Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

CS627

Incident date

March 27, 2017

Location

سد الفرات, Euphrates Dam, Ar Raqqah, Syria

Geolocation

35.857579, 38.559545 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

The Director of the Euphrates Dam and two other staff members died in declared Coalition airstrikes a mile away from the dam on March 27, 2017, according to local sources.

Baladi reported that “the director of the Euphrates Dam and his technical assistant were killed and a number of other technicians were injured as a result of air strikes by international Coalition aircraft which targeted them as they entered the dam building for maintenance operations on Monday.”

Orient News added that the technical staff had been sent by IS to carry out emergency maintenance following a previous bombing of the dam by the Coalition. A local ceasefire was supposed to have been in place to allow the work.

According to the New York Times, the initial bombing on March 26, 2017 “knocked dam workers to the ground and everything went dark. Witnesses say one bomb punched down five floors. A fire spread, and crucial equipment failed. The mighty flow of the Euphrates River suddenly had no way through, the reservoir began to rise, and local authorities used loudspeakers to warn people downstream to flee.” With this strike, “first, the B-52 dropped bombs set to explode in the air above the targets to avoid damaging the structures, the senior military official said. But when those failed to dislodge the enemy fighters, the task force called for the bomber to drop three 2,000-pound bombs, including at least one bunker-buster, this time set to explode when they hit the concrete. The task force also hit the towers with heavy artillery.”

The New York Times also reported that “after the strikes, dam workers stumbled on an ominous piece of good fortune: Five floors deep in the dam’s control tower, an American BLU-109 bunker-buster lay on its side, scorched but intact — a dud. If it had exploded, experts say, the whole dam might have failed.” However, the dam sustained damage: “Critical equipment lay in ruins and the dam stopped functioning entirely. The reservoir quickly rose 50 feet and nearly spilled over the dam, which engineers said would have been catastrophic. The situation grew so desperate that authorities at dams upstream in Turkey cut water flow into Syria to buy time.”

When assessing the physical damage, “satellite imagery from after the attack shows gaping holes in the roofs of both towers, a crater in the concrete of the dam next to the head-gates, and a fire in one of the power station buildings. Less obvious, but more serious, was the damage inside. Damage to the control room caused water pumps to seize. Flooding then short-circuited electrical equipment. With no power to run crucial machinery, water couldn’t pass through the dam, the reservoir crept higher. There was a crane that could raise the emergency floodgate, but it, too, had been damaged by fighting.”

The New York Times provided details on the second strike that “less than 24 hours after the strikes, American-backed forces, Russian and Syrian officials and the Islamic State coordinated a pause in hostilities. A team of 16 workers — some from the Islamic State, some from the Syrian government, some from American allies — drove to the site, according to the engineer, who was with the group….While the dam was still being repaired, the task force sent a drone over the community next to the dam. As the drone circled, three of the civilian workers who had rushed to save the dam finished their work and piled into a small van and headed back toward their homes. More than a mile away from the dam, the van was hit by a coalition airstrike, according to workers. A mechanical engineer, a technician and a Syrian Red Crescent worker were killed. The deaths were reported widely in Syrian media sources online, but because the reports got the location of the attack wrong, the U.S. military searched for strikes near the dam and determined the allegation was “noncredible.” The civilian deaths have never been officially acknowledged.”

Media activist Mhaab Nasser stated that “the director and his assistants are civilians and are not affiliated with Islamic state, as some rumors justifying the Coalition action claim.”

Euphrates Post reported that the victims died when “they tried to enter the dam for maintenance work during the truce which was announced by the militia of the SDF.” The head of the technical workshop, Ibrahim Khader, told Smart News that “the dam is now out of service, in the absence of electricity to operate turbines and discharge water.” Smart added: “One of the engineers working in the dam, Ahmed Khalaf, said the risk of collapse was still present because of the high water level.

Former workers in the Euphrates dam called for ‘urgent action to avoid a disaster caused by its collapse, based on photographs and information obtained showing the damage of some of the technical units operating the dam.’”

The Shaam News Network added that following the strike, IS used loud speakers to warn civilians of the imminent collapse of the dam, advising them to leave the city temporarily.

In a press conference on March 28, 2017, the commander of the U.S. offensive at the time, then-Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said in a statement that “The Tabqa Dam is not a coalition target and when strikes occur on military targets, at or near the dam, we use non-cratering munitions to avoid unnecessary damage to the facility. The coalition seeks to preserve the integrity of the dam because it’s a vital resource for the people of Syria.” However, the New York Times reported that “members of a top secret U.S. Special Operations unit called Task Force 9 had struck the dam using some of the largest conventional bombs in the U.S. arsenal, including at least one BLU-109 bunker-buster bomb designed to destroy thick concrete structures, according to two former senior officials.”

