News & Investigations

News & Investigations

Published

December 22, 2021

Written by

Imogen Piper and Joe Dyke

Official military data shows a 54 percent decline in strikes across all US conflicts during Biden’s year in office.

There has been much speculation in recent weeks about what President Biden’s first year in office shows us about his foreign policy – and in particular whether he is ending 20 years of America’s so-called ‘forever wars’.

As 2021 nears its end, Airwars reached out to US combatant commands to request strike data for conflicts. Coupled with the long-delayed release of crucial strike data from Afghanistan, Airwars can assess for the first time what the ‘war on terror’ looks like under Joe Biden.

The biggest take-home is that Biden has significantly decreased US military action across the globe.

Overall, declared US strikes have fallen by 54% globally during 2021

In total, declared US strikes across all five active US conflict zones – Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen – fell from 951 actions in 2020, to 439 by mid December 2021, a decrease of 54 percent. This is by far the lowest declared annual US strike number since at least 2004, and reflects a broader trend of declining US actions in recent years.

During 2021, the overwhelming majority of US strikes (372) took place in Afghanistan prior to withdrawal on August 31st. In fact, the United States carried out more than five times as many strikes in Afghanistan this year than in all other active US conflict zones combined.

If you were to remove Afghanistan from the data, the United States has declared just 67 strikes across the globe so far in 2021.

Afghanistan dominated US military actions during 2021

Civilian casualties also down

This trend is also reflected in far lower numbers of civilians allegedly killed by US strikes. During 2021, there were no credible local allegations of civilians likely killed by US strikes in Iraq, Libya, Pakistan or Yemen.

However,  at least 11 civilians were likely killed by US actions in Syria. In Afghanistan at least 10 civilians were confirmed killed by US actions. That latter figure is almost certainly higher, since we now know the US dropped more than 800 munitions on Taliban and Islamic State fighters during the year. At least some of those strikes were in urban areas where civilians are particularly at risk. However exact estimates remain elusive, due to ongoing confusion between US strikes and those carried out by Afghan security forces up to August.

In Somalia one civilian was locally reported killed by US strikes, though this occurred before Biden assumed office on January 20th.

Biden is partly continuing a trend seen in recent years – the number of strikes has largely fallen since 2016 when the war with the so-called Islamic State reached its apex. Below, we provide breakdowns of both US and allied airstrikes and locally reported civilian casualties – as well as emerging trends – for each individual conflict.

Over the length of the ‘War on Terror’, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 still marks the highest number of declared US strikes.

Afghanistan

On December 17th 2021, Biden’s administration finally released strike data for the final two years of the Afghanistan war. Such monthly releases were standard practice for nearly two decades but were stopped in March 2020, with the Trump administration arguing that their ongoing release could jeopardise peace talks with the Taliban. The Biden administration then chose to continue with that secrecy.

Now we can see why. The new releases show that despite a ‘peace’ agreement with the Taliban signed on February 29th 2020, under which the US was expected to withdraw in 14 months, the Pentagon continued its aggressive aerial campaigns in Afghanistan. Between March and December 2020, more than 400 previously undeclared strikes took place under Trump, while there were at least 300 US strikes in Afghanistan under Biden until August.

In total, almost 800 previously secret recent US airstrikes in Afghanistan during the Trump and Biden administrations have now been declared.

While Airwars does not track allegations of civilian harm in Afghanistan, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) has done so for more than a decade. Yet the decision by the Pentagon to stop publishing strike data in early 2020 may have led the UN to significantly underestimate casualties from US actions.

In its report detailing civilian casualties in Afghanistan from January to June 2021, UNAMA found that 146 civilians had been killed and 243 injured in airstrikes. Yet it seemed to assume these were all carried out by US-backed Afghan military forces, instead of the US.

“UNAMA…did not verify any airstrike by international military forces that resulted in civilian casualties during the first six months of 2021,” the report asserted. Such assessments will likely now require a fresh review, in the wake of recent US strike data releases.

We do know for certain that ten civilians were killed by US actions after that six-month period, on August 29th this year in Kabul – in the final US drone strike of a 20-year war. The US initially claimed this was a “righteous strike” on an Islamic State terrorist. However investigative journalists quickly showed the victims were in fact an aid worker and nine members of his young family, forcing the military to admit an error. Despite this, it recently concluded no disciplinary measures against personnel were necessary.

After the ignominious US withdrawal on August 31, US strikes have stopped. While at the time Biden discussed the possibility of continuing “over the horizon” airstrikes from a nearby country, this has not yet happened.

“The skies over Afghanistan are free of US war planes for the first time in two decades. A whole generation grew up under their contrails, nobody looks at the sky without checking for them,” Graeme Smith of the International Crisis Group told Airwars. “Their absence heralds the start of a new era, even if it’s not yet clear what that new chapter will bring.”

Iraq and Syria

During 2020, the number of air and artillery strikes conducted by the US-led Coalition against the Islamic State – Operation Inherent Resolve – has continued to fall, alongside an ongoing reduction in civilian harm allegations.

OIR declared 201 air and artillery strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2020, and only 58 strikes by early December 2021. This represents a reduction of around 70  percent in one year, and a 99 percent reduction in declared strikes between 2017 and 2021.

In Iraq, Airwars has tracked no local allegations of civilian harm from US led actions during 2021, down from an estimated five civilian fatalities in 2020. At the height of the Coalition’s war against ISIS in 2017, Airwars had tracked a minimum of 1,423 civilian fatalities.

