CENTCOM for February 1, 2023 – February 28, 2023
March 3, 2023
Release Number 20230303-01
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TAMPA, Fla. – During the month of February 2023, U.S. Central Command, along with coalition and other partners, conducted a total of 48 D-ISIS operations, resulting in 22 ISIS operatives killed and 25 detained. These operations showcase our enduring commitment to the lasting defeat of ISIS and the continued need for targeted military efforts to prevent ISIS members from conducting attacks and regaining a foothold. Without continued counterterrorism pressure, ISIS efforts to recruit and reconstitute would regain momentum, and the group would reconstitute its ability to plot attacks against the region, our allies, and American interests abroad. We remain focused on building local partner forces’ capabilities to prevent ISIS resurgence.
The following is a breakdown of D-ISIS operations for February 2023 by country:
33 partnered operations
15 partnered operations
0 US-only operations
2 US-only operations
17 ISIS operatives killed
5 ISIS operatives killed
14 ISIS operatives detained
11 ISIS operatives detained
In Iraq, CENTCOM troops advise, assist, and enable Iraqi Security Forces, including the Kurdish Peshmerga, who lead our shared fight against ISIS in Iraq.
In Syria, CENTCOM relies heavily on local forces, including the Syrian Democratic Forces, to put pressure on ISIS in Syria.
These operations were conducted under the authority of the CENTCOM commander who retains authority for operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and under the command of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.
Four U.S. troops and one working dog were injured in these operations. All four troops and the working dog are recovering from their injuries. No U.S. troops were killed in these operations.
“We are focused on ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, CENTCOM commander. “We continue to work with our partners to take the fight to ISIS in both countries.”
“We commend the competence, professionalism, and dedication of our Iraqi Security Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces partners,” Kurilla continued. “The fight against ISIS continues. While we have significantly degraded the group’s capability, it retains the ability to direct, inspire, organize, and lead attacks in the region and abroad. Further, the group’s vile ideology remains uncontained and unconstrained.”
In the first week of each month, CENTCOM will publish an accounting of operations against ISIS from the previous month.
In the second year of President Joe Biden’s administration, the number of US airstrikes fell to an historic low as some military engagements appeared to take a different form — with the redeployment of US forces to Somalia and a shift towards targeted raids on Islamic State figures in Syria.
The overall number of declared US airstrikes across all monitored military theatres fell from 441 in 2021 to a minimum of 36 in 2022 – mostly due to the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan. This is the lowest number of strikes the US has declared annually since the 9/11 terrorist atrocities in 2001 and subsequent launch of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.
This drastic drop was also indicative of another shift – while airstrikes seemed to occur with less frequency in all military theatres except Somalia, the number of more loosely defined military operations increased in some, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
2022 saw intense focus on US civilian harm policy – with the launch of the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHM-RAP). The proposals are supposed to reduce the number of civilians killed in future conflicts and improve the civilian harm review process. It came after years of work organisations like Airwars and journalists documenting how the US military’s process for assessing, reviewing and investigating civilian harm was unfit for purpose.
During the year the Biden Administration also altered US policy on engaging militants outside of recognised conflicts by issuing a Presidential Policy Memorandum to Congress – but not to the public. Airwars joined over 50 civil society organisations in calling on the White House to release the new lethal force policy.
Iraq and Syria
There was a noticeable shift in the kind of operations the US carried out in Iraq and Syria in 2022, and this was reflected in changing language from CENTCOM – the military command responsible for the Middle East and Afghanistan.
In Iraq, the US officially ended its combat role at the end of 2021 – formally transitioning to advising, assisting and enabling the Iraqi Security Forces. However, there are still around 2,500 US troops in the country and it remains unclear what the exact definition and limits of ‘assistance’ entails.
In Syria, the US has yet to make an equivalent official declaration – partly as its estimated 900 troops in the country are there without the support of the Damascus regime. However the pattern of behaviour is similar to Iraq – with most activities in partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), primarily in the north and east of the country.
