Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

TI063

Incident date

July 7, 2021

Location

قرية هرور, Harur Village, Duhok, Iraq

Airwars assessment

Between one and two civilians were injured in alleged Turkish airstrikes on the village of Harur on July 7, 2021.

A security source told Shafaq News Agency, “Turkish warplanes bombed the vicinity of Harour village in Kani Masi district in Al-Amadiyah district in Dohuk governorate. The aerial bombardment resulted in the injury of a citizen and cut off the electricity in the village of Harour.”

Kurdistan Today reported that “A number of people were seriously injured, while the electrical power was cut off, as a result of the bombing of the Turkish warplanes” but did not specify how many people were injured.

Sabah Arabi added that “the village that was subjected to the Turkish bombardment is surrounded by pastures and farms owned by the residents of that district.”

All of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the airstrikes to Turkey.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–2
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Turkish Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Turkish Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–2
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Published

July 1, 2021

Written by

Airwars Staff

Coalition of civil society organisations issues joint recommendations to Defence Minister, for improvements to Dutch policy on transparency and civilian harm mitigation

Airwars and our Dutch partners, who are involved in ongoing discussions with the Dutch military on practicable improvements in the protection of civilians, have published a Joint Statement outlining the progress so far, and our collective hopes and expectations moving forward.

In October 2019, it was revealed that the Dutch military had been responsible for a 2015 airstrike in Iraq on an ISIS IED factory, leading to the deaths of at least 70 civilians and hundreds more being injured. The Government had then withheld that fact from the public for more than four years.

As PAX and Airwars later noted in our joint report, Seeing Through The Rubble,  estimates are that the secondary explosions triggered by the Dutch airstrike damaged between 400 and 500 buildings in the area, including many shops, homes and schools. Sources also reported that the airstrike caused major damage to crucial infrastructure, including roads and water pipelines. Six different sources, including Hawijah’s mayor, were interviewed for the report on the recent state of the city after the devastating Dutch airstrike.

As a result of the national scandal and numerous Parliamentary debates on the issue, in June 2020 the Dutch Minister of Defence, Ank Bijleveld, promised to Parliament improvements towards transparency and accountability regarding civilian harm as a result of Dutch military actions. Coupled with other steps taken in the months after the Hawijah scandal, the Netherlands appeared to be shedding its reputation as one of the least transparent members of the international Coalition fighting so-called Islamic State.

One measure adopted by Defensie had recently been proposed by Airwars, Amnesty Netherlands, the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), Open State Foundation, PAX and the Utrecht University Intimacies of Remote Warfare Program. This called for a “Roadmap for the Ministry of Defence to review the way in which the Netherlands deals with, reports on, evaluates and accounts for civilian harm as a consequence of Dutch military efforts”.

The starting session of the Roadmap Process took place virtually on November 12th 2020, attended by senior Dutch defence officials, including the Deputy Chief of Defence Lt General Onno. In 2021, a consortium of civil society organisations then participated in four interactive sessions with the MoD. The key objective of these sessions was to share joint perspectives and expertise on how to enhance military transparency and accountability, while also creating conditions for a stronger integration of civilian harm evaluation and mitigation approaches into Dutch military deployments.

MoD staff have committed to using the outcomes of these sessions to inform policy recommendations to be presented to the Minister of Defence. The recommendations centred around improving transparency, as well as aiming to improve broader Dutch policy and practice in order to achieve better protection of civilians in future military deployments generally.

The civil society consortium has welcomed the open manner in which Defensie has engaged during the “Roadmap“ process, and has now issued a joint statement laying out our own thoughts on the way forward for the Dutch Ministry of Defence. The statement includes recommendations to the Minister of Defence for improvements to Dutch policy on transparency and civilian harm mitigation when engaging in military missions.