In Syria, however, civilian harm allegations from Coalition actions actually increased this year, up from a minimum of one death in 2020 to at least eleven likely civilian fatalities in 2021. This does still represent a low figure compared to recent history: in 2019, Airwars had identified a minimum of 490 civilians likely killed by the Coalition, a reduction of 98 percent to this year.

Since 2019, Afghanistan has replaced Iraq and Syria as the primary focus of US military actions.

One key concern in Syria is that most recently reported civilian deaths have resulted not from declared US airstrikes, but from joint ground operations with Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), often supported by US attack helicopters.

These include a raid on the town of Thiban in Deir Ezzor, carried out by the SDF with the support of the US-led Coalition at dawn on July 16th 2021. Eyewitnesses reported that a “force consisting of several cars raided civilian homes, without warning, accompanied by indiscriminate shooting between the houses with the aim of terrorising the ‘wanted’”. Two civilians, a father and son, were killed in the raid, reportedly shot outside their home.

Separately, on the morning of December 3rd 2021, a declared US drone strike killed at least one man and injured at least six civilians, including up to four children from the same family. Multiple sources reported that the drone targeted a motorcycle but also hit a passing car that the Qasoum family were traveling in. Ahmed Qasoum, who was driving, described the incident; “the motorcycle was going in front of me and I decided to pass it, when I got parallel to it, I felt a lot of pressure pushing the car to the left of the road….It was horrible.” His ten-year-old son had a fractured skull, while his 15-year-old daughter sustained a serious shrapnel injury to her head.

On December 6th, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the strike had targeted an Al-Qaeda linked militant but “the initial review of the strike did indicate the potential for possible civilian casualties.”

+18 | "دوبلت الموتور إجت طيارة استطلاع ضربتني"يستمعون إلى الموسيقا وفجأة..مشهد مرعب للحظة استهداف عائلة في ريف #إدلبخاص #تلفزيون_سوريا@syriastream pic.twitter.com/ao0hy4stb1

— تلفزيون سوريا (@syr_television) December 5, 2021

A dashboard camera captures the moment a US strike also hits a passing civilian vehicle. 

Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen

Under Donald Trump, there had been a record rise both in declared US airstrikes in Somalia, and in locally reported civilian deaths and injuries – with the last likely death from a US action tracked by Airwars on the final day of Trump’s presidency.

Since then, Airwars has tracked no locally reported civilian deaths in Somalia under Biden. For the entire year, AFRICOM has declared nine strikes so far, four of which occurred under Biden. When he came to power, his administration implemented a six-month moratorium on strikes, multiple sources said. This meant that both AFRICOM and even the CIA had to have White House permission before carrying out strikes in either Somalia or Yemen.

On July 20th 2021, the day the moratorium ended, AFRICOM declared the first Somali strike of the Biden era – targeting the Al-Shabaab Islamist group. Multiple militants were reported killed, though no civilians were among them. A small number of additional strikes against Al-Shabaab occurred in the weeks afterwards, the most recent of which was on August 24th. Since then, there have been no declared strikes.

In Yemen, where the US has carried out periodic strikes against alleged Al-Qaeda affiliates since 2009, there have so far been no reliable reports of US strikes under Biden. In August, Al-Qaeda itself claimed two of its fighters had been killed in a US action, though there were no details on the date or location of this event.

Responding to an email query from Airwars on November 18th, the US military denied carrying out any recent attacks, noting that “CENTCOM conducted its last counterterror strike in Yemen on June 24, 2019. CENTCOM has not conducted any new counterterror strikes in Yemen since.”

However, in a more ambivalent statement to Airwars on December 16th, CENTCOM spokesperson Bill Urban noted only that “I am not aware of any strikes in Yemen in 2021.” Airwars is seeking further clarity, particularly since it is known that the CIA carried out several airstrikes on Al Qaeda in Yemen during 2020.

In both Libya and Pakistan, long running US counter terrorism campaigns now appear to be over. The last locally claimed CIA strike in Pakistan was in July 2018 under President Trump, while in Libya, the last likely US strike was in October 2019.

A crucial year ahead

Based on official US military data, it is clear that Joe Biden is building on a trend seen in the latter years of Donald Trump’s presidency, further decreasing the scope and scale of the ‘forever wars.’

In Iraq and Syria, US forces appear to be transitioning away from carrying out active strikes in favour of supporting allied groups – although Special Forces ground actions continue in Syria, sometimes with associated civilian harm. The war in Afghanistan is now over, and it seems the long-running US campaigns in Pakistan and Libya have drawn to permanent halts. US airstrikes in Somalia and Yemen have all but stopped for now.

Still unknown is the likely framework for US military actions moving forward. In early 2021, Biden commissioned a major review of US counter terrorism policy. Led by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, the results are expected to be announced in the coming months. This will likely give us a far clearer idea how Biden believes the US should fight both ongoing wars and future ones.

Is 2022 the year Biden rescinds the AUMF? (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

And then there is amending – or even repealing – the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). That law, passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11, essentially granted the US President the right to conduct strikes anywhere in the world in the context of the ‘war on terror.’ Initially designed for use against Al-Qaeda, it has been employed against an ever widening pool of US enemies.

The future of the 2001 AUMF is once again likely to be debated by Congress in 2022. While unlikely to be repealed, it could possibly be significantly amended, Brian Finucane, senior advisor for the US programme at International Crisis Group, told Airwars.