Based on official reporting, Airwars estimates that the US conducted a minimum of 20 airstrikes in Syria in 2022. This is by far the lowest figure since 2014, when the US-led Coalition against the Islamic State was formed.
CENTCOM’s end of year review stated that US forces carried out a total of 313 operations in Iraq and Syria during 2022, with 686 militants allegedly killed. In Iraq, US forces conducted 191 partnered operations, with at least 220 operatives killed and 159 ISIS operatives detained. In Syria, they conducted 108 partnered operations and 14 unilateral operations – with 466 ISIS operatives killed and 215 detained. CENTCOM does not define what an ‘operation’ is – making it difficult to understand the discrepancy between these figures and those in press releases throughout the year.
The 2022 report by CENTCOM also doesn’t mention civilian casualties. However, Airwars recorded 13 incidents where harm to civilians allegedly occurred from the actions of the US-led Coalition.
In 10 of these incidents, the Coalition was reported as the only belligerent responsible. In those incidents between seven and 13 civilians were reported killed. In the other three incidents, it was unclear from local sources whether the civilian harm was caused by the US-led Coalition, their SDF allies or ISIS militants. In total these incidents could account for up to 15 additional deaths, excluding the casualty toll of a complex ISIS prison breakout that began on January 20th.
That incident was the largest reported US action during the year and came as ISIS militants led a daring raid at al-Sinaa prison, a detention facility where thousands of alleged former fighters were detained. CENTCOM provided aerial and ground-based support and carried out airstrikes throughout the ten days of battle. A year on, limited definitive information exists as to how many civilians and militants were killed by the different military forces and militants involved. The exact number of US strikes conducted also remains unclear – with the US-led Coalition referring only to a “series of strikes.” Airwars monitored a minimum of 13 strikes during ten days of fighting though this is likely an underestimate, with other monitoring organisations estimating the figure to be several dozen. A joint Airwars and VICE News investigation examined the failures that led up to the prison break.
In early February 2022, US Special Operations Forces conducted a raid that resulted in the death of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, as well as his wife and children – with up to thirteen civilians killed, including six children and four women. Local reporting was conflicted as to whether the civilian casualties were caused by US forces or by Qurayshi detonating a suicide device.
Airwars also tracked an incident where a civilian was reportedly killed when he was run over by a vehicle allegedly belonging to the Coalition on November 14, 2022 in Deir Ezzor, Syria.
It is unclear whether the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria, known as Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), is still actively assessing civilian harm allegations. OIR last released a civilian casualty report in March 2022, which indicated that it still had 37 reports of civilian casualties still under review.
US direct involvement in Somalia increased in 2022.
US troops were officially withdrawn from the country in January 2021; shortly before President Biden assumed power. Between then and May 2022, rotating groups of American special operations units provided training and assistance to Somali and African Union forces. The then head of AFRICOM – the US military command for Africa – General Stephen Townsend, complained this structure was “not effective.”
In May 2022, Biden approved a plan to deploy several hundred ground forces to the country.
On August 9th 2022, a new head of AFRICOM – General Michael Langley – was instated, while the new Somali administration has requested the US loosen its restrictions on drone strikes.
US strikes have since increased – in total AFRICOM declared 15 strikes in Somalia in 2022, up from 11 in 2021. Airwars tracked a further five strikes that local sources attributed to US forces but were not declared by AFRICOM.
In the 15 declared strikes, AFRICOM claimed 107 alleged al-Shabaab militants were killed, while local reporting or statements by the Somali government put casualties significantly higher. To date it has released only two quarterly civilian casualty assessments which referenced strikes in 2022 (covering the period from January 1-June 30), but did not acknowledge any civilian harm was caused by its actions.
Airwars tracked two allegations of civilian harm in 2022 where local sources pointed to US forces’ involvement. One of these occurred on September 9, when up to ten civilians were reportedly killed in an airstrike south of the capital Mogadishu. The Somali government initially released a statement acknowledging the strike but other sources pointed out that the attack allegedly involved a drone – a capability Somali forces were not believed to have until their recent reported acquisition of Turkish Bayraktar drones. To date no belligerent has accepted responsibility.
