Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

USSOM349

Incident date

August 9, 2022

Location

near Beledweyne, Hiiraan, Somalia

Airwars assessment

Four Al-Shabaab members were killed by three declared US airstrikes near Beledweyne on August 9, 2022.

Somalia state media was the first to report on August 9th that “at the request of Somali Government, #US launched a strike in support of Somali National Army forces conducting counterterrorism operations in #Hiran region. There were no civilians harmed in this incident and the US said it will continue to support #Somalia.”

On the day of the strike, August 9th, local source Morad News reported that a US drone strike was reported in the Hiiraan region and local journalist @HarunMaruf also tweeted that the US strikes had occurred “at the request of the federal government of Somalia.”

The following day, August 10th, US AFRICOM released a statement that “In coordination with and in support of the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command conducted three airstrikes against al-Shabaab terrorists who attacked Somali National Army Forces near Beledweyne, Somalia, August 9, 2022. The command’s initial assessment is that the strikes killed four al-Shabaab terrorists and that no civilians were injured or killed. U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes in defense of designated partner forces.”

A tweet from @wesleysmorgan pointed out that strikes in Somalia continue to be justified as collective self defense of Somalia or African Union partner forces, not counterterrorism HVT strikes.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4

Sources (12) [ collapse]

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

US Forces

In coordination with and in support of the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command conducted three airstrikes against al-Shabaab terrorists who attacked Somali National Army Forces near Beledweyne, Somalia, August 9, 2022.
The command’s initial assessment is that the strikes killed four al-Shabaab terrorists and that no civilians were injured or killed. U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes in defense of designated partner forces.
The Federal Government of Somalia and U.S. Africa Command take great measures to prevent civilian casualties. These efforts contrast with the indiscriminate attacks that al-Shabaab regularly conducts against the civilian population.
The Federal Government of Somalia and the U.S. remain committed to fighting al-Shabaab to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians.
Violent extremist organizations like al-Shabaab present long-term threats to Somali, regional and U.S. interests.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    4

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USSOM348

Incident date

July 17, 2022

Location

Labi-Kus, Lower Juba, Somalia

Geolocation

-0.355928, 42.546960 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Subdistrict level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

An AFRICOM declared US airstrike in coordination with Somali Army commandos resulted in the death of up to five Al-Shabab fighters near Labi-Kus village on July 17, 2022.

Somali National News Agency (SONNA), a Somali government-run news agency, tweeted that “three #Alshabab terrorists were killed and one was captured after Somali National Army’s commandos (#DANAB) attacked a roadblock which terrorists used to extort money from the local people near Labi-Kus village under #Kismayo town , on Sunday “. Graphic images accompanying the tweet show the bodies of two alleged members of Al-Shabab.

A tweet from Somali National Television (@sntvnews1) reported that two Al-Shabab fighters were killed in action in the vicinity of the Jubba River Valley and no civilians were killed, adding that the operation was carried out by the Somali National Army’s Danab brigade. Shabelle Media Network tweeted that five militants were killed and one was captured alive, and that at least four assault rifles and a PKM machine gun were also seized in the operation. Somaliweyn added that that intelligence that led to the operation was based on the movement of the weapons they seized.

Horseed Media specified that the Somali Forces that were involved was the the 5th Division, 16th Battalion and that a statement issued by the Danab military command said that they killed “least 5 members of Al-Shabaab, including the officer in charge of the area”. According to Kulmiye News Network, one of the militants killed was the “leader of Al-Shabaab in charge of financial affairs in this area, whose name was shortened to Ismail”.

AFRICOM released a statement on July18th stating that “In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab terrorists after they attacked partner forces in a remote location near Libikus, Somalia July 17, 2022…The command’s initial assessment is that two al-Shabaab terrorists were killed in action and that no civilians were injured or killed given the remote nature of where this engagement occurred.” However, none of the reporting prior to the press release mention US involvement, with many sources, including the Somali government-run news agency (SONNA), indicating that Somali forces were responsible.

This was the second incident declared by AFRICOM since US President Joe Biden ordered the redeployment of troops to Somalia in May.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2–5

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (3) [ collapse]

  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of the body of an alleged Al-Shabab member killed during a US and Somali operation in Lab-Kus village on July 17, 2022. (Image posted by @SONNALIVE)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Graphic image of the body of an alleged Al-Shabab member killed during a US and Somali operation in Lab-Kus village on July 17, 2022. (Image posted by @SONNALIVE)
  • Image of what may the goods seized during the UUS and Somali operation against an Al-Shabab roadblock in Labi-Kus on July 17, 2022. (Image posted by @SONNALIVE)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Labi-Kus, allegedly located within the vicinity of Kismayo city. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Kismayo are: -0.355928, 42.546960.

