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Published

July 19, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

Research by Kinda Haddad

A major Coalition-backed campaign to liberate the ISIL-occupied northern Syrian town of Manbij and surrounding villages has led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians, according to local reports.

The Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC) – a proxy US-trained force comprising mostly Kurdish fighters – is currently advancing on the town centre amid heavy streetfighting.

But at least 70,000 non-combatants remain trapped within Manbij – caught between US airstrikes, advancing SAC forces and ISIL snipers. Water and food is said to be running low following the two-month siege.

“There are corpses on the streets and under the rubble that people are not able to remove,” Free Manbij Media Centre told Airwars on July 19th. “The numbers of those killed is between 500 and 700 martyrs according to estimates, the majority of them a result of Coalition planes bombing.” The local Manbij Coordination Committee placed the overall number of civilian deaths lower, at 368.

Airwars’ own estimate – based on hundreds of reports from local journalists, media activists, rebel groups and casualty monitors – suggests at least 190 civilians may so far have died in Coalition strikes in and around Manbij since May 31st.

We're tracking the worst ever week of alleged Coalition civilian casualties in 2 years of war – almost all at Manbij https://t.co/aMO0BPXjfi

— Airwars (@airwars) July 18, 2016

Local monitors describe a desperate situation. The Manbij Agency for Documentation – a group trying to track civilians killed in the fighting – has given its own harrowing account of life under siege: “The smell of decomposing bodies fills the streets, as residents are unable to leave their homes for fear of snipers from both sides. Many of the civilians’ bodies are still stuck under the rubble of houses shelled by Coalition aircraft. Some of them are alive and others are dead.”

Airwars tracking indicates the situation is worsening. The period of July 11th-18th saw the greatest number of claimed Coalition civilian casualty events in two years of war against ISIL – with 14 of 15 alleged incidents taking place in or around Manbij.

In the latest reported event, at least 56 civilians from multiple families died in alleged Coalition airstrikes on the village of Tokhar in the early hours of July 19th. Victims were shown being buried in a mass grave. Though reporting remains confused, Tokhar may be the single largest alleged Coalition civilian casualty event since August 2014.

Victims of an alleged Coalition strike near Manbij July 19th are buried in a mass grave (via Manbij Mother of All Worlds)

450 airstrikes

Coalition attacks on Manbij began in earnest on May 21st, in support of a ground assault by the Syrian Arab Coalition (SAC.) Since then more than 450 strikes have targeted the town and surrounding areas, hitting “Da’esh heavy weapons, vehicles, fortifications, VBIED facilities, armored vehicles, technical vehicles, bridges, and caches,” according to the Coalition.

The United States is responsible for almost every strike at Manbij. According to official data, between May 22nd and July 17th this year 637 US airstrikes were carried out in Syria – with just 13 by its Coalition partners.

The US-led Coalition initially focused on driving Islamic State fighters from nearby villages – a tactic “which is encouraging ISIL’s retreat into the city” according to a June 15th press release. By early July almost all strikes were hitting Manbij itself.

The Coalition claims civilians have been able to escape the siege thanks to evacuation corridors provided by advancing SAC forces. But monitors dispute this, insisting ISIL snipers try to kill any non-combatants attempting to leave Manbij.

Expect to see measured pace in the fight to liberate #Manbij. It will not be easy, and we are confident SDF will take city back from ISIL

— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) July 15, 2016

Civilian deaths

Casualty claims have been mounting since the siege began, with 40 separate alleged Coalition civilian casualty events reported in and around Manbij to July 19th.

Airwars presently assesses 29 of these events as fair: that is, featuring two or more credible reports, with Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. At least 190 civilians appear to have died in these actions, including 39 or more children and 23 women. A further 134 or more civilians were reportedly injured.

A significant number of these slain civilians  – 164 so far – have been named by local monitors. One such case is Leen Samer Yusuf Waik, a young girl who died with her grandfather and two other named victims in a July 9th incident.

11-year old Leen Samer Yusuf Waik among 3 named victims reported killed in Coalition strikes on Manbij centre July 9 pic.twitter.com/AOU7JT0wIu

— Airwars (@airwars) July 11, 2016

The Coalition has been aware of civilian casualty allegations at Manbij for some weeks. In the first known siege-related incident on May 31st, at least 3 and as many as 15 civilians died when the Coalition allegedly struck the al Hawatma area of the town. Yet despite widespread media reports on the day, the Coalition claimed to be unaware of civilian casualty allegations when approached by the Independent.