Less than a month later, the US declared an airstrike on an al-Shabaab leader, Abudullahi Yare. Local sources alleged that Ibrahim Hassan Dahir was also killed – some referred to him as a civilian and a farmer, while others said that he was the son of a former extremist leader who is under house arrest.
Information gathered from areas under the control of the militant group al-Shabaab is notoriously limited, making determinations of civilian status in Somalia a significant challenge. Multiple sources have called into question the status of those that the US alleges are militants. In a recent report examining the impact of US airstrikes on Jubbaland, a part of Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab, Dutch organisation Pax and journalist Amanda Sperber explained:
“The interviews for this report do raise serious questions about the ability of the US to consistently distinguish between armed men who are not involved with Al-Shabaab, armed pastoralist community members who are forced to work for Al-Shabaab and actual Al-Shabaab fighters. Al Shabaab is thoroughly ingrained in Jubbaland society, which complicates external observations about who is and is not Al Shabaab and can thus hamper proper application of the principle of distinction.”
The US officially withdrew its support from the Saudi-backed coalition in Yemen in 2021, in one of Biden’s major first foreign policy announcements. A ceasefire came into effect in the country in April 2022, which was later extended until October.
In 2022, CENTCOM did not declare any airstrikes or operations in Yemen. Airwars tracked two incidents allegedly conducted by US forces, in which civilians were killed and injured. The first was a February 6 drone strike that killed three al-Qaeda militants but also reportedly injured and killed civilians who were nearby – though the exact number was not reported by local sources.
The second alleged strike, on November 30, reportedly targeted the home of a member of Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, causing secondary explosions which killed up to three civilians and injured up to five others.
Since 2017, Airwars has tracked a minimum of 78 deaths and 28 injuries to civilians resulting from US actions in Yemen. However, CENTCOM has only admitted to causing the deaths of 13 civilians, and injuring a further three. The CIA has carried out sporadic strikes throughout the period, but none of them have been officially recognised.
Yemeni organisations such as Mwatana for Human Rights continue to seek accountability from the Department of Defense, with questions around specific civilian casualty incidents unanswered or inadequately resolved. One victim of a 2018 drone strike, Adel al Manthari, resorted to a GoFundMe campaign in 2022 to pay for his insurance and medical bills.
Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan
When the US officially withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, Biden said he retained the right to conduct ‘over the horizon’ strikes from nearby countries. The only acknowledged US airstrike in 2022 was the July drone strike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in central Kabul. This was allegedly conducted by the CIA and did not result in any allegations of civilian casualties.
Airwars does not monitor US involvement in Afghanistan, but UNAMA – the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan– tracked civilian casualties in the country for years. Since the US withdrawal, UNAMA has stopped publishing regular updates.
There were no reports of US airstrikes in Libya or Pakistan during 2022.
Methodology note – counting US airstrikes
Iraq and Syria:
Until 2022, Airwars would review AFCENT reporting, press releases published by CJTF-OIR, and other official CENTCOM reports. No AFCENT reports were released in 2022, with only sporadic reporting from CENTCOM and CJTF-OIR throughout the year on strike reporting. To reach estimates of airstrikes in 2022, the following information methodology was applied – see table below for details:
Where plurals of ‘strikes’ were referenced, Airwars chose a minimum estimate of two airstrikes.
However, regarding the Al-Sinaa prison break in Syria, during which CJTF-OIR declared “a series of strikes,” Airwars monitoring of local sources recorded at least 13 incidents where alleged US-led Coalition strikes were reportedly conducted. These incidents allegedly occurred between January 21st and January 28th 2022. Other Syrian-focussed monitoring organisations had estimates of several dozen strikes.