Read the statement in full here

Incident Code

TI062

Incident date

June 13, 2021

Location

قلعة دزة, Qalaat Diza, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

Airwars assessment

At least four people were killed in alleged Turkish airstrikes on Qalaat Diza on June 13, 2021. While the majority of sources refer to those killed as civilians, Turkish sources allege they five members of the PKK were killed.

According to North Press Agency “four civilians, at least, lost their lives due to Turkish air strike of a civilian vehicle. The civilian vehicle that the Turkish warplanes targeted was a Toyota carrying four people, whose identities are unknown yet. He pointed out that the area that was targeted, at exactly 13:30 on Sunday afternoon, is a civilian-populated area. It is near Helsho District, and it is not a military area. ”

Mawazin News also referred to those killed as civilians, stating that “a civilian car carrying four Iraqi Kurds” was bombed.

Sulaymaniyah Eye reported the name of one of those killed as Abu Bakr Tawfiq. Kurdistan News Now added that he got married 9 days prior to when he was killed.

Rudaw media quoted that Turkish media outlets circulated that the bombing “leaded five people to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who were inside the car” but stated that the identities of those killed were not known.

A tweet from @metesohtaoglu, a Turkish journalist, also alleges that those killed were militants, added that “a destroyed PKK/HPG terror group vehicle is seen after it was targeted in a Turkish drone strike in Sulaimani’s Pishdar area on Sunday. 5 militants killed”.

All of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the strikes to Turkey.

The incident occured at 1:30 pm local time.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 4
  • (0–1 men)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–5

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (2) [ collapse]

  • Caption translation: Turkish warplanes bombed areas in Qalaat Diza, killing four civilians The picture below is of the martyr Abu Bakr Tawfiq, one of the martyrs of today's bombing. (Image posted by Sulaymaniyah Eye)
  • #Iraq- A destroyed PKK/HPG terror group vehicle is seen after it was targeted in a Turkish drone strike in Sulaimani's Pishdar area on Sunday. 5 militants killed #KRG (Image posted by @metesohtaoglu)

Turkish Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Turkish Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 4
  • (0–1 men)
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–5

Sources (6) [ collapse]

Incident Code

TI061

Incident date

June 5, 2021

Location

مخمور, Makhmour Refugee Camp, Erbil, Iraq

Geolocation

35.755637, 43.603063 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Neighbourhood/area

Airwars assessment

At least three people were killed and up to five others were injured in an alleged Turkish drone strike on Makhmour Refugee Camp south of Erbil in Kurdistan, Iraq. The Turkish government and their sources refer to those killed as members of the PKK while local and international sources refer to those killed and wounded as civilians.

The official of the National Union in Makhmour, Rashad Kalali, told Baghdad Today, “Turkish warplanes bombed Makhmour camp, located minutes ago, in the south of the district. The bombing targeted gardens for children inside the camp, which led to 3 casualties and 4 injuries,” explaining that “the camp is for Turkish refugees who have lived in it since 1997.”

A member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Gazi Kakai, also told Mangish “Turkish bombing targeted a refugee camp, specifically a park for children’s games, killing 3 and wounding 5 others” and “those who are inside the camp have nothing to do with the [Kurdistan Workers Party] PKK, and they have been in Makhmour since 1997 in accordance with the Refugee Protection Convention.”

The Kurdistan Party has referred to those killed as “civilians” and Deutsche Welle reported that “three civilians were killed and two more injured on Saturday in a Turkish missile attack on a refugee camp in northern Iraq.”

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas Greenfield tweeted that “I made clear to Turkish officials that any attack targeting civilians at Makhmour refugee camp would be a violation of international and humanitarian law.”

A few days prior to the incident, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had threatened to “clean up” Makhmour camp because it was being used as a base for the PKK.

According to Reuters, “Erdogan said that Selman Bozkir, who he said was a senior PKK official and manager of the Makhmour camp, had been “neutralised” – a term Turkish authorities use for targets who have been killed or wounded.” In addition, “an Iraqi security official said PKK officials at the camp had prevented police from entering the camp after the air strike, and declined to share details of the casualties.”

