A fire blazes following an alleged Russian strike with cluster bombs on Douma, January 15th 2016 (via Shaam News Network)

Our methodology

Airwars is a collaborative, not-for-profit transparency project run by a team of professional journalists based in the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and North America. We track and assess claims of civilian non-combatant casualties and ‘friendly fire’ deaths from international military actions – primarily air and artillery strikes. We also monitor and archive official military reports of the conflicts we monitor, so that they can be measured against the public record. 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, Russian and other international air and artillery strikes in both Iraq and Syria. We also track international and domestic airstrikes in Libya. Though we often use the term ‘civilian’ as shorthand it should always be assumed – unless otherwise stated – that we are referring to civilian non-combatants who were taking no active part in hostilities.

With more than 29,000 airstrikes reported in the first 42 months of Coalition 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.

Airwars conducts daily monitoring of local Arabic-language media and social media sites in both Iraq and Syria for civilian casualty claims relating to international military actions. We also track local casualty monitors, NGOs, international agencies and international media. We  permanently archive all reports, and follow up on allegations with belligerents wherever possible.

When flagging potential civilian deaths or injuries from airstrikes, Airwars draws on a wide range of sources. These can include international and local news agencies and NGOs; 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 and terrorist propaganda sources which are directly 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 EveryCasualty’s Casualty Recorders Network, as are we (also see About Us.)

Extensive additional civilian casualties are caused by other parties to both the Iraq and Syria conflicts. These include Iraqi and Syrian government forces and allied militias; the Russian, Turkish and Iranian militaries; and militant and terror groups including so-called Islamic State/Daesh, and al Qaeda linked factions in Syria.

A number of monitoring groups based in the Middle East and elsewhere issue their own daily reports which cover not just civilians killed by the Coalition, but all of those affected by the wars in Iraq and Syria.

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

Grading system

We publish a provisional assessment, based on our findings, of likely civilian casualties for each alleged incident reportedly involving international actions.

Because of wide variations in the quality of casualty recording, Airwars employs a provisional grading system for events alleging non-combatant or ‘friendly fire’ deaths from Coalition, Russian, Turkish and other international military actions. This represents our own assessment of allegations, and we urge those using the site to make their own judgement based on available sources. Our own grading system is as follows:

  • Confirmed: Where an international belligerent has accepted responsibility for the killing or injuring of non-combatants or allied forces in a particular incident.
  • Fair: Where in the view of Airwars 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 either confirmed or well-reported, uncontested actions by a specific belligerent in the near vicinity for the date in question. We believe these cases in particular require urgent investigation.
  • Weak: These are presently single source claims. Nevertheless, these can often feature biographical details of victims along with photographic evidence from a reputable source – and with international strikes also confirmed in the vicinity on that date.
  • Contested: Where there are competing claims for the origins of a violent incident. For example, both Coalition and Russian aircraft might be blamed for an attack in Syria; while in Iraq casualtes might be attributed to ground forces, as well as to Coalition or Iraqi aircraft.
  • Discounted: Those cases where our researchers or others can either demonstrate that those killed were combatants; that an incident likely did not result in any civilian casualties; or that other parties (eg the Iraq government or Assad regime) were instead most likely responsible for reported casualties.

Military sources

Airwars airstrike statistics are primarily sourced from regular military briefings from allies participating in the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria, and from the Russian Ministry of Defence. US strikes in Libya are reported by AFRICOM.

These daily, weekly and monthly reports are then cross-referenced against reported civilian fatalities, and are archived to provide a permanent record of military claims.

Reporting issues: Coalition strikes, sorties and locations

Members of the US-led Coalition use differing methods when reporting on military actions in Iraq and Syria. The primary counting method is the ‘airstrike’ – employed for example by the Coalition as well as by the US, the UK, France and Canada. This reporting language can be problematic, however. The term ‘airstrike’ is one the US Air Force does not employ internally, given its imprecise nature. The preferred USAF metric is actually ‘Sorties with at least one weapon release’ – see for example AFCENT’s ongoing Airpower Summaries.

As the Coalition itself notes of airstrikes in every daily press release:

A strike, as defined in the CJTF releases, means one or more kinetic events that occur in roughly the same geographic location to produce a single, sometimes cumulative effect for that location.  So having a single aircraft deliver a single weapon against a lone ISIL vehicle is one strike, but so is multiple aircraft delivering dozens of weapons against a group of buildings and vehicles and weapon systems in a compound, for example, having the cumulative effect of making that facility (or facilities) harder or impossible to use.  Accordingly, CJTF-OIR does not report the number or type of aircraft employed in a strike, the number of munitions dropped in each strike, or the number of individual munition impact points against a target.’

A clear example of this imprecise term 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 particular Mosul raid. Only three nations (France, the United States and Canada) have actually confirmed carrying out attacks on that date.

Variations can also exist between CJTF-OIR and allied military reports, even when relating to strikes at the same location and on the same date. Again on December 5th, 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 being bombed. In such cases we are unable to reconcile contradictory accounts.

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

Naming casualties and our use of images

Airwars has a policy of naming wherever possible civilian non-combatants reportedly killed in international airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. In addition, we often publish photographs of victims in association with specific events. Most of these images are sourced via local media organisations and activists, and via monitors such as the Violations Documentation Center. Families have also approached Airwars on a number of occasions, asking us to include photographs and other details of their loved ones.

We believe that there is a significant merit in publicly marking those killed – particularly given repeated denials of responsibility by belligerents. Even so, we understand that some family members may be distressed at the presence of particular images on our website.

If you are a family member who lost loved ones in an airstrike listed on the Airwars site and would like to get in touch – or would like to ask us to remove a photo or to add another – then please contact us at info@airwars.org

إذا كنت من عائلة  فقدت  أحد أفرادها الاحباء في غارة جوية كتبنا عنها هنا أو في أي منشور على موقع airwars و تود الاتصال بنا – او طلب إزالة صورة للضحية أو اضافة اخرى – يرجى الاتصال بنا على info@airwars.org

Errors and corrections

We strive for accuracy and transparency of process in our reporting and presentation. Our casualty datasets are continually evolving, representing our best current understanding of any 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, then do please reach us at info@airwars.org.