Investigations

Investigations

CENTCOM for February 1, 2023 – February 28, 2023
Original
Annotated

Report Date

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:

In Iraq
In Syria
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.

Published

February 2023

Written by

Anna Zahn, Clarie Alspektor and Sanjana Varghese

Assisted by

Clive Vella and Shihab Halep

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.

Somalia

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.

Airwars Graph of US declared strikes in Somalia in 2022 by month

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.”

Yemen

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 – while estimates from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Airwars monitoring were used to identify possible or alleged strikes for previous years. See our Yemen data page for a full breakdown.

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 info@airwars.org.

Correction issued to update Yemen airstrike data in July 2023 to note the sole inclusion of ‘declared’ strikes in the overall figures for 2020. See below the original sources and extracts Airwars used to assess these 2020 strikes as declared:

    Strike on January 2-3, 2020, though CENTCOM did not confirm the strike, several major news outlets including ABC News and the Washington Post printed comments from US officials who confirmed details of the attack. Strike on January 27, 2020, extract from a White House Statement: “At the direction of President Donald J. Trump, the United States conducted a counterterrorism operation in Yemen that successfully eliminated Qasim al-Rimi”, though not reported via CENTCOM. Strike on May 13, 2020, extract from a press release by the US Department of Justice: “The evidence derived from Alshamrani’s unlocked phones has already proven useful in protecting the American people. In particular, a counterterrorism operation targeting AQAP operative Abdullah al-Maliki, one of Alshamrani’s overseas associates, was recently conducted in Yemen”, though not reported via CENTCOM.
▲ President Joe Biden in the White House Situation Room (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

CENTCOM for January 1, 2023 – January 31, 2023
Original
Annotated

Report Date

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.

In Iraq:

33 partnered operations

No U.S.-only operations

29 ISIS operatives detained

9 ISIS operatives killed

In Syria:

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.

Incident date

January 13, 2023

Incident Code

TI090

LOCATION

قرية خليفان, Khalifan village, Erbil, Iraq

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

Summary

First published
January 13, 2023
Last updated
January 17, 2023
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Ground operation
Civilian infrastructure
Agriculture
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
Unknown
Civilians reported injured
2
Cause of injury / death
Small arms and light weapons
Airwars civilian harm grading
Fair
Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
Suspected belligerent
Turkish Military
View Incident

CENTCOM for January 1, 2022 – December 29, 2022
Original
Annotated

Report Date

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:

 In Syria:

 108 partnered operations
 14 US unilateral operations
 215 ISIS operatives detained
 466 ISIS operatives killed

 In Iraq:
 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.

-30-

Incident date

December 2, 2022

Incident Code

TI089

LOCATION

جبل اسوس شارباجار, Mount Assos, Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

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

Summary

First published
December 2, 2022
Last updated
January 17, 2023
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Airstrike
Civilian infrastructure
Agriculture
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
1 – 2
Civilians reported injured
1–5
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.
Suspected belligerent
Turkish Military
Named victims
6 named
View Incident

Published

November 25, 2022

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Header Image

The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

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.

Looking forward

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.

Additional resources:

    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)
▲ The signing ceremony for the Political Declaration on the Use of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas (EWIPA) on November 18th 2022 in Dublin Castle. Over 80 state delegations such as the UK (pictured) officially endorsed the declaration.

Published

November 23, 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

Header Image

The SNP Foreign and Defense front bench launch the new policy approach, "A Scottish approach to the protection of civilians in conflict" in Westminster on November 22nd 2022 (Image via Airwars staff)

The Scottish National Party launched a protection of civilians paper on Tuesday, becoming the largest European party to have such plans. The paper was written with significant civil society input, coordinated and led by Airwars.

The newly-launched paper dictates how a future independent Scotland would conduct conflict and protect civilians before, during, and after Scottish operations.

It includes a pledge to introduce oversight of special forces, a strong focus on the importance of tracking civilian harm and being transparent about the findings, as well as a commitment to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

As SNP Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Alyn Smith MP said during the launch, “making these points isn’t just about an independent Scotland but it’s about what we can all do to get the world to a better place than where we are now. The protection of civilians needs to be higher up the agenda.”