Daily Sabbah, a Turkish pro-government source, also added that “the PKK terrorist group’s so-called Makhmour regional leader in northern Iraq code-named “Doctor Hüseyin” was eliminated” and ” two more terrorists were neutralized in the operation,” referring to Makhmour as “portrayed as a refugee camp but actually serving as a recruitment and training area for the PKK.”

Kurdistan 24 reported “A security source who asked not to be named told Kurdistan 24 that the Turkish drone also struck a PKK outpost near the camp. “The Turkish drone targeted a headquarters of PKK militants located in the vicinity of the refugee camp,” they said, killing and wounding several PKK members.”

All of the sources that reported on the incident confirm that Turkey was responsible and the Turkish president took credit for the operation on Twitter, thanking his security forces for a successful operation and naming Selman Bozkir as being killed.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 3
  • Civilians reported injured
    2–5
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Known attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Other
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–3

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (5) [ collapse]

  • Caption translation: The official of the National Union in Makhmour, Rashad Kalali, told (Baghdad Today), "Turkish warplanes bombed Makhmour camp, located minutes ago, in the south of the district." Kalali added, "The bombing targeted gardens for children inside the camp, which led to 3 casualties and 4 injuries," explaining that "the camp is for Turkish refugees who have lived in it since 1997." (Images from Baghdad Today)
  • Caption translation: The official of the National Union in Makhmour, Rashad Kalali, told (Baghdad Today), "Turkish warplanes bombed Makhmour camp, located minutes ago, in the south of the district." Kalali added, "The bombing targeted gardens for children inside the camp, which led to 3 casualties and 4 injuries," explaining that "the camp is for Turkish refugees who have lived in it since 1997." (Images from Baghdad Today)
  • Caption translation: The official of the National Union in Makhmour, Rashad Kalali, told (Baghdad Today), "Turkish warplanes bombed Makhmour camp, located minutes ago, in the south of the district." Kalali added, "The bombing targeted gardens for children inside the camp, which led to 3 casualties and 4 injuries," explaining that "the camp is for Turkish refugees who have lived in it since 1997." (Images from Baghdad Today)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention a children’s playing ground within the Makhmour Refugee Camp (مخمور), for which the generic coordinates are: 35.755637, 43.603063. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further.

Turkish Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Turkish Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Original strike reports

Turkish Armed Forces

Here I want to give good news to our nation.

Selman Bozkır, code-named "Doctor Hüseyin", the senior manager of the terrorist organization PKK and the general manager of Mahmur, was neutralized by the heroes of our National Intelligence Organization yesterday.

On behalf of my nation, I would like to thank all my friends who contributed to this successful operation.

We will not allow the treacherous and separatist organization to use Mahmur as an "incubation center" for terrorism, and we will continue to dry terrorism at its source.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    0 – 3
  • Civilians reported injured
    2–5
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Contested
    Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
  • Known attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Suspected target
    Other
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–3

Sources (18) [ collapse]

Published

June 2, 2021

Written by

Airwars Staff

Conservative public tallies of civilians killed by US during 2020 are almost five times higher than DoD admits

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on civilian deaths and injuries resulting from US military actions around the world has declared more than 100 recent casualties. Researchers and human rights groups, including Airwars, Amnesty International and UN monitors in Afghanistan, place the actual toll significantly higher.

For 2020 alone, the Department of Defence said that its forces had killed 23 civilians and injured a further 10 in Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq. An additional 63 historical deaths and 22 injuries were reported for the years 2017-2019, mostly in Syria and Yemen.

By contrast, the minimum public estimate of civilian deaths caused by US forces during 2020 across five conflict nations was 102 fatalities – almost five times higher than DoD admits.

