causes of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions, Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (26) [ collapse]

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Causes of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions, Small arms and light weapons
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (26) [ collapse]