The SNP currently controls Holyrood, the devolved Scottish parliament, and is the third largest party in the UK national parliament. It advocates for an independent Scotland and is campaigning for a fresh Scottish independence referendum in the coming years.

A small, but growing number of countries have declared civilian harm mitigation policies. In response to civil society and media pressure, the United States recently rewrote its entire policy to try and reduce the number of civilians it kills. The Netherlands is undergoing a similar process through its Roadmap Process.

Yet the UK has not kept up with allies and lacks a detailed, transparent policy on how it will mitigate harm, and respond when it does occur. With this paper, the SNP distances itself from this approach. As well as dictating how a future independent Scotland would engage in conflict, the policy also outlines the key beliefs of the SNP in regard to how the UK should fight wars. These include a firm commitment to monitoring the civilian impact of conflicts, as well as to transparency about where and when strikes are committed.

It also commits the party to a UN-backed declaration to limit the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, which disproportionately kill civilians who make up more than 90% of those killed when such weapons are used. Last week, delegates from over 80 countries, including the US and the UK, signed an agreement committing to limit their use in Dublin.

🌎Today @ChrisLawSNP, @AlynSmith & I have published a new policy paper on the protection of civilians in conflict. UN Security Council Resolution 1265 was adopted more than 20 years ago, but the failure to protect civilians in conflict is stark. The world needs a fresh approach. pic.twitter.com/HNJDxClzs8

— Stewart McDonald (@StewartMcDonald) November 22, 2022

Airwars coordinated the extensive civil society input into the policy, ensuring that each section was written – and reviewed – by experts on the respective areas covered in the paper, such as women, peace, and security, climate change and atrocity prevention.

“With the release of their paper, Scotland is joining others in setting a new standard for how to protect civilians caught in conflict,” said Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen, Policy Specialist at Airwars. “The policy is unique in the extent to which it has allowed for meaningful civil society engagement, and its focus on civilian harm tracking is a nod to the vital importance of acknowledging when harm has occurred and learning important lessons.

While the ongoing war in Ukraine has brought civilian harm to the forefront of news outlets and political debate, such harm is not new. Over the last eight years, the US-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria caused 8,197–13,252 deaths, yet contributors to the coalition have all failed to account for these. To date, the UK acknowledges only a single civilian casualty from its own contribution. With their new paper, SNP are outlining that an independent Scotland would distance itself from this approach and instead become a leader on the protection of civilians.

Read the full policy approach here.

▲ The SNP Foreign and Defense front bench launch the new policy approach, "A Scottish approach to the protection of civilians in conflict" in Westminster on November 22nd 2022 (Image via Airwars staff)

Incident date

November 14, 2022

Incident Code

IRI005

LOCATION

كويسنجق, Koya, Erbil, Iraq

At least one civilian was killed and up to 10 others were injured by alleged Iranian drone and rocket strikes in the city of Koya on November 14, 2022. Rudaw News reported that according to Koya’s mayor Tariq Haydari at 8:49am, four missiles struck the Koysanjaq district. Saman Barzinji, the Kurdistan Region’s health minister, told Rudaw

Summary

First published
November 14, 2022
Last updated
June 6, 2023
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Airstrike, Airstrike and/or Artillery, Drone Strike
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
1 – 2
Civilians reported injured
8–10
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.
Suspected belligerent
Iranian Military
Geolocation
Nearby landmark
View Incident

Published

October 27, 2022

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

Airwars and PAX release briefing for Dutch MPs ahead of Parliamentary debate, expected to cover civilian casualties from Dutch military operations and the impact of 2015 airstrike on Hawija.

In preparation for a debate in the Dutch Parliament on November 3rd, in which the Minister of Defence is expected to cover a range of topics including progress on the Roadmap process and improvements within the protection of civilians from Dutch military actions, Airwars and PAX released a briefing for Dutch MPs today.

The briefing gives an overview of Dutch efforts to improve the mitigation and response to civilian harm to date, and the challenges that are yet to be addressed to ensure that the Dutch protection framework is up to scratch. It suggests specific areas MPs should remain aware of, including continued questions on the level of transparency offered by the MOD, the importance of the Ministry of Defence maintaining clear milestones as it implements stronger PoC systems, and rehabilitation payments to Hawija, Iraq.