When references were only made in official reporting to ‘operations’, without explicit mention to strikes conducted, no strikes were counted. Airwars local monitoring indicates that operations mainly refer to ground actions.
|Source||Date||Language used in official reporting||Country||Airwars’s estimated number of declared strikes*|
|CJTF-OIR||Jan 4 2022||“four suspects captured”||Syria||0|
|CJTF-OIR||Jan 30 2022||“Coalition forces conducted (…) a series of strikes throughout the days-long operation”||Syria||13|
|CJTF-OIR||Jun 16 2022||“counterterrorism operation”||Syria||0|
|CENTCOM||Jun 27 2022||“CENTCOM Forces conducted a kinetic strike”||Syria||1|
|CENTCOM||Jul 12 2022||“U.S. Central Command Forces conducted a UAS strike”||Syria||1|
|CENTCOM||Aug 23 2022||“U.S. military forces conducted precision airstrikes”||Syria||2|
|CENTCOM||Aug 25 2022||“CENTCOM forces struck at Iran-affiliated militants in the area with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 gunships, and M777 artillery”||Syria||3|
|CENTCOM||Dec 11 2022||“Helicopter raid”||Syria||0|
|CENTCOM||Dec 16 2022||“6 partnered operations”||Syria||0|
|CENTCOM||Dec 20 2022||“three helicopter raids” “partnered operations”||Syria||0|
|CENTCOM||Dec 29 2022||“CENTCOM conducted 313 total operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria”||Syria/Iraq||0|
|Estimated Total Strikes||20|
* according to US sources and Airwars Local Monitoring
Reporting from AFRICOM for Somalia was consistent with previous years; in 2022, exact numbers of airstrikes were released routinely throughout the year. In Yemen, CENTCOM press releases were used to monitor declared airstrikes – of which there were none in 2022. In Afghanistan, Airwars formerly monitored AFCENT reporting – the only reported strike in 2022 was released by the State Department.
It should be noted that the term ‘airstrike’ is also not used consistently across different military forces, and between military commands – see our overview on this here.
For any questions or clarifications on our methodology, please contact email@example.com.
CENTCOM for January 1, 2023 – January 31, 2023
Feb. 2, 2023
Release Number 20230202-01
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TAMPA, Fla. – During the month of January 2023 U.S. Central Command-led coalition forces and partner forces conducted 43 operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. These operations degraded ISIS and removed multiple senior ISIS militants from the battlefield, including the Emir of Raqqa and a Syrian provincial media and security operative. These successful operations are part of the mission to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.
Coalition member nations remain focused on degrading ISIS capabilities and restoring stability to the region. It is an effort that can only be accomplished by, with, and through our coalition partners.
“While our efforts have degraded ISIS, the group’s vile ideology remains uncontained and unconstrained,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM. “ISIS continues to represent a threat to not only Iraq and Syria, but to the stability and security of the region. Therefore, we must continue the fight against ISIS alongside our partners.”
The following is a summary of the D-ISIS operations for January 2023:
For the month of January 2023, the CENTCOM-led coalition conducted a total of 43 D-ISIS operations, resulting in 11 ISIS operatives killed and 227 detained.
33 partnered operations
No U.S.-only operations
29 ISIS operatives detained
9 ISIS operatives killed
10 partnered operations
No U.S.-only operations
198 ISIS operatives detained
2 ISIS operatives killed
These operations were conducted under the authority of the CENTCOM commander who retains authority for operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and under the command of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. No U.S. forces were injured or killed in these operations. Our local partners – the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces – play a critical role in this fight.
“We rely heavily on the Syrian Democratic Forces for the fight against ISIS,” Kurilla said. “Meanwhile, our Iraqi Security Forces have been aggressively taking the fight to ISIS in Iraq.”
“We commend the competence, professionalism, and dedication of our Iraqi, Syrian, and coalition partner forces,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, CJTF-OIR commander. “Their unwavering efforts maintain steady pressure on the ISIS network. The U.S. remains committed to ensuring the lasting defeat of ISIS to preserve regional security and stability.”
On the second day of each month, CENTCOM will publish an accounting of operations against ISIS from the previous month. This is the first press release in that effort.
Two children were injured when Turkish forces allegedly shot them in the village of Khalifan on January 13, 2022.
