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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org