Click on the briefing below (note this is an informal translation from the original Dutch briefing, which you can find here):

 

▲ Hawijah, Iraq in 2021. Six years after the Dutch airstrike, parts of the town remain destroyed (Image courtesy of Roos Boer, PAX)

Incident date

October 16, 2022

Incident Code

TI088

LOCATION

برادوست, Bradost area, Erbil, Iraq

At least one civilian, a woman, was injured by alleged Turkish airstrikes or drone strikes on the Bradost area in northern Erbil province on October 16, 2022. Kurdistan 24 reported that a 30 year old woman named Sharmin Asad was injured by Turkish airstrike in the Bradost area in northern Erbil province. Ihsan Chalabi, the

Summary

First published
October 16, 2022
Last updated
October 18, 2022
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Airstrike, Drone Strike
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
Unknown
Civilians reported injured
1
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.
Suspected belligerent
Turkish Military
Named victims
1 named
View Incident

Mapping urban warfare

These maps are the first in a series of visualisations Airwars is presenting ahead of a new political declaration that calls on states to better protect civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

By matching neighbourhood population density – which also usually coincides with high levels of civilian infrastructure – with Airwars’ archive of civilian harm, we demonstrate the deadly human toll and the impact of urban warfare in cities and towns.

Spotlight on Mosul

During the Battle of Mosul, the US-led Coalition used over 29,000 bombs, missiles and rockets on the city to help defeat ISIS. Airwars records of civilian harm indicate that at least 5,680 civilians were reported killed – though some casualty estimates reach over 9,000.

Airwars has documented this profoundly troubling trend, time and again, where modern warfare is increasingly taking place in urban areas.

Map 1: This map of Mosul shows the devastating and deadly effects of heavy fighting in highly urbanised and populated neighbourhoods - between 2016 - 2017. The map splits Mosul up into local neighbourhoods - the taller the neighbourhood, the greater the number of casualties. Areas with the highest population density are indicated in green. As the map shows - the higher the density, the more casualties were recorded. The most number of civilians were alleged killed in Sheikh Fathi neighbourhood, where at least 1,079 civilian deaths were recorded. Population density data according to Central Statistics Organisation (COSIT), Iraq, August, 2016. Civilian casualty data presents minimum estimates across all civilian harm allegations recorded by Airwars.

Map 2: This heatmap shows evidence of building damage during the Battle of Mosul (2016 - 2017) as recorded by UNOSAT from 2017. Building damage refers to substantial structural damage seen from satellite imagery over the period of the conflict. According to city officials, in some parts of the city 80 percent of buildings were destroyed. In the recently published RAND Report, Understanding Civilian Harm in Raqqa and Its Implications for Future Conflicts, RAND estimates that the ratio of buildings destroyed or damaged in Mosul to civilians killed was 1:1.

Published

September 2022

Written by

Airwars Staff

The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress, released yesterday, on civilian deaths and injuries resulting from US military actions in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and Syria has declared responsibility for 12 deaths and five injuries in 2021. All 12 deaths conceded were in Afghanistan; injuries were reported resulting from actions in both Somalia and Afghanistan.

While these mostly align with public reports on Afghanistan and Somalia – the lack of any incidents for Syria are of serious concern. Airwars has documented at least 17 incidents in which harm to civilians occurred as a result of US actions; this includes 15 civilian deaths, and 17 injuries.

Alongside reports of casualties in 2021, included in the annual report are additional cases from past actions under Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) – the operation to defeat ISIS. In these cases too, conceded casualty reports are significantly lower than local reporting suggests.

These casualty releases have been much anticipated this year, as the Department of Defense worked on its new Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action plan, published earlier this month. Towards the end of last year, reporting from Azmat Khan at the New York Times drew renewed attention in international media to the range of issues around how civilian casualties were assessed by the US in Iraq and Syria, prompting the review by US officials.

However the US’ military actions and its track record on civilian casualties have long been the subject of criticism, with calls for accountability and greater transparency on civilian harm mitigation and tracking throughout the so-called ‘forever wars’. In last year’s annual report, Airwars and others raised serious concerns with the 2020 annual casualty admissions – noting that reporting from other sources placed the civilian death toll at five times higher than the numbers admitted by the DoD.