“That would entail at a minimum specifying who the United States can hit – explicitly identifying the enemy. Secondly identifying where it should be used – geographical limits. And thirdly giving a sunset clause,” he said. “As it is now that AUMF is basically a blank cheque to be used by different administrations.”

▲ President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with national security advisers to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, Thursday, August 19, 2021, in the White House Situation Room. (Official White House Photo by Erin Scott)

Published

December 18, 2021

Written by

Chris Woods and Joe Dyke

Almost 800 previously secret US airstrikes in Afghanistan during 2020 and 2021 are revealed, as US military declassifies data.

The release of classified records of recent US airstrikes in Afghanistan has revealed more than 400 previously undeclared actions in the last months of Donald Trump’s presidency – and at least 300 more strikes ordered by Joe Biden’s administration.

Even after the United States and the Taliban signed an effective peace agreement in February 2020, the US continued secretly to bomb Taliban and Islamic State targets, the data shows. And during 2021 – as the Taliban continued to ramp up attacks on Afghan government forces, and advance on Kabul – more than 800 munitions were fired by mostly US aircraft.

The crucial Afghanistan monthly data by Air Force Central Command, or AFCENT, was stopped in March 2020 after the Trump administration agreed an effective ceasefire deal with the Taliban. Those public releases showed how many strikes the US and its international allies carried out in Afghanistan as well as details of weapons fired, and had been released monthly for nearly a decade beforehand.

At the time the US Air Force said it was stopping the releases due to diplomatic concerns, “including how the report could adversely impact ongoing discussions with the Taliban regarding Afghanistan peace talks”.

The newly declassified data adds credence to allegations at the time that the United States may have secretly upped its strikes in Afghanistan to put pressure on the Taliban during negotiations taking place in Qatar, with sometimes devastating impacts for civilians.

While the United Nations was seemingly convinced that US strikes had largely stopped, the Taliban accused the US of violating the terms of the agreement “almost every day.” Those claims are now more likely to be taken seriously.

“These data tell the story of America’s struggle to end its longest war,” Graeme Smith of International Crisis Group told Airwars.

An air war that never ended

The US and the Taliban signed a so-called ‘peace’ arrangement on February 29th 2020. This did not explicitly commit the US to a full ceasefire, but involved the Taliban effectively committing not to attack American forces in Afghanistan during a proposed 14-month US withdrawal period.

It was also assumed that US strikes would also significantly wind down, and be focused primarily on self-defence actions. Yet the newly released AFCENT data shows US attacks never ceased, with 413 ‘international’ airstrikes between March and December 2020 alone.

Declassified AFCENT data has revealed almost 800 previously undeclared airstrikes conducted in Afghanistan during 2020 and 2021

Following the US-Taliban agreement in February 2020, official ceasefire talks then began in Doha in September of the same year between the Taliban and the Afghan Government. Yet in the same month, we now know, the US still secretly conducted 34 airstrikes.

Continuing US actions coincided with Taliban onslaughts on the outskirts of the cities of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah. The Taliban argued that these assaults, on Afghan government forces rather than American ones, were not in breach of the agreement but the US disagreed, Smith said. “That is why you see a sharp uptick in airstrikes from October 2020 as the Americans desperately tried to defend those provincial capitals,” he said.

Amnesty International recently highlighted what it believed was a US airstrike on Kunduz in November 2020 which killed two civilian women, Bilqiseh bint Abdul Qadir (21) and Nouriyeh bint Abdul Khaliq (25), and one man, Qader Khan (24). Munition fragments recovered from the scene pointed clearly to a US strike. It is now clear that the United States secretly conducted 69 strikes in Afghanistan that month alone.

Since assuming office in late January 2021, Joe Biden initially oversaw a slight drop in strikes before a significant increase, as the 20-year US occupation ended in a chaotic and devastating withdrawal.

In the final desperate three months of the US presence, 226 weapons were fired in 97 airstrikes by US (and possibly allied) aircraft in a doomed bid to halt the Taliban’s lightning advance. Many of those actions were likely to have been close air support strikes aiding Afghan National Army forces in urban areas, who were being overrun. The known risk of high civilian casualties from such actions has long been known.

In the chaotic last days of the war, dozens of civilians and 13 US military personnel died in an ISIS-K suicide attack as US forces barricaded themselves inside Kabul airport and desperate Afghans flocked to the site hoping to flee the country.

And in the final airstrike of the US occupation, 10 civilians were killed when American drone operators confused a father returning to his family home with an Islamic State terrorist. Last week, the Pentagon announced no disciplinary action would be taken in that strike.

United Nations deceived?

Stopping the release of monthly airstrike data in early 2020 also appears to have convinced the United Nations that the US was no longer conducting significant attacks.

In both its 2020 annual report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan and its 6-monthly report for the first half of 2021, the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) played down the impact of US and international strikes – believing them to have mostly ended.

During 2020 the UN concluded, more than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed in ongoing fighting between the Taliban and the then-Afghan government, supported by international forces. According to UNAMA, 341 civilians were killed that year by airstrikes – of which it blamed 89 deaths on international forces.

Yet UNAMA’s 2020 annual report said that after the February 29th agreement between the US and Taliban “the international military significantly reduced its aerial operations, with almost no such incidents causing civilian casualties for the remainder of 2020.”