Alyaum TV reported that two children were injured while grazing cattle in the “Khalifan” area of the “Sidkan” district when Turkish forces shot them. Hawar News (quoting Roj News Agency) added that the children were shot with live bullets and Ronahi TV added that the children were taken to the hospital.
Kurdistan24 provided the names of the children as Lazim Murad Hamadamin and Bahzad Awdi Yusif, referring to them as “shepherds.” Ehsan Chalabi, Mayor of Sidekan, told Kurdistan24 that the two injured civilians were in stable condition.
All of the sources that reported on the incident attributed the shooting to the Turkish armed forces.
The local time of the incident is unknown.
Sources (5) [ collapse]
Turkish Military Assessment:
Sources (5) [ collapse]
CENTCOM for January 1, 2022 – December 29, 2022
Dec. 29, 2022
Release Number 20221229-1
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TAMPA, Fla. – Throughout 2022, US Central Command and partner forces conducted hundreds of operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These operations degraded ISIS and removed a cadre of senior leaders from the battlefield, to include the emir of ISIS and dozens of regional leaders as well as hundreds of fighters. All these operations were part of the mission to degrade the terror group’s ability to direct and inspire destabilizing attacks in the region and globally, to include against the US homeland.
During calendar year 2022, CENTCOM conducted 313 total operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria as follows:
108 partnered operations
14 US unilateral operations
215 ISIS operatives detained
466 ISIS operatives killed
191 partnered operations
159 ISIS operatives detained
At least 220 ISIS operatives killed
These operations were conducted under the authority of the CENTCOM commander, who retains authority for operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and under the command of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. No US forces were injured or killed in these operations. Our local partners—the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces—have and continue to play a critical role ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS.
One year ago this month, the US security relationship with Iraq fully transitioning to a role of advising, assisting, and enabling Iraqi Security Forces. Iraqi Security Forces are now leading successful unilateral offensive operations at the brigade level and making impressive strides in combined arms operations.
“Over the past year, Iraqi Security Forces demonstrated an ability to continue operations to degrade ISIS, to aggressively pursue the terror group in Iraq, and to improve security and stability within Iraq,” said General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, CENTCOM commander. “Today, they display a high level of competence, professionalism, and progress in leading tactical operations, but there is still much work to be done.”
“In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces continue to display the will, skill, and ability to aggressively root out ISIS leaders and fighters,” Kurilla continued.
“The emerging, reliable and steady ability of our Iraqi and Syrian partner forces to conduct unilateral operations to capture and kill ISIS leaders allows us to maintain steady pressure on the ISIS network,” said Major General Matt McFarlane, commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.
ISIS maintains malign intentions regarding the al-Hol Displacement Camp and the more than two dozen detention centers in Syria secured by the Syrian Democratic Forces. ISIS also maintains the desire to strike outside of the region and continues to work with affiliates around the globe, most significantly in Afghanistan and Africa.
“CENTCOM sees ISIS in three categories,” said Kurilla. “First, ISIS at large. This is the current generation of ISIS leaders and operatives we are currently fighting in Iraq and Syria. While we have significantly degraded its capability, the vile ideology remains unconstrained. We must continue to pressure ISIS through our partnered operations.”
“The second category is ISIS in detention. There is a literal ‘ISIS army’ in detention in Iraq and Syria. There are, today, more than 10,000 ISIS leaders and fighters in detention facilities throughout Syria and more than 20,000 ISIS leaders and fighters in detention facilities in Iraq.” The January 2022 ISIS prison breakout in Al-Hasakah, Syria is a reminder of the risk imposed by these prisons. The ensuing fight to contain the breakout resulted in more than 420 ISIS killed and more than 120 partnered forced killed.
“Finally,” Kurilla continued, “we have the potential next generation of ISIS. These are the more than 25,000 children in the al-Hol camp who are in danger. These children in the camp are prime targets for ISIS radicalization. The international community must work together to remove these children from this environment by repatriating them to their countries or communities of origin while improving conditions in the camp.”