Casualties from US actions in Afghanistan in particular appear to have been officially undercounted. While the Pentagon reports only 20 deaths and 5 injuries from its own actions last year, UNAMA – the respected UN agency in Afghanistan – says that international forces killed at least 89 civilians and injured a further 31. United States personnel made up the great majority of those foreign forces.

For Somalia, DoD declares only one civilian death from US actions last year – while Airwars and others suggest a minimum civilian toll of seven killed.

And for Iraq and Syria, while US forces declare only one death, local reporting indicates at least six civilians killed by US actions.

Only for Yemen is there agreement, with monitoring organisations and the DoD both indicating that there were no likely civilian deaths caused by US actions during the year.

Major decline in US actions

The 21-page Pentagon document, quietly released May 28th and entitled ‘Annual Report on Civilian Casualties In Connection With United States Military Operations in 2020,’ has been a requirement of US law since 2018.

The latest report captures the very significant fall in tempo of US military actions during the latter years of Donald Trump’s presidency. According to Airwars estimates, there were around 1,000 US strikes across four conflict countries during 2020 – down from approximately 3,500 strikes the previous year and a peak of 13,000 such US actions during 2016. Declared civilian deaths fell from 132 to 23 from 2019 to 2020.

The majority of civilian deaths declared by the Pentagon during 2020 were in Afghanistan – despite a major ceasefire between US forces and the Taliban for much of the year. According to the new DoD report, 20 civilians were killed and five injured in seven US actions, primarily airstrikes.

The seven civilian casualty events conceded in Afghanistan by the Pentagon for 2020

However the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) which has been recording extensive data on civilian harm from all parties to the fighting since 2009, placed the toll far higher. According to its own annual report for 2020 published earlier this year, “UNAMA attributed 120 civilian casualties (89 killed and 31 injured) to international military forces”.

While these casualties represented just one per cent of the overall reported civilian toll in Afghanistan for the year – with most civilians killed by the Taliban and Afghan forces – of concern was DoD’s major undercounting of its own impact on civilians – with UNAMA logging four and a half times more deaths primarily from US actions than those officially conceded by the Pentagon.

Reported civilian casualties from US actions against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria have remained low since the terror group’s defeat as a territorial entity in mid 2019. According to the Pentagon, just one civilian was killed by an action in Iraq, after US forces targeted Iranian linked militias at Karbala airport on March 13th 2020. Twenty three year old security guard Karrar Sabbar was killed in that US attack. However the additional reported deaths of two civilian policemen in the attack are not acknowledged by the US.

In Syria, Airwars estimates three to six likely civilian deaths from US actions during 2020, mainly during counterterrorism raids against ISIS remnants. None of these were conceded either.

In Somalia, between 7 and 13 civilians were likely killed by US actions during the year, according to Airwars monitoring of local communities. The US military itself concedes five injuries and one death, in two events in early 2020 near Jilib.

Only for Yemen did human rights organisations and DoD appear to agree, with both reporting no likely civilian deaths from US actions during the year.

US forces in Somalia killed one civilian and injured five others during 2020, according to official estimates

Public transparency

Despite continuing disparities between public and military estimates of civilian harm, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress still represents a significant transparency breakthrough. Close ally France, for example, has refused to declare a single civilian fatality from almost seven years of air and artillery strikes in Iraq and Syria – and recently lashed out at the United Nations after a French airstrike struck a wedding party in Mali.

Later this year the Pentagon will also issue a major overhaul of its civilian casualty mitigation policies, which it has been reviewing in consultation with human rights organisations for several years. On May 25th, new Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr Colin Kahl confirmed in writing to NGOs that the new policy – known as a Department of Defense Instruction, or DoD-I – would be published by the Biden administration.

“We welcome the Pentagon’s publication to Congress of its latest annual civilian harm report, as well as confirmation that the DOD-I on civilian casualty mitigation will be published by the new administration,” noted Airwars director Chris Woods. “We remain concerned however that DoD estimates of civilian harm once again fall well below credible public estimates, and call on officials to review why such undercounts remain so common. Civilians surely deserve better.”