UN officials later told Airwars during a briefing that they believed Afghan Air Force strikes were now likely responsible for almost all civilian deaths from airstrikes. The release of the previously-classified data from AFCENT radically changes that picture. Between March and December 2020, Trump’s last full months in office, the US in fact carried out 413 airstrikes – as many as during all of 2015 for example.

For the first half of 2021, UNAMA also made similar assumptions about low numbers of US and international strikes, noting that “compared with the first half of 2020, the total number of civilians killed and injured in airstrikes increased by 33 per cent. Civilian casualties from Afghan Air Force airstrikes more than doubled as international military forces conducted far fewer airstrikes.”

In fact, we now know, more than 370 ‘international’ strikes were carried out in 2021, which between them dropped more than 800 munitions.

UNAMA did not immediately respond to questions on whether the UN would now be reviewing its recent findings, following the release of the AFCENT data.

Biden under scrutiny

Revelations of hundreds of previously secret US airstrikes in Afghanistan during Joe Biden’s first months in office indicate that while US actions were at record lows in other theatres such as Iraq and Somalia, the intensity of the 20-year war in Afghanistan continued to the very end.

More than five times more US strikes were conducted in Afghanistan from January to August 2021 than have been declared in all other US theatres combined across the whole year, Airwars analysis shows.

“Airwars has been cautioning for some time that recent airstrike numbers for Afghanistan – if revealed – might show far more US military activity under Joe Biden than many had assumed,” said Airwars director Chris Woods. “This newly released data – which should never have been classified in the first place – points to the urgent need for reevaluation of recent US actions in Afghanistan, including likely civilian casualties.”

The Afghanistan data stops abruptly in August 2021. Announcing the release of the previously secret strike and munition numbers to the Pentagon press corps late on Friday afternoon, chief DoD spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “There have been no airstrikes in Afghanistan since the withdrawal is complete.”

▲ A home allegedly destroyed by a US airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan in November 2020 (Credit: Amnesty International)

Incident Code

CS1974

Incident date

December 12, 2021

Location

ابريهة, Abirha near Al Busaira, Deir Ezzor, Syria

Airwars assessment

Professor Khalaf Al Wahhab, a school teacher, and his two sons, Hamza Al Wahhab and Muhammad Al Wahhab, from the village of Abreha, were killed during a US-led Coalition airdrop or landing operation, with the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the village of Abirha, near Al Busaira in Deir Ezzor on December 12th 2021. In total, four people were killed. The fourth person, according to @Sada_AlSharqieh, was “a visitor to them who is the target of the landing operation.” The incident apparently happened at dawn.

Some sources also mentioned that Professor Al Wahhab’s son in law, Abu Malik, was also killed but it is unclear whether he was the fourth person pre-mentioned. Deir Ezzor 24 referred to “Ab Malik” as a person “believed to be affiliated with Daesh” and from the village of al-Bulail.

According to Euphrates, the operation lasted for about two hours and “they were targting a livestock pen after refusing to surrender.”  They also reported that the operation was carried out from the direction of Al-Eshreen Street, “using two helicopters loaded with elements and ground forces.” Apparently, the Coalition was “broadcasting on loudspeakers that the place is surrounded by the Coalition forces and the people must surrender.”

According to @Sada_AlSharqieh, they also asked residents to stay in their homes. Their correspondent also reported that “the Coalitin aircraft struck a house in the town of Al-Bireha and destroyed the entire house, and then began the process of landing in Al-Busira.” Various sources reported that eight people were arrested in Al-Busira.

At the time of the incident, Colonel Joel Harper, spokesman for the International Coalition, issued a statement that “Daesh are still active in Syria and poses an existential threat if it is allowed to resurge,” stressing that the coalition continues in its partnership with the SDF and continues to target Daesh in Syria, not directly referring to the incident.

The incident occured around dawn.

The victims were named as:

Family members (3)

  • Khalaf Al Wahhab male father killed
  • Hamza Al Wahhab Age unknown male son
  • Muhammad Al Wahhab Age unknown male son

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    3 – 4
  • (3–4 men)
  • 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 (SDF)
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (36) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • An image of Hamad Al Wahhab, killed with his father and brother, after a house was targeted in Al Busayrah at dawn on December 12th 2021. (Image via Euphrates)
  • The area where an alleged airdrop operation was carried out by the US-led Coalition on December 12th 2021, allegedly killed three men. (Image via @YusufAd76532779 / Twitter)

US-led Coalition Assessment:

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

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
  • Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Counter-Terrorism Action (Ground)
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    3 – 4
  • (3–4 men)
  • 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 (SDF)
  • Suspected target
    ISIS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (36) [ collapse]

Incident Code

CS1973

Incident date

December 3, 2021

Location

المسطومة, Al-Mastouma, Idlib, Syria

Airwars assessment

At least one young man was killed and between six and seven civilians, including up to four children, were injured in a declared US drone strike on the Al-Mastouma Ariha road on December 3rd, 2021. Sources are conflicted as to whether the young man killed was an active or former member of the Guardians of Religion Organization, an Al Qaeda affiliate group.

In a press briefing on December 6, 2021, the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters “a senior leader with Hurras al-Din, which is an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, by the name of Musab Kinan was the person targeted and killed in a kinetic strike by U.S. forces near Idlib on the 3rd of December. It was a strike conducted from an MQ-9 unmanned aircraft. The initial review of the strike did indicate the potential for possible civilian casualties. They’ve [CENTCOM] launched a civilian casualty assessment report, which they have to do when they think there’s a potential and as far as I know that’s still ongoing. I don’t know what the results might be.”

