Our methodology

Airwars.org is a collaborative, not-for-profit transparency project maintained by a team of professional journalists based in Europe and the Middle East. We aim both to track and archive the international air war against Islamic State (Daesh) and other parties, in both Iraq and Syria. We also seek to highlight - and follow up where possible - those cases in which claims of civilian non-combatant casualties and 'friendly fire' deaths from coalition airstrikes have been indicated by credible monitoring agencies and media sources. Our data is drawn from a number of sources outlined below.

Civilian casualty sources

A key aim of Airwars is to assess all known claims of civilian non-combatants killed or injured in Coalition strikes. Though we often use the term ‘civilian’ as shorthand, it should always be assumed - unless otherwise stated - that we are referring to non-combatants who were taking no active part in hostilities.

With more than 8,500 airstrikes reported in the first 16 months of allied bombings in Iraq and Syria - many in urban areas - non-combatant casualties remain an inevitability. Where claims by credible reporting organisations are cited here, they are cross-referenced where possible to specific airstrikes reported by the United States or its allies.

When flagging up potential civilian deaths or injuries from allied airstrikes, Airwars draws on a wide range of sources. These can include international and local news agencies; and more fragmentary social media sites including local residents' groups, Facebook pages (for examples martyrs' pages), YouTube footage of incidents, and tweets relating to specific events. On occasion we also include links to militant propaganda sources which we believe to be pertinent to an event. These are always clearly marked as such.

Many credible claims of non-combatant deaths are reported by casualty monitoring NGOs based in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. A number are members of Every Casualty’s Casualty Recorders Network, as are we (also see About Us.)

It is important to note, however, that particularly in the context of Iraq and Syria, casualty monitoring presents significant challenges. We report information on alleged strikes and casualties in good faith, though are often unable to follow up or to further verify such claims.

Because of this wide variation in the quality of casualty recording, Airwars employs a grading system for events alleging non-combatant or 'friendly fire' deaths from Coalition airstrikes. This represents our own assessment of allegations, though we urge those using the site to make their own judgement based on the available sources. These are Our grading system is as follows:

  • Confirmed: Where the Coalition or an individual nation has accepted responsibility for the killing of non-combatants or allied forces in a particular incident.
  • Fair: Where there is a reasonable level of public reporting of an alleged incident from two or more generally credible sources (often coupled with biographical, photographic, and/ or video evidence). Crucially, there are also confirmed coalition strikes in the near vicinity for the date in question. We believe these cases in particular require urgent investigation.
  • Weak: These are single source claims. Nevertheless, these can at times feature biographical and photographic detail from a reputable source, with Coalition strikes also confirmed in the vicinity on that date.
  • Contested Events: These occur where there are claims of both Coalition and Iraqi/Syrian aircraft having carried out strikes on a location.
  • Disproven: Those cases where our researchers or others can either demonstrate that those killed were combatants, or that an incident did not result in any civilian casualties; or that other parties (eg the Iraq government or Assad regime) were most likely responsible for reported casualties.


In Iraq, as in Syria, areas occupied by Islamic State/ Daesh are often inaccessible for researchers and journalists, making independent verification of casualty reports highly problematic. The repeated lethal targeting of casualty monitors by a number of parties to the conflict is also of major concern.

Most reports of non-combatant deaths reportedly caused by the Coalition are found in Arabic-language media and social media, and we employ a part-time researcher in Iraq to gather and analyse such material.

Reports are often fragmentary. Instead of a news report, details of a fatality might appear on a Facebook martyrs' page, or in an Arabic-language tweet for example. A large number of local media sources have also appeared in Iraq in recent years, of variable quality. Some are run by political parties or militias for example, while other outlets are maintained on behalf of Islamic State.

At Airwars we also draw on reports by credible monitoring groups. Iraq Body Count is one source for information on non-combatant casualties in Iraq, for example. As its own stated methodology notes:

‘IBC’s documentary evidence is drawn from crosschecked media reports of violent events leading to the death of civilians, or of bodies being found, and is supplemented by the careful review and integration of hospital, morgue, NGO and official figures.’
While relying wherever possible on two or more credible sources for recorded fatalities, IBC also on occasion includes credible single-sourced reports.

The US-based Antiwar.com also issues daily reports on casualties in Iraq, including on civilians caught up in the violence. These are generally obtained from English-language media reports, for example the Iraqi national news outlet NINA.