▲ Aftermath of a deadly US airstrike on Karbala Airport on March 13th, 2020 which the Pentagon admits killed a civilian.

Incident Code

TI060

Incident date

June 1, 2021

Location

كاني ماسي, Amedi, Kani Masi, Syria

Airwars assessment

A least one civilian, an elderly man, was injured in alleged Turkish strikes on Kani Masi on June 1, 2021.

A report from the Christian Peacemaker Teams identified “on June 1, when Turkish forces fired artillery at Ramazan Ali, a 70 year old farmer, injuring him as he was irrigating his fields in Hirure”.

The mayor of Kani Masi sub-district told Zhyan News Network that “Ali was caught in a Turkish bombardment while irrigating his farm and transferred to Begufa Hospital in Duhok’s Batifa sub-district”.

The victim of the bombing, Ramazan Ali, told Rudaw he was “thrown” off of his feet when bombs hit around 3km from the village of Hrure. “I knew I was injured. I walked slowly from here back to the village, [but] no one was there,” he said while receiving treatment for his injuries.

Rudaw reported that “Witness Haji Hassan said that Ali was hit while working in his vineyard late this morning when the shelling took place. The doctor treating Ali said that he was hit by shrapnel but is in a good condition, and will be sent to Zakho hospital for further treatment.”

Mustafa Ahmed, another resident of the district, told: “Today, the Turkish forces hit the cannons on the village of Harour, which resulted in the wounding of a farmer who was watering his orchards in the village of Harour. He was more than 70 years old, the citizen Ramadan Ali from the village of Harour, and he was wounded. 20 shrapnel from the Turkish artillery shelling.

All of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the strikes to Turkey.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (5) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (3) [ collapse]

  • Ramazan Ali was hospitalized after sustaining injuries from Turkey’s artillery shelling on June 1, 2021. (Image posted by Christian Peacemaker Teams)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    Ramazan Ali was hospitalized after sustaining injuries from Turkey’s artillery shelling on June 1, 2021. (Image posted by Zhyan News Network)
  • Ramazan Ali being treated after sustaining injuries from Turkey’s artillery shelling on June 1, 2021. (Image posted by Rudaw News)

Turkish Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Turkish Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    1
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (5) [ collapse]

Incident Code

TI059

Incident date

May 26, 2021

Location

بهيري, Behri, Dohuk, Iraq

Geolocation

37.240802, 42.824356 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Nearby landmark level. Continue to map

Geolocation accuracy

Nearby landmark

Airwars assessment

At least two civilians were injured in alleged Turkish airstrikes on the village of Behri in the Zakho District at 2:30am on May 26th, 2021.

Kurdistan24 reported that two brothers were wounded “as a result of repeated Turkish artillery shelling”. Asharq News also reported that two people were injured, adding that they were both sheep herders and were severely injured.

Roj News identified the names of the civilians: “two shepherds came from the Shengal area, Hassan Mohsen and Ali Mohsen, while they were transferred to a hospital in Dohuk. The condition of one of them is critical.”

According to a report by Christian Peacemaker Teams, “at 2:30 in the morning, the Turkish military shelled Bhere village, west of Kesta mountain in Darkar sub-district, Zakho district.The flying shrapnel wounded two brothers: Ali Muhsin, 16 years old, and Hasan Muhsin, 20 years old. Both of whom were guarding a flock of a thousand sheep and sleeping at the time of the attack.”

Basnews provided information that the village that was bombed was a stronghold of PKK militants and that “the two brothers, Hassan and Ali Mohsen Al-Masban, [are] from a displaced family from Shengal, work as shepherds in the area for a monthly wage. One of them told the (Basnews) reporter that they were asleep at the time of the bombing.”

All of the sources attributed the strikes to Turkey.