Associated Press reported that at least four members of the Qasoum family were children – 16-year old Hiba Qasoum, 15-year old Batoul Qasoum, 12-year old Walid Qasoum and 10-year old Mohammad Qasoum. Fatima, 48, was also reported seriously injured in the strike alongside her husband Ahmed Qasoum who sustained light injuries. One source (@jabha_sy) reported different ages (included in brackets in victim details below).

The Middle East Eye (MEE) also reported on the Qasoum family, including an interview with father Ahmed Qasoum who told MEE that one of those injured was his 10-year old son: ““The motorcycle was going in front of me and I decided to pass it, when I got parallel to it, I felt a lot of pressure pushing the car to the left of the road….It was horrible,” Qasoum said. “We didn’t hear any sound of the explosion. The shrapnel hit the left side of the car, tearing through that side, which acted as a sort of filter for a lot of it.”

“My 10-year-old son has had a fractured skull and is now in a very serious condition in the intensive care at a hospital in Idlib. Doctors have told me that he would have nerves problems on his right side in the future,” Qasoum said, speaking to MEE via WhatsApp.”

Mr. Qasoum added that his 15-year old daughter was also seriously injured after shrapnel struck her head, and that it might take her a week to be able to walk again.

In an interview with Associated Press published December 6th, Mr. Qassoum said that he was driving 10km every day to visit the hospital where his son, Mahmoud, was being treated for his head injuries.

Step News Agency reported that the Qasoum family had been displaced from the village of Kafr Batikh after regime forces took control of the area.

@humam_isa identified the young man, “Musab Khaled Kanaan” (a first-year Turkish language student) as being one of the people killed by Coalition missile strikes on the Idlib-Al-Mastouma road, while Syrian Network for Human Rights and Shaam News referred to Musab as being a former Hurras al Din (Guardians of Religion) fighter.

A tweet from @SunaUnique reported that a drone struck a car traveling on the Al-Mastouma Ariha road, killing those inside, but didn’t specify how many were traveling in the car.

According to @Click_Syria, a drone alleged to belong to the Coalition struck a motorcycle belonging to a military official from the Guardians of Religion Organization and also hit a Santa Fe car passing by on the same road, the Ariha-Mastouma highway, injuring six people in the car. @syr_television added that the family of six people in the car were “lightly” injured. Euphrates Eye put the number killed at two and identified them both as Guardians of Religion.

Syrian Civil Defense put the number of injured civilians at five, including three women and a child.

A tweet from @FreshFM90MHZ referred to those killed and injured as being “civilians”.

A video posted by @syr_television shows the moment that the drone strike hit the motorcycle from the perspective of the car where the six family members were injured. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights identified that three missiles were involved in the attack.

@NotWoofers pointed out that this is the first time in a while in Idlib that there have been civilian casualties from a Coalition drone strike.

The Military Times reported that “the command [CENTCOM] would not say whether such operations will pause during the investigation” into civilian harm allegations.

Limited local media coverage was noted by the Middle East Eye, who reported that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the armed group in control of Idlib, seized the Qasoum family car after the attack “under the pretext of checking the car’s papers”, and “prevented the media from filming the damage at the scene”.

The incident occured at approximately 10:00 am local time.

The victims were named as:

Family members (6)

  • Fatima Qarqour 48 years old injured
  • Muhammad Qasoum 10 (also reported as 15) years old injured
  • Heba Qasoum 16 (also reported as 30) years old injured
  • Batoul Qasoum 15 (also reported as 20) years old injured
  • Walid Qasoum 12 (also reported as 50) years old injured
  • Ahmed Qasoum 52 years old injured
  • Musab Khaled Kanaan Age unknown male conflicted as to whether the young man killed was an active or former member of the Guardians of Religion Organization, an Al Qaeda affiliate group killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    6–7
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda/HTS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–2

Sources (34) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (18) [ collapse]

  • A drone struck a car traveling on the Al-Mastouma Ariha road, killing those inside. (Image posted by @SunaUnique)
  • A drone struck a car traveling on the Al-Mastouma Ariha road, killing those inside. (Image posted by @SunaUnique)
  • Musab Khaled Kanaan, killed in an alleged Coalition drone strike on a car on the Idlib-Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by @humam_isa)
  • White Helmets observe the motorcycle struck with a drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Syrian Civil Defense)
  • White Helmets observe the car struck with a drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Syrian Civil Defense)
  • Blood of the victims on the car struck with a drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Syrian Civil Defense)
  • A White Helmet with remnants from the drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Macro Media Center)
  • Remnants of the car destroyed by the drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Macro Media Center)
  • A White Helmet with remnants from the drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Macro Media Center)
  • Blood of the victims on the car struck with a drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Macro Media Center)
  • Blood of the victims on the car struck with a drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Macro Media Center)
  • Blood of the victims on the car struck with a drone attack on the Ariha Al-Mastouma road on December 3, 2021. (Image posted by Macro Media Center)
  • Ahmed Qasoum was reported to be one of at least six members of the Qasoum family who sustained injuries after a US military strike hit a road in Idlib, December 3rd 2021. Image via Middle East Eye/Izzeddin Kasim.
  • "The wife of Ahmed Qasoum resting her broken leg after being injured in a US attack near Idlib on 3 December", Image via Middle East Eye/Izzeddin Kasim.
  • ""The shrapnel hit the left side of the car, tearing through that side," Ahmed Qasoum said", Image via Middle East Eye/Izzeddin Kasim.
  • Mahmoud Qasoum was was reported seriously injured in a US strike in Idlib December 3rd 2021. Image published by Associated Press/Ghaith Alsayed.
  • The Qasoum family, injured by a US strike in Idlib December 3rd 2021. Image via Associated Press.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