In response to the New York Times reporting, US Central Command “acknowledged dropping three 2,000-pound bombs, but denied targeting the dam or sidestepping procedures. A spokesman said that the bombs hit only the towers attached to the dam, not the dam itself, and while top leaders had not been notified beforehand, limited strikes on the towers had been preapproved by the command. “Analysis had confirmed that strikes on the towers attached to the dam were not considered likely to cause structural damage to the Tabqa Dam itself,” Capt. Bill Urban, the chief spokesman for the command, said in the statement. Noting that the dam did not collapse, he added, “That analysis has proved accurate.”

The Coalition conducted and released a “CIVCAS Allegation Closure Report” in February 2018 that provided the assessment that “on 26 March 2017 at (redacted) was passed a 9- line with three targets. (redacted) on terrain denial targets (redacted) was assessed as a guidance kit failure. Commander’s intent was not met, and a re- attack was called. (redacted) dropped (redacted) and commander’s intent was met. Between (redacted), (redacted) a 9-line and dropped (redacted) on a terrain denial target Commander’s intent was met.” This indicates that multiple strikes were carried but it is unclear on which date. The overall conclusion was that “it is more likely than not that no CIVCAS occurred as a result of the strike. No personnel movement was observed before or after the strike. No damage to the dam was visible. All reasonably available evidence was thoroughly assessed, and the strike complied with LOAC and was authorized under the relevant ROE.”

The local time of the incident is unknown.

  • Ahmed Hussein Adult male killed
  • Hasan Al Khalaf Adult male Ahmed Hussein's technical assistant killed
  • Firas al-Hussein Adult male “a former employee of the Red Crescent in the city”. killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    3
  • (3 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US-led Coalition

Sources (22) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (19) [ collapse]

  • Ahmed Hussein, killed in an alleged Coalition strike on the Euphrates Dam, March 27th 2017. (via RBSS)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Ahmed Hussein, killed in an alleged Coalition strike on the Euphrates Dam, March 27th 2017. (via RBSS)
  • Firas Al-Hussein, killed in an alleged Coalition raid on the Euphrates Dam, March 27th 2017. (via RBSS)
  • Diagram showing locations of damage to the Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • Diagram showing locations of damage to the Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • Diagram showing locations of damage to the Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • Diagram showing locations of damage to the Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • The Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • The Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • Diagram showing locations of damage to the Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • Diagram showing locations of damage to the Euphrates Dam following an alleged Coalition raid, March 27th 2017. (via Hashtag Syria)
  • Alleged engineers entering the Dam. (via RBSS)
  • Hassan al Khalaf, killed in an alleged Coalition strike on the Euphrates Dam, March 27th 2017. (via RBSS)
  • An image published by the Islamic State’s news agency on the day of the bombing in 2017. Credit...Aamaq News Agency, via Associated Press
  • The Tabqa Dam in 2018. Civilian no-strike sites were used as weapons depots, command centers, and fighting positions by the Islamic State.Credit...Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
  • A coalition missile penetrated five stories of the dam’s north tower. Two missiles on the southern tower penetrated three floors down.Credit...Azmat Khan/The New York Times
  • A worker in the dam’s turbine hall a year after the bombing.Credit...Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
  • An image published by the Islamic State’s news agency the day of the bombing.Credit...Aamaq News Agency, via Associated Press
  • The control room of the Tabqa Dam.Credit...Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
CJTF–OIR Declassified Assessment and Press Release

Attached to this civilian harm incident is the Pentagon's declassified assessment of this civilian harm allegation, obtained by Azmat Khan and the New York Times through Freedom of Information requests and lawsuits filed since March 2017, alongside the corresponding press release published by the Pentagon. Airwars is currently analysing the contents of each file, and will update our own assessments accordingly.

Declassified Assessment Press Release

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Non credible / Unsubstantiated
    Insufficient information to assess that, more likely than not, a Coalition strike resulted in civilian casualties.
  • Reason for non-credible assessment
    Insufficient evidence of civilian harm
  • Civilian deaths conceded
    None
  • Civilian injuries conceded
    None
  • Stated location
    near Euphrates Dam, Syria
    Nearest population center
  • Location accuracy
    100 m
  • MGRS coordinate
    37SDV602682
    Military Grid Reference System

Civilian casualty statements

US-led Coalition
  • Mar 28, 2018
  • After a review of available information and strike video it was assessed that there is insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.

Original strike reports

US-led Coalition

For March 27th-28th: “Near Ar Raqqa, five strikes engaged two ISIS tactical units; and destroyed eight barges, a vehicle, a front-end loader, and a truck and trailer” and “Near Tabqah, five strikes engaged two ISIS tactical units; and destroyed a front-end loader and a vehicle.”

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    3
  • (3 men)
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Known attacker
    US-led Coalition

Sources (22) [ collapse]