OIR

In its 2021 report, the Department of Defense conceded no deaths or injuries in either Iraq or Syria for 2021. The report states that there were six cases of civilian harm received by OIR in 2021; 3 of which have been assessed as non-credible, while the other three are still open.

These rejected civilian harm claims likely correspond to incidents mentioned in previous press releases by OIR, which account for at least one civilian fatality and two injuries. The civilian fatality assessed as ‘non-credible’ was claimed by local sources to be a 7-year old boy, killed while US forces were reportedly conducting a training exercise. 

It is unclear if the remaining open cases mentioned in the annual report include the two cases previously noted as open by CENTCOM earlier this year.

Airwars own research indicates that there were at least 15 additional cases alleging harm resulting from US actions carried out in Syria throughout 2021.  US military actions in Syria in 2021 primarily included support to local ally the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in north eastern Syria – where civilian harm was often reported during targeted operations on suspected ISIS militants.

In one such incident, typical of the types of allegations recorded last year – a man and his son were allegedly killed in a raid carried out by the SDF with air support from the US military while they were said to be grazing their sheep. Local sources reported that the incident sparked “a wave of panic” among the civilians in the neighbourhood.

Our full incident archive can be found here.

Baghouz, Syria – the last ISIS stronghold

This year’s report contained three cases of previous harm allegations in Baghouz in 2019 – including the controversial March 18th 2019 strike which was the subject of an extensive investigation by the New York Times released at the end of last year, and prompted an internal investigation at the directive of the Secretary of Defense.

In the final major battle in the war against ISIS, the US-led Coalition carried out an intensive campaign to recapture the last ISIS territorial stronghold. Mass civilian casualty incidents were reported at the time – by the end of the campaign in March, reports of hundreds of casualties were being circulated online, including disturbing footage of mass graves and charred bodies. The New York Times revealed that one of the final strikes by the US-led Coalition included a 2000-pound bomb, dropped on a crowded area.

The 2021 annual report continues a pattern observed consistently by casualty recorders of significant discrepancies between conceded casualties and local allegations throughout this campaign; more so even than in other – more contested – battlegrounds, such as the Battle of Mosul.

In total – the US has conceded just 3% of even the most conservative estimates of civilian harm reported during the Battle of Deir Ezzor; compared with over a third of casualties alleged in the Battle of Mosul, for example.

Airwars puts the minimum likely estimate of deaths during this campaign at 695, while the US admits to less than 30 – including those now conceded in the annual report.

The incidents

Notably, this is the first time that the March 18th incident has been officially confirmed in public reporting by DoD – the incident was rejected previously as ‘non-credible’ twice by OIR; with an assessment reopened only after widespread media attention on the case at the end of last year.

Local sources have alleged at least 160 civilian fatalities resulted from the strike, including up to 45 children. In May this year, General Garrett – the four-star general put in charge of leading an investigation into the case – rejected almost all allegations of wrong-doing by US military forces during the operation. His investigation, which was kept classified apart from the Executive Summary, concluded that nearly all those killed were combatants.

In another of the incidents included in the report, from February 2019, we were able to identify at least three possible matches to incidents in our archive (here, here and here). While no civilian deaths were conceded by the US, local reports indicate that in one incident alone at least 50 civilians were said to have been killed.

One of the conceded events also matches a confirmed incident published in a press release earlier this year – an airstrike on March 13th 2019; nearly all sources reported that those killed in this strike had been women and children living in a camp in Baghouz. Fatality estimates ranged from 20 to 100 civilians, while the US admitted to four civilian deaths.

Afghanistan

The US withdrew officially from Afghanistan in September 2021. There were 10 reports of civilian casualties from combat operations in Afghanistan, 4 of which were deemed credible – the DoD conceded the deaths of 12 civilians, and the injuries of 2 civilians. 10 of the civilians who died all died in the same incident on August 29, 2021 in Kabul – this likely refers to the botched drone strike on an aid worker in Kabul, which the DoD later admitted was a ‘tragic mistake’.

UNAMA, which monitors civilian casualties in Afghanistan, raised the alarm over increasing civilian casualties in Afghanistan as the situation deteriorated. However, it appears that these incidents had not been attributed by UNAMA to the US at the time of their latest report published in June last year, which contained no casualty incidents resulting from international military actions in 2021 – though notably some incidents were still under review at the time of publication.