It should be noted that claims of casualties from allied airstrikes represent only a very small proportion of overall fatalities attributed to the conflict. According to IBC, for the period August-November 2014 for example, some 6,800 civilians reportedly died in Iraq - of which no more than 100 were allegedly caused by allied air operations.


For Syria, a number of NGOs seek to monitor the chaotic and violent situation on the ground. Many of these had already emerged during the civil war, and had built up extensive casualty recording networks in areas now occupied by Daesh.

One key resource for information on reported casualties of allied airstrikes is the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which tracks civilian deaths through a network of local sources. These are regularly published in summary form.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights also tracks casualties of allied airstrikes along with those killed by other parties to the conflict. In addition, other local monitoring groups such as the Violations Documentation Center in Syria regularly report on airstrike fatalities, while international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch have also issued occasional reports on civilian casualties of US and allied airstrikes.

Airwars also employs a Syrian researcher based in the UK to collate and assess claims relating to civilian deaths. We also seek clarification from the US and its Coalition allies, and engage regularly with local and international NGOs, and with news agencies in the region.

Military sources

Airwars.org airstrike data is primarily sourced from regular military briefings from allies participating in the Coalition in Iraq and Syria, and from the Russian Ministry of defence. These daily, weekly and monthly reports are cross-referenced against reported civilian fatalities, and are archived to provide a permanent record of military claims.

The United States military remains the dominant source for public reports on the Coalition air war. US air strikes are carried out through Central Command, or CENTCOM, whose area of responsibility stretches from North Africa to South Asia.

Between August 8th and December 5th 2014, CENTCOM issued daily (and later three times weekly) reports on the air war. These were issued to journalists in the form of emails and hard-copy PDFs (archived in full by airwars.org), and were also posted to a dedicated Department of Defense website.

From December 5th, regular reporting responsibility was passed by CENTCOM to Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), which remains the present disseminator for most official information on the air war, by PDF and email updates. The Task Force - generally referred to as 'the Coalition' - is a US-led joint command which involves elements from all participating militaries.

In its campaign reports, the Coalition presents overarching data for all participating allies, and lists the number of “strikes”, some details of vicinities targeted, and what materiel, buildings or military units have reportedly been struck. No casualty estimates are provided.

The Coalition also provides weekly breakdowns of the proportion of airstrikes carried out by the US and by its allies, for both Iraq and Syria.

In addition, Air Force Central Command (AFCENT) publishes monthly Airpower Summaries for Iraq and Syria. These feature tables of data including the number of weapons released, ISR and fuelling missions flown etc.

ISIL vehicle before it was destroyed by a Brimstone missile, fired by a Royal Air Force Tornado.

International Coalition allies

The United States has variously been joined by twelve known allies in its air war against Islamic State. Many issue their own reports of military actions, although levels of openness can vary significantly.

As the second international partner to join the allied air war, France’s Operation Chammal initially aimed for a fair level of transparency, with the Ministry of Defence reporting airstrikes within 24 hours, stating what aircraft and weapons were employed; and which locations and targets were struck. However later France moved to weekly reporting, and has significantly limited the information released. Target locations are now rarely given, although a weekly tally of strike numbers is released.

The United Kingdom (Operation Shader) began reporting with good levels of transparency, noting the aircraft and weapons used; the locations struck, and the targets engaged. However at present the UK only reports the locations of its manned Tornado aircraft, and not its Reaper drones – a major transparency issue. The UK maintains a single evolving webpage for its reports, which may not represent a complete picture of all UK strikes. The Ministry of Defence has also on occasion significantly amended earlier copy, making the process of accurately tracking reports a challenge.

Belgium (Operation Desert Falcon) was the first nation officially to end it participation in the coalition's air war, on July 3rd 2015. Belgium had been one of the least transparent nations involved in the campaign. After reporting an initial airstrike on October 5th 2014, and another on November 3rd, Belgium made no public statement on its ongoing airstrikes until April 24th 2015, and then reporting only overall tallies of targets and sorties. In total Belgian F-16s dropped 141 bombs and missiles during their 9-month campaign - an estimated 40 airstrikes.