Despite numerous credible allegations of non-combatants killed since then, the US-led Coalition has yet to admit a single civilian casualty from its siege of Manbij.

A CENTCOM statement provided to Airwars and other media on June 19th noted: “We are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties near Manbij, Syria, recently. As with any allegation we receive, we will review any information we have about the incident, including information provided by third parties, such as the proximity of the location to CJTF airstrikes, and any other relevant information presented. If the information supporting the allegation is determined to be credible, we will then determine the next appropriate step.”

▲ Smoke bellows from Manbij following alleged Coalition strikes on June 22nd (via Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)

Published

April 22, 2016

Written by

Airwars Staff

In a doubling of previous estimates of civilians killed in its air war against so-called Islamic State, the US has confirmed that 20 more non-combatants are believed to have died and 11 injured in nine separate events between September 2015 and February 2016.

Among those likely killed were two Iraqi families. On October 5th, US aircraft targeted an ‘ISIL mortar position’ in the village of Atshanah near Huwaijah. CENTCOM now admits that “eight civilians were killed.”

According to an earlier United Nations report, all of the dead came from one family, that of a village elder: “On 5 October, an airstrike mistakenly targeted a civilian house in Atshana village, east of Hawija and southwest of Kirkuk, that belonged to the Mukhtar of the village, killing eight persons from the same family, including several women and children and the Mukhtar himself.”

And on December 12th 2015 in Ramadi, five members of the Kazem family including three children died when US aircraft struck an ‘ISIL checkpoint.’ CENTCOM now says that “five civilians were killed after they unexpectedly moved into the target location after weapons were already in flight.”

Local media have named the dead as Duraid Ibrahim Kazem, his wife Nebras Abdul Alkarim, and three of their children: Mustafa, Mohammed and Farah. Graphic images of their bodies were posted at the time.

New admissions

Nine new civilian casualty events have been reported in total – bringing to 25 the number of cases so far admitted. A total of 41 civilian deaths and 28 injuries have now been conceded by the US.

That compares with 406 alleged Coalition civilian casualty events tracked by Airwars since strikes began in August 2014. Of these, Airwars presently assesses a further 167 events as having been fairly reported, with a likely additional civilian toll of 1,064 to 1,638 civilians killed.

All of the newly-admitted events were carried out by US aircraft, most the result of civilians entering the ‘kill box’ after weapon release. No other Coalition ally – or Russia – has so far conceded killing or injuring any civilians, despite thousands of airstrikes between them.

“While we appreciate the latest US admission of civilian casualties from its 20-month war against so-called Islamic State, we remain concerned that the Coalition is significantly under-reporting non-combatant deaths,” said Airwars director Chris Woods. “Only 41 of 1,100 or more likely civilian deaths have so far been conceded – and all by the United States. Other allies in the Coalition – as well as Russia – now need to be open about the casualties they too have inflicted.”

Six of the newly admitted events took place in Iraq and three in Syria. Only a third of the incidents were publicly reported at the time, suggesting both that internal CENTCOM monitoring is capable of detecting likely civilian casualties – but also that public accounts of civilian deaths may represent a significant underreporting.

The US has also confirmed the first civilian death in Mosul – a city which has seen more Coalition airstrikes and alleged civilian fatalities than anywhere else in Iraq or Syria. On January 11th CENTCOM now admits, at least one civilian died and five or more were injured during a US air raid on a bank in the city. At the time the US let it be known it had been prepared to inflict up to 50 civilian casualties in the attack.

Latest confirmed civilian casualties from US strikes

Sept 10th 2015 Kubaysah, Iraq 2 killed and 4 injured when vehicle enters killbox
Oct 5th 2015 Atshanah, Iraq Family of 8 or 9 killed when house struck
Nov 4th 2015 Huwaijah, Iraq 2 nearby civilians injured when ‘ISIL vehicle’ hit
Nov 12th 2015 Ramadi, Iraq 1 civilian killed in strike on ‘ISIL fighters’
Dec 10th 2015 Raqqa, Syria 1 civilian killed in targeted strike on HVT
Dec 12th 2015 Ramadi, Iraq Family of 5 includng 3 children killed
Dec 24th 2015 Tishreen, Syria 1 civilian killed when motorbike enters killbox
Jan 11th 2016 Mosul, Iraq 1 civilian killed and 5 injured in strike on ‘ISIL bank’
Feb 2nd 2016 Al Ghazili, Syria 1 civilian killed in strike on ‘ISIL vehicle’
▲ Family of five killed in a reported Coalition strike December 10 (via Ramadi News)