Somalia

The US also maintains an active military presence in Somalia, recently bolstered by Biden’s decision to redeploy US troops in Somalia in May of this year. The report did not state a total number of cases in 2021 that it had investigated, but reported on one incident that had previously been conceded by AFRICOM.

Despite an initial assessment by AFRICOM that no civilians had been harmed in the strike, which took place in January 2021, in its first quarterly report last year AFRICOM admitted that three civilians had been ‘inadvertently injured’ when US forces conducted an air strike on what was reported to be an al-Shabaab radio station.

The US has carried out at least 254 raids or airstrikes in Somalia since 2007, and has acknowledged five civilian deaths throughout this period. Airwars own research puts this total number at minimum 78 fatalities.

While the 2021 figure aligns with public reporting, it should be noted that there are significant challenges with harm documentation in Somalia given the security environment.

DoD acknowledges “inconsistent” civilian harm investigation process

This year’s annual report references the recently released Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP) in part to explain any potential discrepancies between DoD admissions and public reporting. The annual report acknowledges that “specific processes for reviewing or investigating incidents have varied over the years”, while the CHMR-AP explicitly noted that practices for conducting assessments and investigations had been “applied inconsistently across DoD”.

The comprehensive action plan is intended to address such inconsistencies; though for those civilians who have had their cases rejected as non-credible, or for those who have never had their cases investigated at all – the promise of review and reform is likely too late.

According to Airwars’ archive, the possible death toll from the US-led Coalition’s actions in the war against ISIS alone could be at least 8,192 and as many as 13,247 civilians killed. OIR in total has acknowledged killing approximately 1500 civilians – though notably, many individual member states have yet to accept responsibility for their own efforts. The UK MoD, for example, has yet to admit more than one civilian was killed by its actions in the entire campaign.

▲ Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III briefs the media on Afghanistan, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Aug. 18, 2021. (DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Julian Kemper)

Incident date

September 28, 2022

Incident Code

IRI004

LOCATION

كويسنجق, زرغوز, التون كوبري, Koya, Zargwez, Altun Kupri, Erbil, Iraq

On September 28th, 2022, at around 10:30 am, dozens of Iranian missiles and drone strikes reportedly killed between 13 to 14 people, according to official fatality estimates, though some local media estimated that it could be up to 18. Between 58 to 62 others were injured. The strikes were conducted in a number of areas

Summary

First published
September 28, 2022
Last updated
June 6, 2023
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Airstrike and/or Artillery
Civilian infrastructure
IDP or refugee camp, School
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
13 – 18
(2 children2 women1 man)
Civilians reported injured
58–62
Causes of injury / death
Accidents related to conflict, 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.
Suspected belligerent
Iranian Military
Suspected target
Other
Named victims
7 named, 1 familiy identified
Geolocation
Town
View Incident

Incident date

August 29, 2022

Incident Code

TI087

LOCATION

مخيم مخمور, Makhmour camp, Erbil, Iraq

At least one civilian was killed and up to four others were injured, including women and children, when a Turkish airplane or drone launched strikes on a home in Makhmour camp on August 29, 2022. Some local sources indicate that a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was also killed in the incident. Hawar

Summary

First published
August 29, 2022
Last updated
October 4, 2022
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Airstrike, Drone Strike
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
1
Civilians reported injured
4
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.
Suspected belligerent
Turkish Military
Suspected target
YPG/SDF
Named victims
1 named
Geolocation
Neighbourhood/area
Belligerents reported killed
1
View Incident

Published

August 26, 2022

Written by

Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen

New action plan contains positive steps - the focus now is on implementation and renewed efforts to ensure past cases are not forgotten.

Airwars joins our civil society partners in welcoming the publication of the much awaited Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP), released yesterday by the US Department of Defense.

The CHMR-AP reflects a years-long process of sustained pressure by individuals, civil society, journalists, activists and legislators to challenge the way the US military conducts itself in the battlefield, and force the Department of Defense to review practices that have had deadly outcomes for civilians across the globe – from the battles of Mosul and Raqqa in the war against ISIS, to the botched Kabul strike last year.