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

US Forces

In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab terrorists after they attacked partner forces in a remote location near Libikus, Somalia July 17, 2022.
U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes in defense of designated partner forces.
The command’s initial assessment is that two al-Shabaab terrorists were killed in action and that no civilians were injured or killed given the remote nature of where this engagement occurred.
The Federal Government of Somalia and U.S. Africa Command take great measures to prevent civilian casualties. These efforts contrast with the indiscriminate attacks that al-Shabaab regularly conducts against the civilian population.
The Federal Government of Somalia and the U.S. remain committed to fighting al-Shabaab to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians.
Violent extremist organizations like al-Shabaab present long-term threats to Somali, regional and U.S. interests.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported injured
    2–5

Sources (12) [ collapse]

Incident Code

CS1982

Incident date

July 4, 2022

Location

الزر, Al Zer, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Airwars assessment

Two children under the age of 18 were killed during a joint Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces airdrop operation in the village of Al Zer on July 4th, 2022. Sources were conflicted as to whether the two killed were civilians or members of ISIS.

Al Khabour posted on Facebook that a young man named “Muhammad Fateh Khalaf Al-Daham” and another person were killed during an airdrop operation carried out by the Coalition in the village of Al Zer. Euphrates Post added that the other person killed was an IDP and @19had93eel identified the two people killed as civilians.

According to @syria_news123, a “citizen” was killed and another was wounded by the SDF during an operation with the support of the “American occupation forces,” with @19had93eel specifying that Coalition helicopters participated and that the occupation was carried out at dawn.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) stated that the two men that were killed were accused of working for ISIS and were killed when they resisted arrest. Activists specified to SOHR that one of the men killed was detained for about four months by the SDF and had been released in April, while the other man was accompanied by his mother and was working to distribute financial guarantees to the women of ISIS in the area.

Private sources told Euphrates Post that the operation was carried out at a house near the “Al-Munkar” neighborhood that was inhabited by a displaced family from Aleppo and resulted in the death of a 14 year old member of ISIS named Omar who was from Aleppo whose father was a former member of ISIS and was detained by the SDF, while the other child killed, Muhammad Fateh Khalaf Al-Daham, was a 17 year old who had been released from SDF prison two months ago. The sources added that  the two people killed had been holding a lunch feast and that Coalition drones had been flying in the area at the time.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that the two people were shot and killed when SDF personnel raided a house while Orient News referred to the operation as involving “light bombs”.

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 – 2
  • (0–2 children)
  • 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 attackers
    US-led Coalition, Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–2

Sources (18) [ collapse]

US-led Coalition Assessment:

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

Syrian Democratic Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Syrian Democratic Forces 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 – 2
  • (0–2 children)
  • 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 attackers
    US-led Coalition, Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–2

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Published

June 13, 2022

Written by

Imogen Piper and Joe Dyke

Assisted by

Clive Vella, Maia Awada, Sanjana Varghese and Shihab Halep

Survivors of the assault on the Al-Shifa hospital in northern Syria still seeking answers

A year on from a devastating assault on the main hospital in the Syrian city of Afrin, a new Airwars visual investigation has pieced together key features of the attack.

At least 19 people were reportedly killed in two strikes on the Al-Shifa hospital on June 12th, 2021 in what was the single deadliest incident tracked by Airwars in Syria during 2021.

Hospital attacks in Syria are sadly common, with both the Syrian government and allied Russian forces striking dozens of them since the civil war began in 2011. The US-led Coalition against the so-called Islamic State, Turkey and Kurdish groups have also all been accused of targeting medical facilities.

But the Al-Shifa hospital strike was unusual in that the survivors didn’t all identify the same culprit. Some accused the Syrian regime, others the Russians, while others still blamed the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces or allied Kurdish militias. Some even claimed Turkey was responsible for an attack in a city under its influence.

By bringing together satellite imagery, CCTV footage, witness testimony and expert analysis, Airwars created a comprehensive visual assessment of the strike. We were seeking to understand what munition was used and where the rocket was fired from.

While the investigation was not able to definitively conclude which party was responsible, it did define a seven-kilometre wide region from where the rockets were likely launched. In that area the Syrian regime, SDF and Russians all operated.

“We hope that by publishing this investigation on the anniversary of this horrific attack, we will spark a new conversation about the brazen targeting of a hospital,” Emily Tripp, Airwars’ Director, said.

“This case is one of far too many in Syria’s long civil war where families are left seeking answers about who killed their loved ones.”

The full visual investigation is available here.

 

The context

Afrin is a geopolitically significant city – located at the forefront between multiple belligerents in the 11-year Syrian civil war.

The city is close to the Turkish border and is currently under the control of Turkish-backed groups that operate under the broad title of the Syrian National Army (SNA).

Turkey has fought significant conflicts with Kurdish groups, including the SDF – the closest ally of the United States in Syria. The SDF controls much of the territory to the east of Afrin.