Published

March 9, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

Additional research by Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Alex Hopkins and Basile Simon

Latest assessments suggest more than 1,000 civilians may now have died in 18 months of Coalition airstrikes across Iraq and Syria. The estimate is fifty times greater than the number of civilian deaths so far admitted by the US-led alliance.

Airwars researchers have so far identified 352 reported civilian casualty events, in which Coalition aircraft allegedly killed between 2,232 and 2,961 non-combatants in the war against so-called Islamic State.

Based on credible public reports and confirmed Coalition strikes in the vicinity, some 166 of these incidents are currently assessed as having likely led to civilian deaths – with a reported range of 1,004 to 1,419 killed.

The US has so far confirmed just sixteen of these events, which according to the Pentagon likely killed 21 civilians (Airwars places the toll slightly higher at 34 fatalities.)

None of the US’s eleven allies has admitted causing any civilian deaths, despite more than 10,800 Coalition airstrikes and 39,715 bombs and missiles dropped. Officials claim more than 25,000 enemy fighters have been slain.

Syria: Losing the war of ideas The first alleged civilian deaths from Coalition strikes were reported on August 16th 2014 – just one week into the 18-month air campaign. Since then, an average of four events a week have been claimed across Iraq and Syria – though few are reported by international media.

Recent weeks have seen a worrying rise in reported fatalities, which may be linked to less restrictive rules of engagement.

There were 22 alleged Coalition civilian casualty events in February 2016 for example, which between them are claimed to have killed at least 144 civilians. Nine of those incidents were clustered around the city of al Shadadi in Syria, recently captured by Kurdish forces with direct air support from the Coalition. A CENTCOM spokesman told Airwars only two of these reported incidents are under investigation.

In total, between 504 and 697 civilians are lkely to have been killed in Coalition strikes across Syria since September 23rd 2014. While Russia is likely to have killed four times that number in just five months, neither campaign has admitted to killing a single civilian in the country since Moscow began its own air war.

Kinda Haddad leads the Airwars team assessing Russian and Coalition airstrikes in Syria. She says she is troubled by the widening gulf between credible field reports of civilian deaths, and public military estimates:

Much like the war in Syria, the war against ISIS will not be won on the battlefields.  It is a generational war of ideas, and as long as we give Middle Eastern lives less value than our own, we will keep on feeding the hatred and suspicion that nihilistic groups like ISIS capitalise on to recruit the young and vulnerable in all our societies.

Iraq: ‘I feel like a helpless witness’ Iraqis also report a significant number of civilian deaths from international airstrikes – though most Coalition partners deny any responsibility.

The UK, Denmark, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Jordan all insist they have killed no civilians – despite more than 2,300 airstrikes in Iraq between them. And the Pentagon admits to killing just eight civilians in Iraq, from 4,917 declared US airstrikes in the country since August 2014.

Estimated strikes by non-US partners in Iraq, Sept 2014-March 2016

Once again the public record suggests a different reality, with at least 500 civilians credibly reported killed in 69 separate events in which Coalition strikes are confirmed nearby.

In the latest alleged incidents,  21 civilian victims have been named by local sources (including 13 children) after a March 5th Coalition strike on a Daesh weapons facility in Mosul. The extended family was said to be living in outbuildings in the derelict factory complex when it was targeted.

Two days later – again in Mosul – a family of six was reported killed in an alleged Coalition strike, with a source complaining to Yaqen News that “indiscriminate bombardment by Coalition aircraft operations has increased dramatically recently, and led to the deaths of many civilians.”

https://twitter.com/airwars_/status/707173793907777536/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc^tfw

Latif Habib helps Airwars assess claims of civilian deaths in Iraq from international airstrikes. “I feel I’m a helpless witness to 1,000 innocent victims killed by Coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria during the last 18 months,” he said this week from Baghdad.