United States Armed Forces

"A senior leader with Hurras al-Din, which is an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, by the name of Musab Kinan was the person targeted and killed in a kinetic strike by U.S. forces near Idlib on the 3rd of December. It was a strike conducted from an MQ-9 unmanned aircraft. The initial review of the strike did indicate the potential for possible civilian casualties. They've [CENTCOM] launched a civilian casualty assessment report, which they have to do when they think there's a potential and as far as I know that's still ongoing. I don't know what the results might be."

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 1
  • (0–1 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    6–7
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda/HTS
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1–2

Sources (34) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMBi004-C

Incident date

November 13, 2021

Location

عقبة امقوة, Aqba Amkawa, Shabwa, Yemen

Airwars assessment

At least one civilian was killed and another civilian, a woman, was injured in alleged Saudi Coalition or US drone strikes on the Olaya Markha district of Shabwa governorate. Sources were conflicted about whether the other two to three people killed and two to three people wounded were civilians or members of Al Qaeda.

A Facebook post by Mohammed Al Yamani provided information that four civilians were killed and two others were injured in a Saudi Coalition airstrike on a car in the Olaya Markha district of Shabwa governorate.

A local source told “Al-Harf 28” that an unidentified aircraft struck a car in the “Amquh” area of Markah Olaya district and that the preliminary numbers indicate that three “citizens” were killed and two others were injured, all of whom belong to the “Al Mursas” tribe. News Yemen also put the number of people killed at three but reported that three other people were wounded.

A Facebook post from Ali Al Nasi identified the car as bringing to Ali bin Alawi Al Rasas and that the raid led to “the injury of the son of the owner of the car, Ahmed bin Ali”. They stated that the fate of the rest of the passengers in the car was unknown but later identified two people as being injured, adding that the targeted people are well known for their stance against ISIS.

A post from Saif Al Mahjari provided more information on the victims: in the first strike, two people were seriously injured – Ahmed Ali bin Alawi and bin Muthbi. While the wounded were being helped, there was another bombing, and this bombing killed three people – Hussein bin Ali bin Ahmed, Ibn Dahmash and Ibn Sawad, who were said to be brothers. A post from Abdualkarem Saleh Alrasas also provided similar names of people killed – Hussein bin Ali bin Hamad Al-Rasas, Ibrahim Dahmash Alawi Al-Rasas, Hussein Mohammed Al-Rasas.

Xinhua News reported that three people believed to be affiliated with Al Qaeda were killed in US drone strikes that targeted a car carrying six people, wounding the three other passengers. X99 News quoted a security official, who said that the strikes occurred after noon in front of a US military base and resulted in the death of two gunmen associated with Al Qaeda and a civilians. They also identified two separate strikes as occurring but didn’t specify which casualties occurred during which strikes.

A local government official clarified to AFP what occurred in the two separate strikes: “A drone that is believed to be American targeted a car carrying a man, who is likely an Al-Qaeda member, and his wife, resulting in the injury of both,” a government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP. “Three people, a civilian and two suspected Al-Qaeda gunmen, who were in a vehicle that was heading to the site to assist the wounded were targeted in another strike and killed.” A second government official in the border region between the central provinces of Shabwa and Al-Bayda confirmed the two strikes and death toll.

Sources were conflicted as to who was responsible for the strikes or were not able to identify who carried them out. The majority of sources attribute the strikes to the Saudi Coalition. However, the Yemeni Press identified the “US-Saudi aggression” as responsible and Xinhua News blamed US drones for the strikes.

In an email to Airwars on November 18th, the US military denied carrying out any attack, noting that “CENTCOM conducted its last counterterror strike in Yemen on June 24, 2019. CENTCOM has not conducted any new counterterror strikes in Yemen since.”

This does not however preclude actions by the CIA – which is known to have conducted at least three strikes in Yemen since that date.

The incident occured during the night.

The victims were named as:

Family members (2)

  • Ahmed Ali bin Alawi male Conflicted as to whether he was a civilian or Al Qaeda member injured
  • bin Muthbi female Possibly the wife or other family member of Ahmed injured

Family members (3)

  •  Hussein bin Ali bin Hamad Al-Rasas male Conflicted as to whether he was a civilian or Al Qaeda member killed
  •  Ibrahim Dahmash Alawi Al-Rasas male Conflicted as to whether he was a civilian or Al Qaeda member killed
  • Hussein Mohammed Al-Rasas male Conflicted as to whether he was a civilian or Al Qaeda member killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1 – 4
  • (1–3 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–3
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    saudi_led_coalition, United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    0–2

Sources (38) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • Map of incidents in Yemen
  • Map of the possible location of the strikes in Yemen on November 13, 2021. (Image posted by Giopioneer)

saudi_led_coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    saudi_led_coalition
  • saudi_led_coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Contested strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1 – 4
  • (1–3 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–3
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attackers
    saudi_led_coalition, United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–3
  • Belligerents reported injured
    0–2

Sources (38) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMBi003

Incident date

November 13, 2021

Location

حدبى ال عوشان, Hadba Al Aushan, Shabwa, Yemen

Geolocation

15.546025, 45.466297 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Neighbourhood/area

Airwars assessment

At least one person, identified as an Al-Qaeda affiliate, was killed in alleged US drone strikes on the Al-Hadba area in the Wadi Marib district of Yemen the afternoon of November 13, 2021.