The government of Denmark was initially heavily criticised for its refusal to state where it was bombing in Iraq, and on which dates. Reporting has since improved somewhat, with weekly summaries detailing the numbers of sorties carried out and weapons released. Denmark still refuses to declare where it bombs however, with a military spokesman telling Dagbladet Information that the Danish military would prefer ‘to hide in the crowd.’ Denmark ended its role in the Coalition on October 1st 2015.

The Netherlands initially maintained a reasonable record of transparency, publishing weekly reports in which it stated how many missions it had carried out in Iraq, and how many weapons had been released. The Dutch Ministry of Defence declines to say which locations it bombs, however. From spring 2015 Dutch reporting became more patchy, with the number of weapons released each week no longer given.

Reporting by the government of Australia (Operation Okra) is presently weak, with only monthly reports indicating the number of weapons released and sorties carried out. Pressed on why it refuses to say where it is bombing in Iraq, a spokesman has stated that the Australian Defence Force ‘will not release information that could be distorted and used against Australia in ISIL propaganda.’

A Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet above Iraq. (Australian MoD)

Canada (Operation Impact) has adopted the most transparent approach of all participating militaries, releasing details as they happen of where, when and what it is bombing in both Iraq and in Syria. Senior officials also hold regular media briefings, which are also made available via Youtube and downloadable PDFs. Canada’s practice of using a ‘rolling summary’ format to describe its strikes can present challenges, since the MoD deletes detailed comments after a time and replaces them with one-line summaries.

At times accompanying the United States in its airstrikes in Syria are the aircraft of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Canada, Turkey, France, Australia and perhaps Qatar. Although CJTF-OIR reports that as of July 24th 2015 some 111 of 2,169 airstrikes in Syria had been carried out by its allies, few further details are available. Between September 23rd and October 20th, CENTCOM did name Arab allies in its daily reports, when they assisted in Syrian airstrikes. However this practice has since been discontinued. More recently Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Turkey have reported on some actions in Syria, while Canada reports on every strike it carries out there.

An F-22 Raptor is refuelled before strike operations in Syria. (USAF/ Tech. Sgt. Russ Scalf)

Reporting issues: “strikes” and locations

Coalition reporting language can be problematic. The term ‘airstrike’ is one which the US Air Force does not generally employ internally, given its imprecise nature. Officials have told the compilers of Antiwar.org that a ‘strike’ might actually involve multiple aircraft from two or more nations, hitting numerous targets. [The preferred USAF metric is ‘Sorties with at least one weapon release’ – see for example AFCENT’s ongoing Airpower Summaries]

A clear example can be seen on December 5th 2014. CJTF-OIR reports only two ‘strikes’ in the vicinity of Mosul. In contrast, the French Ministry of Defence notes that 15 aircraft from 7 nations struck 20 targets in this Mosul raid. Yet only three nations (France, the United States and Canada) have confirmed carrying out attacks on that date.

Variations frequently exist between CJTF-OIR and allied military reports, even when relating to strikes at the same location and on the same date. On December 5th for example, the US reports that allied aircraft striking in the Rawah area destroyed ‘an ISIL tank.’ Yet the British - who appear to lay claim to that strike - instead report an armoured personnel carrier as being bombed. In such cases we are unable to reconcile contradictory allied accounts.

Any given locations for airstrikes must also be treated with some caution, with US officials conceding that stated locations should be taken only as guides to where strikes may have taken place.

On October 18th/19th for example, the British reported carrying out an airstrike in Ramadi, while the French noted in the same period a strike at Tikrit. Neither of these cities was mentioned in CENTCOM’s overall summary of bombings for that day. An official later conceded to the compilers of Airwars that strikes described as ‘south of Bayji’ and ‘south east of Fallujah’ most likely referred to the UK and French operations that day.

On another occasion, officials initially denied that a Coalition strike had been carried out at Al Bab, Syria on December 28th 2014 – a problematic event in which at least 50 non-combatants reportedly died. Only on January 11th 2015 did the Coalition concede to the news agency McClatchy it had carried out the attack, raising fresh questions about the trustworthiness of its locational reporting.

Errors and corrections

We strive for accuracy and transparency of process in our reporting and presentation. That said, we do recognise that the information publicly available for particular events can at times be limited. Our casualty datasets are therefore organically maintained, and represent our best present understanding of alleged incidents.

If you have new information about a particular event; if you find an error in our work - or if you have concerns about the way we are reporting our data - please do engage with us. You can reach us at info@airwars.org