▲ An image shows burning supply trucks following a Feb 26 strike which also killed five civilians (via NRN News)

Published

February 3, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

Royal Air Force combat aircraft were not involved in eight alleged civilian casualty incidents in Iraq in December 2015, according to Britain’s Defence Secretary.

Concerns were first raised by Scottish media and politicians in early January, after cross-referencing of reported civilian casualty incidents with UK airstrikes in Iraq had indicated possible concerns.

Eight claimed incidents in the cities of Mosul and Ramadi had been alleged, for days on which the Ministry of Defence had already confirmed UK airstrikes in the vicinity (see below.) The Scottish National Party led calls for the MoD to investigate whether RAF aircraft might have been involved in any civilian casualty events.

Tomorrow's front @ScotNational @TheCommonSpace investigation demands probe into civilian deaths in Iraq pic.twitter.com/0dpxaGjswN

— The National (@ScotNational) January 7, 2016

How Scotland’s media first reported casualty concerns

In its initial response on January 16th, the MoD dismissed claims that RAF airstrikes might have been responsible for civilian deaths in Iraq but gave few further details. Pressed for more information by Labour MP Graham Allen, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has now made clear that following an investigation, the MoD is certain UK aircraft played no role in the alleged events.

“RAF aircraft were not involved in strikes in seven of the incidents cited,” according to Mr Fallon. “The eighth incident was impossible to locate from the detail given in the letter: all information from the RAF air strike conducted on that particular day has been reviewed and there was no indication of any civilian casualties resulting from the strike.“

It remains possible that aircraft from other Coalition allies might have been responsible for some of the alleged incidents in Ramadi and Mosul. The MoD says it has already passed on Airwars’ concerns regarding the eight reported events to CENTCOM, the US military command which leads the Coalition’s efforts in Iraq and Syria.

“I welcome the recent change of the MoD’s position, which for the first time has now accepted and examined credible reports of civilian casualties from external organisations,” Graham Allen MP told Airwars. “It is absolutely crucial that the MoD is as transparent as possible about all airstrikes carried out, and that it does not rely on its internal investigations only.“

Despite 534 British airstrikes in Iraq and 26 in Syria to January 28th, the MoD insists there have been no civilian casualties from UK actions. A spokesperson told Airwars: “In the hundreds of air strikes conducted by the RAF we have found no evidence of civilian casualties resulting from UK military action in Iraq or Syria. We do an assessment after every British strike and if we had any reason to believe, either from this analysis or from other credible reports, that there might have been civilian casualties, we would conduct an investigation, in conjunction with Coalition authorities.”

New US admissions

In related news, the Pentagon has continued its own policy of ‘normalising’ the reporting of civilian casualties from US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

On January 29th CENTCOM released details of four additional casualty events in both Iraq and Syria. No civilians were publicly reported killed or injured in any of the airstrikes at the time, indicating that the US’s internal monitoring mechanisms continue to pick up casualty incidents which might otherwise go unreported.

In the most controversial of the four events, the US now admits that a failed attempt to kill British cyber-jihadist Junaid Hussain in Raqqa on August 13th 2015 instead resulted in eight civilian casualties.

“The strikes that occurred Aug. 13, 2015, were against Junaid Hussain, which resulted in injuries to him that were not fatal,” a CENTCOM spokesman told Airwars. “During this strike, as today’s news release points out, we assessed that three civilians were unfortunately killed and five were injured. Junaid Hussain was killed during a subsequent strike on Aug. 24, 2015, near Raqqah, Syria.”

British cyber terrorist Junaid Hussain. A failed attempt by the US to kill him in August 2015 caused the deaths of at least three civilians in Raqaa

The three other casualty incidents all took place in Iraq in 2015. On July 27th, a US airstrike against ‘ISIL vehicles’ resulted in the injuring of a civilian, CENTCOM now says.

On September 24th, two civilians were killled at Sinjar when their vehicle was caught up in a targeted US strike on a motorbike. “Weapons were released while the target was stopped at an intersection; however, another vehicle approached after weapons were in flight. Both the motorcycle and the vehicle were destroyed,” CENTCOM reported.

In the fourth event, at least two civilians were injured after a vehicle carrying a Daesh cleric was hit by US aircraft – causing it “to veer into oncoming traffic.” According to CENTCOM, the target on October 15th was “ISIL Sharia Judge Mullah Maysar.” Real name Akram Kurbash aka Abu Akram, he was a senior figure in Daesh and a target of previous targeted strikes. He was first reported killed in a Coalition attack on May 13th 2015 by the Iraqi Defence Ministry, a claim later played down by the US.