A post from Hudhud Sabaa news alleged that a US drone strike targeted an Al-Qaeda affiliate from Al-Dhalea’s Al-Dhalea district in Hadbaa Al-Aushan. A tweet from @BdylJbrann identified the drone strike as killing one person but did not mention whether they were a militant or not.

A post from Maareb Al Izz also identified one person as being killed by US drones and added that he was killed instantly from the strikes.

In an email to Airwars on November 18th, the US military denied carrying out any attack, noting that “CENTCOM conducted its last counterterror strike in Yemen on June 24, 2019. CENTCOM has not conducted any new counterterror strikes in Yemen since.”

This does not however preclude actions by the CIA – which is known to have conducted at least three strikes in Yemen since that date.

The incident occured in the afternoon.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the Al Hadba Aushan (حدبى ال عوشان) area, for which the generic coordinates are: 15.546025, 45.466297. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed 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
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    1

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Published

September 24, 2021

Written by

Adam Gnych and Jessica Purkiss

Contrition over Kabul strike must prompt further review of hundreds more events in which civilians were likely killed by US actions.

The final drone strike of the US occupation of Afghanistan killed up to 10 civilians, including seven children. That is not our opinion, but the determination of the US military.

On September 17th, after separate investigations by The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN, a contrite head of CENTCOM, the part of the US military responsible for Afghanistan, admitted a “tragic” mistake. General McKenzie said the August 29th attack, initially described as a “righteous strike” against the Afghan branch of the Islamic State, had in fact killed 43-year-old aid worker Zemari Ahmadi and his family outside their home.

The apology won’t ease the suffering of those remaining family members, but it does at least open the door to the possibility of solatia payments to support them through the coming years. For the US, this incident ought to lead to some soul searching – with a fresh investigation launched into the failings of the initial probe.

Yet this contrition has been the exception rather than the rule in US operations in Afghanistan, with thousands of civilians credibly reported killed by US actions since 2001. The former head of NATO’s civilian casualty assessment team now says that “civilian casualty investigations in Afghanistan were strongly weighted against finding sufficient evidence for an allegation to be recorded as credible.”

There are many specific reasons why this final incident garnered more attention. It occurred in relatively easily accessible Kabul, at a time when many foreign journalists were visiting the city to cover the American withdrawal. Mr Ahmadi also worked for a US aid organisation that was willing to vouch for his reputation. All these factors led to intense pressure on the US military to respond quickly to the allegations it had killed civilians.

Sadly the vast majority of civilians killed by the US in Afghanistan never receive the same attention, or apologies.

A recent Airwars investigation found that overall, at least 22,000 civilians have likely been killed by US airstrikes during the ‘war on terror’ since 2001. At least 4,815 of these fatalities were in Afghanistan, though that number could be far higher. Only a fraction of these events have received official US recognition. Many families can wait months, or even years, for a reply. Most never hear back.

Major General Chris Donahue, the final US soldier in Afghanistan, leaves on August 30 (U.S. Army photo)

Amnesty International, calling for a fuller investigation into the Kabul strike, pointed out that “many similar strikes in Syria, Iraq, and Somalia have happened out of the spotlight, and the US continues to deny responsibility while devastated families suffer in silence.”

Here are just five examples of Afghan families still waiting for justice after losing family members to alleged US strikes in recent years. Many were originally investigated by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s Drone Warfare project, which ended in 2020 and whose archives are now curated by Airwars.

1. The Khans

In the early hours of March 9th 2019, Dr Nazargul Khan and his children were sleeping in their village in the Hesarak district, Nangarhar province – around 30 miles east of Kabul. Suddenly their home was ripped apart.

“The first bomb that was dropped was on my cousins who were sleeping in the next room,” Waheeda, 14, Nazargul’s oldest child, told Al Jazeera. “My father got up and went to their room but by the time they reached the room another bomb was dropped on my father, sisters, and mother.”

In total twelve members of the Khan family, including Nazargul and nine children, died that night in an alleged US strike.

Despite the testimony of Sherif and Waheeda, the US has not accepted causing the civilian harm. Instead, it designated the allegations “possible” and closed the investigation, leaving the survivors with no clear answers and no route to seek compensation or justice.

 

2. The Ishaqzai family

On November 24th 2018, the village of Loy Manda, ten miles outside of Lashkar Gah in southwestern Afghanistan, found itself on the frontline as Afghan government forces – backed up by their American allies – battled the Taliban.

As a column of Afghan and US Special Operations forces moved into the area, the Ishaqzai family huddled in their home. In an apparent attempt to hit Taliban fighters moving through the area, the US called in an airstrike, witnesses told The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A father and son were killed and 13 members of the extended family injured, 10 of them children.

The US military later admitted that four civilians were injured in a strike in Helmand on this day in their annual report on civilian casualties. This is believed to be a significant undercount.

 

3. The Mubarez family

On the evening of September 22rd 2018, the inhabitants of the village of Mullah Hafiz, in Wardak province, were alerted to the sound of an operation in progress. Explosions ripped through the town as soldiers swept in for a raid on a Taliban prison.