At the time of the strike the Syrian government and its Russian backers also had military capabilities in the region, controlling territory to the southeast of Afrin, while also being known to operate in the east. Russian and Syrian government forces have been the most common strikers of hospitals during the civil war.

Al-Shifa hospital is located in the west of the city and is reportedly close to multiple Turkish government and SNA buildings. The hospital is partly run by the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

At the time of the attack Turkish president Erodogan accused the SDF, who in turn accused Syrian government forces. Allegations were also made against Russian forces and even Turkey itself.

The strikes

Most investigations of this type begin by analysing the remnants of the missiles at the scene. However, according to medical sources on the ground, Turkish-backed authorities removed all shrapnel and other physical evidence from the hospital in the hours after the attack, and also prevented activists and media from accessing the site for several hours. Without these vital clues, we drew on other forms of evidence that might give us an idea of where the projectiles might have been launched from.

Airwars compiled all available visual evidence, including drone footage, CCTV recordings provided by SAMS, social media posts, photographs and satellite imagery. We also gathered witness testimony, including speaking to survivors. Using this information we produced a 3D model of the hospital, mapping the impact locations.

The first strike hit the alleyway of the emergency department at 6.55pm – CCTV footage captured the explosion before cutting out shortly after as the electricity failed. The strike caused significant damage to buildings on both sides of the alleyway and reportedly killed, among others, a woman giving birth.

A screenshot from Airwars’ 3D model of the Afrin attack

“It was terrifying. It felt like an earthquake,” medic Mohammed al-Aghawani, who was injured in the attack, told Airwars. “At first I didn’t understand what had happened – whether I was alive or dead.”

The second strike, occurring a few seconds later, hit the main building and damaged the physiotherapy, paediatrics, ENT and surgical clinics. Photographs of the second impact location show a metal rafter broken and bent in half by the projectile as it penetrated the wall.

Image of the impact site (Via Syrian National Commission on Detainees)

From this we determined that the projectile would have arrived at an angle perpendicular to the bend of the bar. Plotting this onto a wider map, we concluded that the projectile must have come from a near due easterly direction.

The third strike

Hoping to narrow down the potential launch area further, we extended our 3D model to map a third impact location allegedly from the same volley of projectiles. Dr. Amin Qosho was at sitting at his kitchen table in his apartment home a few hundred metres away from the hospital. Around 7pm a projectile struck the building opposite his apartment. Instead of penetrating the wall, it hit the building’s reinforced elevator shaft, sending a large spread of shrapnel towards Qosho’s balcony and through his door, killing him instantly.

Using video footage and photographs of this impact location we were able to determine the relative height of the building struck and the building directly to the east. Building upon our previous determination that the projectile came from the east, we concluded that the angle of impact must have been high enough to clear the neighbouring building.

To narrow down our launch area further we investigated the munition used.

The type of weapon

While the Turkish-backed authorities removed all munitions remnants from the hospital itself, an image shared on social media that day showed a projectile found between Qosho’s home and the Al-Shifa hospital.

Images showing part of what appears to be remnants of a 122mm BM-21 rocket (spring-loaded fins) taken ~175m from the site of the Afrin hospital attack that killed over a dozen. Possibly from the first part of the double tap strike, hitting surrounding area

36.509510, 36.860433 pic.twitter.com/w8PAUvsTYU

— Alexander McKeever (@AKMcKeever) June 14, 2021

The projectile was identified as a 122mm, fired from a BM21 GRAD rocket launcher. This type of launcher was first developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s but are now a very common – used by multiple sides in the Syrian war. Such launchers fire up to 40 projectiles in a single volley and are inherently inaccurate – designed for open battle fields not urban warfare.

While it was impossible to say with absolute certainty that the hospital and Qosho’s home were also hit by 122mm rockets, it is likely they were from the same volley of rockets.

 

Firing tables for GRAD rockets give a typical range of between 5 and 20 kilometres. However, using our model we determined that to clear the top of the building to the east, the rocket would have had to enter at a minimum of 23.4 degrees. This narrowed our potential launch area down further to between 12.3 and 20.5 kilometres.

Airwars modelling of the potential angles of impact

We shared all our visual evidence with a leading world expert in GRAD rockets, Ove Dullum. He agreed that the projectiles came from an easterly direction, adding that the fragment patterns from the impact indicated a low angle of impact, narrowly clearing the neighbouring building to the east.

Compiling his analysis with our own findings we estimate that the rockets were likely fired from the east and within the closer half of our range.

A still image of the estimated launch area, showing multiple groups operating there

Other investigations have found that the same type of rockets have been launched from the same area, including one by @obretix on a strike that hit the headquarters of a medical first responders organisation in Afrin six weeks after the attack on Al-Shifa hospital.