CENTCOM has now confirmed 16 separate civilian casualty incidents across Iraq and Syria from US airstrikes, as well as one ‘friendly fire’ event which killed Iraqi soldiers. No other member of the 12-strong international Coalition has so far admitted causing any civilian casualties, despite more than 2,000 non-US strikes.

The eight alleged events UK says its aircraft not involved in

Date Location Allegation
13/12/15 Mosul Three professors from University of Mosul among 4 civilians and a Daesh official reportedly killed in alleged Coalition airstrike
Mosul Single-source claim that 19 civilians died in Coalition strike on Mosul. However Airwars’ own sources in Nineveh contested claim.
21/12/15 Mosul Reuters reported that “About 20 people, including at least 12 civilians, were killed on Monday in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, in two air strikes that destroyed houses believed to be used by Islamic State militants, six eyewitnesses and a medical source said.” Well-reported event suggested Coalition responsible.
Mosul 17 civilians including 4 women and 5 children reported killed in alleged Coalition strike in Wehda and Methak neighbourhoods east of Mosul. Some doubt regarding the incident, with local NRN News denying civilians had died.
Mosul According to three Arabic media sources, 6 civilians reportedly killed and 3 injured – all children and women – after Coalition jets allegedly bombed their house in Keseir village east of Mosul.
22/12/15 Ramadi During fierce air and ground assault on Ramadi, local sources claimed airstrikes had targeted a nearby area, resulting in 8 civilian deaths and 12 injuries.
25/12/15 Ramadi Military aircraft reportedly killed 5 civilians in a Christmas Day strike. According to local sources the attack could have been either by the Iraq Army or the Coalition.
29/12/15 Mosul According to local media, vehicles used by Daesh to transport oil were destroyed killing about 15 militants. But the attack also destroyed the ‘Cairo’ gas station, which in turn damaged a number of civilian homes nearby.

A house was also reportedly targeted in northern Mosul killing 20 Daesh. But according to media, “the house is located in a residential area and is surrounded by many other homes, which suffered significant physical damage. Civilians were also killed and injured.”

▲ A British Typhoon is refuelled over Iraq by a US Stratotanker, December 22 2015 (USAF/ Staff Sgt Corey Hook)

Published

January 22, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

The Pentagon has confirmed five additional casualty events from US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, which officials say between them killed two civilians while injuring a further four.

Yet all of those described as injured by US officials actually died from their wounds according to the public record – with each victim named at the time by local casualty recorders.  That suggests CENTCOM investigators are still not making effective use of credible external reporting when assessing claims.

Airwars understands that this latest US admission is part of a broader Coalition move to ‘normalise’ civilian casualty reporting, after months of officials playing down such claims.

Named victims

The five new confirmed incidents – all within a 13-day time window in July 2015 – make clear that civilian casualties from Coalition strikes are a common event in both Iraq and Syria, as Airwars and others have long indicated.

“One civilian in a truck with a trailer was likely killed” when the Coalition destroyed 16 bridges in the Daesh-controlled city of Raqaa on July 4th, according to US Central Command (CENTCOM) in a press release issued January 22nd.

That death in Raqaa was not publicly reported at the time – suggesting the casualty was only spotted by Coalition aerial surveillance. What its aircraft won’t have been able to see that day was a family of seven reportedly crushed to death when one of the bridges collapsed on top of them according to a later field investigation by BuzzFeed.

On July 7th, US aircraft attacked a group of Daesh fighters, again in Raqqah. According to CENTCOM “a civilian was injured by a secondary explosion and flying debris from the initial strike.” In fact 27-year old Ezz al Deen al Nazzal died of his injuries, as the Syrian Network for Human Rights reported at the time.

A US targeted killing operation against Al Qaeda-linked militant Muhsin al-Fadhli went wrong on July 8th, when a passing motorcycle was caught in the blast (see video below). Rider and passenger were “likely injured” claims CENTCOM. In fact local factory workers Ahmad Mohamad al Tahini, and Hussein Mohammad Kheir al Tahini both died, according to multiple sources.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=ErK8-3XP_Sg

Aftermath of a US strike on July 8th which killed two named factory workers

On July 11th the US admits it killed another civilian at Raqqah, named by monitoring groups as Issa Al Hmeidan. Unmentioned in CENTCOM’s report are two additional alleged events in the city that day, in which a mother and her children and a firefighting team were separately reported slain in Coalition airstrikes.