In response to this sustained pressure,  catalysed by a series of Pulitzer-winning New York Times articles exposing serious concerns with US military practices in January 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III issued a memorandum calling for the creation of the CHMR-AP. Austin called for the CHMR-AP to set up a process for the establishment of a new centre of excellence, and a framework for standardising civilian harm reporting, investigation and mitigation.

The 46-page document is an unprecedented move toward transparency, and was put together following a series of key engagements with civil society actors and independent specialists. Presenting a far reaching future-looking agenda, it is applicable to the ‘full spectrum of conflict’ – from current operations, large and small, to any future situations of high-intensity conflict.

Covering 11 distinct objectives – ranging from actions to reduce confirmation bias to implementation of a new data management system; each with a proposed set of phased actions and associated resource plan, the CHMR-AP presents an ambitious set of actions that, if implemented appropriately, could present a radical departure from existing policy in some areas. It sets a strong precedent for future US military action – and, importantly, an example for allies to follow.

Read the DoD factsheet here and the full action plan here.

Why is the CHMR-AP so important?

While the action plan itself is focused on reviewing and reforming the US’ policies on civilian harm mitigation and tracking, it should also have significant implications for the partners that support the US in modern conflicts, such as the UK, France, Netherlands, Belgium, and others. As it stands, US allies have been shown to have limited oversight, transparency, or accountability for civilian harm from their own actions. The UK, for instance, admits to only a single civilian casualty from its 8 years of support to the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq and Syria, in which the UK has been second only to the US in the number of munitions dropped in some battlefields. Airwars’ estimates of civilians killed by this coalition could be well over 8,000.

Over the last few years, Airwars and our civil society partners have advocated with several of these states to review and improve national approaches and policies to civilian harm mitigation; yet, while some states have taken on such reviews, none have been as far-reaching or ambitious as the CHMR-AP.

Beyond these national processes to improve approaches to civilian harm mitigation, the CHMR-AP also comes out in the context of a new international agreement on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, due to be signed by the US and key allies in October this year. The CHMR-AP’s introduction of the term ‘civilian environment’ presents a broad understanding of civilian harm – with reference to the need to understand population density, urban systems and the ‘the interconnected relationships between the civilian population, natural resources, infrastructure, and essential services’. This is an important move towards acknowledging the long-term consequences of military action on civilians caught in conflict.

What does this mean for civilians harmed by the US in past actions?

Perhaps the biggest gap in the CHMR-AP is that it includes no reference to reviewing past cases of alleged civilian harm; including addressing the 37 cases that are still open pending assessment for civilian harm claims made against the US-led Coalition in the war against ISIS.

According to Airwars’ archive, the likely death toll resulting from the actions of the US-led Coalition’s actions in the war against ISIS alone could be at least 8,192 and as many as 13,247 civilians. The US has conceded causing overall at least 1,417 civilian fatalities – but has rejected 2,674 harm claims. These rejected cases could account for thousands of casualties.

Total estimates for the last twenty years of US actions reach as many as 48,308 civilian deaths – with over 90,000 declared strikes across seven major conflict zones throughout the so-called ‘forever wars’.

Key questions therefore remain unanswered: will the remaining open cases be reviewed? Will they be reviewed with this new policy in mind? How might the new policy change the outcome of those investigations? And if these open cases are reviewed in line with new policies – what does that mean for the cases that have previously been rejected as ‘non-credible’ under a system that has now been widely acknowledged to have been in need of reform?

Looking back at past cases has significant implications for commitments to amends processes – a section outlined as an objective in the CHMR-AP, although with no mention of how the new action plan would affect outstanding claims or clear detail on implementation of future processes.

What should we be looking out for now?

The implementation of the CHMR-AP will be key. While the action plan outlines a comprehensive set of actions and resource plans, it is yet to be determined the extent to which the policy will be implemented effectively and with continued consultation with independent voices. This is particularly important as US actions are on-going across the globe – Airwars has recorded an uptick in strikes in Somalia since Biden announced his decision to redeploy troops in May this year, while a new set of strikes were announced in Syria on Iran-backed militants just as the CHMR-AP was released.

Additionally, as noted by Human Rights Watch Washington Director Sarah Yager in a comment to CNN, the staffing and resources required must be arranged as soon as possible in order to ensure that “the principles and values behind doing this are deeply embedded in the Pentagon”, before any significant leadership change in the US administration, which could delay or even derail current plans for improvements.