Masih Ur-Rahman Mubarez was in Iran for work but his wife and all their seven children, alongside four young cousins, were killed in an airstrike. His youngest was just four years old.

“Our life was full of love,” Masih told The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ).

Image compiled by Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Clockwise from top left: Masih’s children Mohammad Elyas (8), Mohammad Wiqad (10), Fahim (5), Samina (7) and Mohammad Fayaz (4) all died in the strike, alongside their two elder sisters, Anisa (14), and Safia (12), and their mother Amina (32). (Fahim appears in both photos in the bottom row)

Initially the US repeatedly denied it had bombed Masih’s house, or even that any airstrike had taken place in the area. Later after The New York Times and researchers from TBIJ investigated further, the military admitted that it did conduct a strike in that location, saying it was “possible, although unlikely, civilians died.”

 

4. The Rais family

On the 28th of September 2016, 15 Afghans were killed in a single US drone strike in the province of Nangarhar, east of the capital of Kabul, according to the United Nations.

The US said it struck militants from the so-called Islamic State, describing it as a “counter-terrorism” strike. The UN said it had hit a gathering of residents welcoming a tribal elder returning from religious pilgrimage to Mecca. The UN did acknowledge reports that IS fighters were among the dead but said the majority were civilians including “students and a teacher, as well as members of families considered to be pro-government.” Haji Rais, the owner of the house hit, lost his son in the strike.

The day after the strike, the then-spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, Brigadier General Charles, told The New York Times the allegations of civilian casualties were being investigated. “We continue to work with Afghan authorities to determine if there is cause for additional investigation,” he said.

 

5. Abdul Hamid Alkoazay &  Abdul Rahim

In the early hours of the morning on May 24th 2019, an alleged US airstrike struck a building in Shib Koh district, Farah province, which runs along the border with Iran in western Afghanistan.

Abdul Hamid and Abdul Rahim were colleagues and had decided to stay the night at the offices of the emergency aid NGO they worked for. At approximately 1:20 am the building was leveled, with the two men killed instantly.

Abdul Rahim was 22 and had married just a month before his death. He worked as a supervisor at the charity, which he had joined relatively recently. One colleague said of him: “He was such a softly spoken person. He was a very good man with the best manners.”

The US military ultimately deemed the allegations of civilian harm “possible”, a phrasing neither accepting nor denying responsibility.

 

‘Hand-wringing’

CENTCOM, the part of the US military responsible for Afghanistan, had not replied at publication of this article to requests from Airwars seeking updates about its investigations into these five cases.

In the years before the final American soldier left Afghanistan last month, the US had relied increasingly on airpower. In 2015 there were about 500 US strikes. By 2019 that figure was more than 7,000. That year the United Nations documented the highest number of civilian fatalities from airstrikes since they began recording in 2009, most of them by US aircraft.

However, the US military officially accepted only a fifth of the civilian deaths attributed to it by the United Nations in 2019. Allegations are frequently determined as either “not credible” or “disproved”. Often this is based on the military not having sufficient information to fully investigate.

“There has been a lot of hand wringing and convenient blaming of intelligence over the past weeks,” says Mark Goodwin-Hudson, who in 2016 as a Lieutenant Colonel headed NATO’s Civilian Casualty Investigation Team in Afghanistan. “The killing highlights how shallow and misleading the assumption is that war can be conducted successfully from over the horizon. It doesn’t matter how accurate a modern weapon system is if the intelligence that underpins the strike is flawed.”

“In my experience civilian casualty investigations in Afghanistan were strongly weighted against finding sufficient evidence for an allegation to be recorded as credible,” Goodwin-Hudson added. “In some instances, investigators were denied access to mission critical intelligence, as it was deemed too sensitive to be read by anyone who was not already in the classified compartment that had planned, authorised and implemented the strike in question.”

For the families of those left behind, the mechanisms of getting official recognition that their loved ones were innocent was complicated enough before the US withdrawal. For many it may now be all but impossible.

▲ Library image: A US Navy Super Hornet receives fuel from an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker over Afghanistan, December 7th 2017. (US Air Force/ Jeff Parkinson)

Incident Code

USYEMBi002

Incident date

August 24, 2021

Location

Yemen

Airwars assessment

Two alleged members of Al Qaeda were killed in US airstrikes in Yemen sometime before August 24, 2021.

According to a Facebook post from Mushir Al Mashrai, Al-Qaeda organization in Yemen mourned Rashid Al-Ghazali and his brother Abu Asim, who said that they were killed in an American raid.

A tweet from @GhalebM0nz1i7 reported that the death of the brothers was announced on Al-Malahim website, affiliated with Al-Qaeda terrorist organization in Yemen, and attributed their deaths to airstrikes from US warplanes.

While the death of the brothers was announced on August 24th, it is unclear when the strikes took place and/or when the brothers died.

In an email to Airwars on November 18th, the US military denied carrying out any recent attacks in Yemen, noting that “CENTCOM conducted its last counterterror strike in Yemen on June 24, 2019. CENTCOM has not conducted any new counterterror strikes in Yemen since.”

This does not however preclude actions by the CIA – which is known to have conducted at least three strikes in Yemen since June 2019.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2

Sources (5) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has announced the deaths of "Rashid al-Ghazali" and "Abu Asim" who were allegedly "martyred by the American Crusaders." (Image posted by @IntelTweet)

United States Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    United States Armed Forces
  • United States Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    None known
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Suspected attacker
    United States Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    2

Sources (5) [ collapse]