“CENTCOM remains focused on supporting these security forces as they diligently work to improve conditions at the camp. However, the only viable long-term solution remains the successful repatriation, rehabilitation, and reintegration of the camp residents back to their country of origin.”
The mission to defeat ISIS will continue in 2023 as CENTCOM and its Coalition partners remain committed to the enduring defeat of the terror group in order to maintain and enhance global security, stability, and human rights.
“We are committed and, more importantly, our partners in Iraq and Syria are committed to the enduring defeat of ISIS,” said McFarlane.
At least one civilian was killed and up to five others were injured in alleged Turkish airstrikes/drone strikes on Mount Assos on December 2, 2022.
The mayor of Charbajar, Shaho Othman, told Kurdistan 24 that three people were wounded and three civilians were missing following Turkish airstrikes on Mount Assos. Kurdistan 24 later revised their casualty count to one person killed and two others wounded, adding that four people were hunting in the mountain and hiding in the cave of Kelashin when the strikes occurred and that one person is still missing.
Kurdistan Revolution posted on Facebook that a civilian named Aziz Muhammad Rasool who worked as a farmer was killed and two others were injured.
A tweet from @cptiraq reported that six civilians were victims of the bombing, with one civilian killed (Aziz Muhamed) and five others injured (Muhamad Kadir, Kwexa Muhamad, Zana Muhamad, Saeed Muhamad and Salih Kadir).
Roj News Agency, quoting the mayor of Mawat district Kamiran Hassan, reported that a group of civilians were collecting wild herbs in the village of Kalala when Turkish airstrikes hit. Mayor Kamiran Hassan told Rudaw News Network that one civilian was killed and one was injured from the bombing, and that the victims were from the village of Qamish. Medya News put the casualty toll at two civilians killed and three injured, adding that medial teams could not rescue them until late in the day because of fear of a second bombardment.
The majority of sources attributed the incident to Turkish forces, with Rudaw News pointing out that it was unknown whether the bombing was carried out by warplanes or drones.
The incident occured around midday.
- Aziz Muhammad Rasool Age unknown killed
- Muhamad Kadir Age unknown injured
- Kwexa Muhamad Age unknown injured
- Zana Muhamad Age unknown injured
- Saeed Muhamad Age unknown injured
- Salih Kadir Age unknown injured
Sources (10) [ collapse]
Turkish Military Assessment:
Sources (10) [ collapse]
An overview of the actions needed
On Friday November 18th, states and civil society joined together in Dublin Castle to officially endorse the long-awaited international Political Declaration on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA). So far, 82 states have signed onto the declaration; this is a similar number to the initial signatories to other international declarations that have created new norms and standards in warfare, such as the Safe Schools Declaration. Among the signatories to the EWIPA declaration are states such as the US, UK, Netherlands, and Belgium, all of which made sizable contributions to the coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria that killed an estimated 8,194–13,249 civilians.
According to Action on Armed Violence, when EWIPAs are used, over 90% of those harmed are civilians. Airwars recently put together a series of maps showing the clear and troubling connection between population density in cities and civilian deaths during urban warfare. Even beyond those who are killed immediately, the reverberating effects are often severe and pervasive, with schools, hospitals, livelihoods, and basic resources like food and water becoming inaccessible for years. This has played out in recent conflicts in cities such as Mosul and Raqqa, in which entire city parts were destroyed and have been made uninhabitable.
The Irish-led, UN backed international declaration is a groundbreaking step towards curbing the use of such weapons. It comes at the back of a decade of civil society focus and pressure on this, led by the INEW network, which Airwars is a part of. As with any political declaration, the results are only as good as the implementation. Below, we outline some of the challenges states must address as they begin the process of implementing the EWIPA declaration.
States must be frank about gaps in their current approach
The first step in understanding how to implement the declaration to limit the use of EWIPAs must be for each state to critically examine current gaps in its own approach and engage in a meaningful process to address these. This in itself might be a stumbling block for some; while states such as the US and the Netherlands have shown increasing willingness to address gaps in their approach to the protection of civilians by working with civil society and experts, others have not.