The incident occured at 2:30 am local time.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • Caption translation: a Turkish bombardment hit the village of Bhairi in the sub-district early in the morning Today, Wednesday, two brothers were injured. (Image posted by basnews)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the village of Behri (بهيري), allegedly located within the Zakho (زاخو) district. Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. According to research, there is a Behri Cave (كهف بهيري) located within this area, which could be in the vicinity of the village. The generic coordinates for Behri Cave are: 37.240802, 42.824356.

Turkish Armed Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    Turkish Armed Forces
  • Turkish Armed Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike and/or Artillery
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Civilians reported injured
    2
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    Turkish Armed Forces

Sources (7) [ collapse]

Published

May 25, 2021

The research, based on a decade of work by Action on Armed Violence, strengthens calls for restrictions on explosive weapons

Nine out of ten people killed and injured by explosive weapons in cities are civilians, a new report has found, in stark findings likely to increase pressure on governments to curb the use of explosive weapons in urban areas.

In total the Action On Armed Violence (AOAV) report, which surveyed explosive violence across the globe over a ten-year period, found that 91 percent of those killed and injured when explosive weapons were used in cities were civilians. In other, less densely populated areas, the rate fell to 25 percent.

“The evidence is absolutely clear and unequivocal,” Iain Overton, the executive director of AOAV, said. “When explosive weapons are used in towns and cities, civilians will be harmed. (That is) as true as it is today in Gaza as it was a decade ago in Iraq and beyond.”

The report tracked 238,892 civilians killed and injured by explosive weapons over the past decade in 123 countries and territories, using open-source monitoring of English-language media.

It found that improvised explosive devices were responsible for more than half of all civilian casualties, while airstrikes and other aerial assaults were responsible for 23 percent and ground-launched explosive weapons 21 percent.

 

The most deadly single incident occurred in Somalia in October 2017, when more than 500 people were killed in twin bomb blasts in the capital Mogadishu. The Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab was believed to be behind those explosions.

The most deadly air strike came in 2016 when the Saudi Arabian-led coalition struck a funeral procession in Yemen, killing nearly 140 people and wounding a further 600.

Reducing civilian harm

Overton argued the report would strengthen efforts to restrict the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

Ireland has spearheaded efforts in recent years for action on EWIPA, releasing a draft document earlier this year. It stresses that even when militaries try to limit the impact of their strikes in urban areas, the closely populated nature of cities makes civilian harm inevitable.

Belgium last month became the first country to adopt a resolution against the use of EWIPA after a vote by the federal parliament’s National Defense Commission.

In October Airwars, together with Dutch organisation PAX, released a joint report examining the dire and long-lasting effects of explosive weapons on civilian populations in urban areas in recent international military campaigns in Mosul, Raqqa and Hawijah. The report was launched in a virtual event by Ambassador Michael Gaffey of Ireland.

Beyond the civilians directly harmed, military campaigns can leave the infrastructure of cities devastated for years.

 

During the 2016-17 campaign by the US-led coalition to remove the so-called Islamic State from Mosul an estimated 9,000 civilians were killed, while up to 80 percent of buildings in the centre of the city were destroyed.

In June 2019, the UN International Organisation for Migration reported that entire neighbourhoods of Mosul had yet to be rebuilt and that a lack of essential services and poor sanitation were still threatening public health. Additionally, unexploded bombs, missiles, rockets and shells prevented civilians from returning to the city.

“The negotiation of the political declaration (on EWIPA) is an opportunity to set new standards against the use of heavy explosive weapons in towns and cities, to better protect civilians and vital civilian infrastructure located in cities,” said Laura Boillot, Coordinator of the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

The AOAV report also found a decrease in civilian harm in 2020, a trend also noted by Airwars’s recent annual report. Factors that explain this include significant breakthroughs in conflicts in Libya and Syria, as well as the knock-on implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

▲ Raqqa has been described by the United Nations as the most destroyed city in Syria (Image courtesy of Amnesty International)