Conclusion

At the time of the incident, our estimated launch area was mostly under control of the SDF, America’s closest ally in Syria, along with allied militia groups. However control of this region is complicated. Reports in the weeks prior to the attack showed evidence of Russian and Syrian military forces operating within our estimated launch area.

On the 2nd of June, alleged Turkish artillery targeting SDF positions in Mara’anaz reportedly killed a Lieutenant in the Syrian militant, showing the presence and proximity of both the SDF and Regime forces in the area. Two days prior to the Al-Shifa attack, three soldiers from the Syrian military were reportedly injured by alleged Turkish bombardment on Menagh airbase, located within our potential launch area.

As such official designation of responsibility remains unclear. The SDF, Russians and Syrian Government all deny responsibility for this attack on a vital resource.

For the families of the victims and the survivors, the lack of accountability makes the suffering harder.

“I tried to check on the families of the martyrs – their psychological and financial situations are very bad,” Al-Aghawani said. “Personally, every few nights I dream of bombing.”

Airwars invites anyone with additional information to come forward.

▲ A screenshot from Airwars' 3D model of the Afrin attack. Image via Sham News Network.

Incident Code

USSOM347

Incident date

June 3, 2022

Location

Yaaq-Zaluul, Beer Xaani, Somalia

Geolocation

0.218985, 42.177213 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Subdistrict level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) declared an airstrike in a remote location near Beer Xaani, in the vicinity of Yaaq-Zaluul, in Somalia on June 3rd 2022.  They declared that five Al-Shabaab militants were killed in this attack but that no civilians were injured or killed.

In local reports, this was repeated and there were no allegations of civilian harm in this strike.

AFRICOM released a statement which stated “The command’s initial assessment is that five al-Shabaab terrorists were killed in action and that no civilians were injured or killed given the remote nature of where this enagement occured.”

They mentioned that this strike was in coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia and it was conducted aganst Al-Shabaab militants after they attacked partner forces.  The Ministry of Information in Somalia also repeated this information in a statement released on Twitter.

Halgan Media reported that US troops and Somalia ground forces were ambushed west of the coastal city of Kismaayo in Somalia’s Lower Jubba privince. They reported that “during the midst of the ambush, US military aircraft believed to be an unmanned aerial vehicle commonly referred to as a drone carried out at an airstrike at the site of the ambush.”

This is the first known US strike since President Biden signed an order on May 16th, deploying hundreds of US troops back into Somalia.

Most of the sources were reporting information from official Somali or US sources.  This could be due to the remote location.  This assessment will be updated as we recieve more information.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    5

Sources (10) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • The Somalia Ministry of Information released a statement, declaring AFRICOM's strike on Al-Shabaab militants on June 3rd 2022.

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Yaaq-Zaluul, allegedly within the locality of Beer Xaani. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Beer Xani are: 0.218985, 42.177213.

US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

US Forces

In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia, U.S. Africa Command conducted an airstrike against al-Shabaab terrorists after they attacked partner forces in a remote location near Beer Xaani, Somalia 3 June 2022. U.S. forces are authorized to conduct strikes in support of designated partner forces.

The command’s initial assessment is that five al-Shabaab terrorists were killed in action and that no civilians were injured or killed given the remote nature of where this engagement occurred.

The Federal Government of Somalia and U.S. Africa Command take great measures to prevent civilian casualties. These efforts contrast with the indiscriminate attacks that al-Shabaab regularly conducts against the civilian population.

The Federal Government of Somalia and the U.S. remain committed to fighting al-Shabaab to prevent the deaths of innocent civilians.

Violent extremist organizations like al-Shabaab present long-term threats to the U.S. and regional interests.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    5

Sources (10) [ collapse]

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

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

USSOM346

Incident date

March 13, 2022

Location

Hareri Gubadle, Galgaduud, Somalia

Geolocation

4.51364, 46.28265 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Subdistrict level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

At least 200 Al Shabab militants were killed by an alleged joint operation between US drone strikes and Somali forces carried out in Hareri Gubadle, near Wabho Township in Galgaduud region. The date of the operation is unknown but was reported on March 13, 2022.

The East African reported that the Somali government announced that more than 200 Al Shabab militants, including several top officials, were killed in their base in Hareri Gubadle, near Wabho Township in Galgaduud region, about 300km north of the capital Mogadishu by targeted US drone strikes. The Yemeni classified the strike as a joint collaboration between  Somali National Army and the US military and did not provide the exact date.

Shabelle Media quoted Al-Ahram who reported that the operation managed to thwart several terrorist explosions.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    200

Sources (3) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Hareri Gubadle, allegedly located in the vicinity of Wabho town. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Wabho are: 4.51364, 46.28265.

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al-Shabaab
  • Belligerents reported killed
    200

Sources (3) [ collapse]