The UK for instance, still falls behind allies in terms of transparency on evidence collection around civilian harm. Under the declaration, states committed to: “Collect, share, and make publicly available disaggregated data on the direct and indirect effects on civilians and civilian objects of military operations involving the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, where feasible and appropriate”. Despite the UK representative in Dublin noting during the signing ceremony that “the UK already has policies and procedures in place to support the implementation”, this has to date not been evident when it comes to public reporting on the effects of UK military actions.
As it stands, the UK maintains that it has evidence of only a single civilian casualty from its actions in the seven year anti-ISIS campaign, for example, despite extensive military involvement. The US, by comparison, has admitted to over 1,400 civilian casualties as part of the Coalition. When challenged, UK officials tend to emphasise that they are aware that is not a case of lower civilian casualties than in previous conflicts – but of poor evidence gathering. This position was summarised by former Armed Forces Minister, Mark Lancaster, who emphasised in 2019 that; “[I]t is not our position that there has been only a single civilian casualty as a result of our military action. What we are saying is that we have evidence of only a single, or what we believe to have been a single, civilian casualty.”
In spite of this oft-repeated recognition that the evidence gathering mechanisms of the UK are not able to accurately reflect the reality on the ground, there is, to our knowledge, no process in place to improve this approach and little willingness to engage with civil society to address this. If this is not addressed, there will be a significant gap between the rhetoric of UK leadership when it comes to EWIPA and the reality on the ground.
States must build clarity on who is responsible for implementing the EWIPA declaration on a national level
The second step states must take to implement the EWIPA declaration is to gain better internal understandings of who will be involved in its implementation. This must include those focusing specifically on EWIPA, but also those focusing on topics such as human security, the protection of civilians, humanitarian response, development, diplomacy, and all the other elements required to protect those caught in conflict from being harmed by explosive weapons.The structures behind overseas military engagements are complex, quick changing, and lines of responsibility are often murky. Yet it is only if all involved in such operations, across parliament, ministries of defence, and ministries of foreign affairs and overseas development, are dedicated to limiting the use of EWIPA, understanding their impact, and tracking civilian harm that occurs if they are used, that implementation will be effective.
States must be open to civil society inclusion in the implementation of the EWIPA declaration
Civil society actors, many of us united under the INEW banner, played a significant role in the development of the EWIPA declaration and the advocacy that brought states to the process, a fact that was acknowledged by a large number of states at the conference in Dublin. We stand ready to support the implementation in national contexts and across international coalitions. Many civil society organisations have spent years – sometimes decades – developing protection mechanisms and civilian harm tracking mechanisms, as well as conducting research into valuable lessons on the impact of EWIPA. Civil society organisations are also often direct links to the communities affected. It is in all of our interests that these resources are effectively shared with those in power.
In those states where there is a history of poor transparency and accountability on civilian harm and civilian harm tracking, governments and their militaries must also commit to a certain level of transparency on the implementation of the EWIPA declaration. They should work with civil society actors to understand the gaps in their current approach and set up milestones for implementation.
The endorsing ceremony was a promising step towards recognising the immense harm that these weapons have caused in recent years – and the harm they will continue to cause as their impact reverberates through communities. If the declaration is implemented well, fewer civilians will be harmed by explosive weapons in their cities, towns, and camps.
Yet there are pitfalls each state must avoid if their implementation of the declaration is to be meaningful. They must be frank about current gaps in their system and must be willing to address them. They must gain an oversight of everyone who will play a role in the effective implementation of EWIPA. And they should work with civil society actors who have resources to share and stand ready to support implementation.
Implementation Brief: Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, CIVIC, November 2022 (here)
Safeguarding Civilians: A Humanitarian Interpretation of the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas, Human Rights watch and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law school, October 2022 (here)
Implementing the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas: Key Areas and Implementing Actions, INEW and Article 36, November 2022 (here)
Over 80 Countries Committed to Curb Use of Explosive Weapons, Now Comes the Hard Part, Bonnie Docherty, Human Rights Watch for Just Security, November 23rd 2022 (here)