Allies of the US should also take notice – and take action. Particularly with key sections of the CHMR-AP including reference to the application of the new action plan to multinational operations, US allies will have to review their own practices.

Several crucial points in the action plan are also still lacking clarity, and it will likely be some time before the full extent of the policy has been reviewed in its entirety by experts. Airwars is coordinating closely with our civil society partners in the US to ensure a comprehensive and thorough review of the proposed action plan, in order to ensure appropriate oversight and support from civil society as the action plan enters into the next phase of implementation.

 

▲ Ruins of a family home in which 35 civilians died at Mosul on June 13th 2017 - in what is now known to have been US and Australian airstrikes (Image courtesy of the Al Saffar family. All rights reserved.)

CJTF–OIR for August 15, 2022 – August 15, 2022
Original
Annotated

Report Date

August 15, 2022

Aug. 15, 2022

Release No. 20220815-01

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BAGHDAD-Operation Inherent Resolve forces, in coordination with our Maghaweir al-Thowra partners, responded to an attack by multiple unmanned aerial systems in the vicinity of Al-Tanf Garrison at approximately 6:30 a.m. Aug. 15, 2022.

Coalition Forces successfully engaged one UAS preventing its impact. A second UAS detonated within a MaT forces compound resulting in zero casualties or reported damage. The other attempted one-way UAS strikes were not successful.

Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, condemned the hostile activity and called for an end to these harassing attacks.

“Such attacks put the lives of innocent Syrian civilians at risk and undermine the significant efforts by our Partner Forces to maintain the lasting defeat of ISIS,” Brennan said. “Coalition personnel retain the right to self-defense, and we will take appropriate measures to protect our forces.”

Report Date

August 15, 2022

Confirmed Actions

US

Aug. 15, 2022

Release No. 20220815-01

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BAGHDAD-Operation Inherent Resolve forces, in coordination with our Maghaweir al-Thowra partners, responded to an attack by multiple unmanned aerial systems in the vicinity of Al-Tanf Garrison at approximately 6:30 a.m. Aug. 15, 2022.

Coalition Forces successfully engaged one UAS preventing its impact. A second UAS detonated within a MaT forces compound resulting in zero casualties or reported damage. The other attempted one-way UAS strikes were not successful.

Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, condemned the hostile activity and called for an end to these harassing attacks.

“Such attacks put the lives of innocent Syrian civilians at risk and undermine the significant efforts by our Partner Forces to maintain the lasting defeat of ISIS,” Brennan said. “Coalition personnel retain the right to self-defense, and we will take appropriate measures to protect our forces.”

Incident date

July 20, 2022

Incident Code

TI086

LOCATION

برخ, Parkh, Duhok, Iraq

Between eight and 10 civilians, including three children, were killed and up to 45 others, including four women and two children, were injured in alleged Turkish bombing of the village of Parkh on July 20, 2022. According to BasNews, five tourists were killed and 15 others were injured by Turkish shelling of a summer resort

Summary

First published
July 20, 2022
Last updated
August 2, 2022
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Airstrike and/or Artillery
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
8 – 10
(3 children4 men)
Civilians reported injured
20–45
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.
Suspected belligerent
Turkish Military
Named victims
16 named, 3 families identified
View Incident

Incident date

July 17, 2022

Incident Code

TI085

LOCATION

بوابة الشام, Bab Al Sham, Nineveh, Iraq

At least five people were alleged killed and two others wounded in a drone strike in western Mosul on July 17, 2022. One woman and three men were reported killed in the attack, in a drone that state security services claimed to belong to Turkish forces. Sources were conflicted as to whether or not those

Summary

First published
July 17, 2022
Last updated
July 20, 2022
Strike status
Likely strike
Strike type
Airstrike, Drone Strike
Civilian harm reported
Yes
Civilians reported killed
5
(1 woman)
Civilians reported injured
2
Cause of injury / death
Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
Airwars civilian harm grading
Contested
Competing claims of responsibility e.g. multiple belligerents, or casualties also attributed to ground forces.
Named victims
1 named
Belligerents reported killed
0–5
Belligerents reported injured
0–2
View Incident