And finally on July 17th, CENTCOM says it “injured” a civilian during a targeted strike on a vehicle in the Iraqi city of Mosul. According to local monitors, waiter Muhannad Hisham Alnemah (pictured below) had tried to rescue a terrified young child in the street during the strike, but was hit by flying shrapnel. He later died of his injuries in hospital.

Confirming the latest civilian casualties, CENTCOM again noted that “We deeply regret the unintentional loss of life and injuries resulting from those strikes and express our deepest sympathies to the victims’ families and those affected.”

Waiter Muhannad Hisham, killed in a US airstrike on Mosul July 17 2015 (via Mosul Ateka)

Sharp contrast

What stands out from these latest incidents is not how little is known about civilian deaths from Coalition airstrikes – but how much casualty recorders on the ground are often able to determine from an early stage.

Volunteers with groups such as the Syrian Network for Human Rights and Raqaa Is Being Slaughtered Silently often take great risks gathering such information – only to have their findings often ignored by Coalition partners and international media.

But now there are signs of change. Just weeks ago the Coalition had admitted just two ‘likely’ civilian casualty events. That number has now risen to 13 incidents – and according to Pentagon officials the number of admitted events will continue to rise, as the Coalition seeks to ‘normalise’ reporting of civilian deaths and injuries.

CENTCOM itself plans to confirm an additional four cases in the week beginning January 24th. That will mean a total of 16 civilian casualty cases – and one friendly fire incident – confirmed by the US so far.

Asked to explain why the number of confirmed civilian casualty cases had leapt up in just a few weeks, a CENTCOM spokesman told Airwars that “Based on the balance between keeping the public informed and the lengthy (sometime months) declassification and redaction process associated with individual cases, we made the decision to delink that process from the release of available unclassified information.”

According to CENTCOM, this means that “in accordance with our commitment to transparency, we are working to release the assessment findings of the remaining closed allegations as soon as possible.”

Even so, the Coalition lags far behind the public record when it comes to investigating alleged civilian casualty incidents. As the primary investigator for the Coalition, CENTCOM says it has only assessed 120 such events – and has already deemed 87 of them to be ‘not credible.’

In contrast Airwars believes that out of 320 incidents so far alleged across Iraq and Syria, 135 civilian casualty events involving Coalition partners are already likely to have occured – which between them appear to have killed 830 or more civilians in addition to those already admitted.

Despite more than 2,000 airstrikes by the US’s twelve allies in Iraq and Syria, no other Coalition partner has so far admitted causing any civilian casualties.

Published

January 15, 2016

Written by

Chris Woods

The United States has conceded five fresh civilian casualty incidents in Iraq and Syria which between them killed eight or more non-combatants, it believes.

Analysis suggests the actual toll from these five events is between 14 and 21 civilians killed, raising fresh questions about US and Coalition dependence upon aerial-only footage during post-strike investigations.

Airwars presently estimates that a further 803 to 1,127 civilians are likely to have died in an additional 132 problematic Coalition strikes since August 2014.

Five incidents

In a press release issued January 15th 2016, CENTCOM notes that “After a thorough review of the facts and circumstances for each allegation, the preponderance of evidence indicates five separate U.S. airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, between April 12 and July 4, have likely resulted in the death of eight civilians and injuries to an additional three civilians.”

The US military command – which spearheads the international campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also adds: “We deeply regret the unintentional loss of life and injuries resulting from those airstrikes and express our deepest sympathies to the victims’ families and those affected.”

Two previous civilian casualty incidents – and one ‘friendly fire’ event – have also been conceded by the United States. The other twelve partners in the alliance claim to have killed no civilians between them – despite more than 2,000 non-US airstrikes against Daesh to January 11th 2016.

For a full assessment of each incident – including all known sources, victim names and supportive photographs and videos – see our 2015 civilian casualty pages

The five new incidents admitted by CENTCOM took place over a three month period beginning April 2015.

Three cases were the result solely of internal reporting by US aircrews and analysts – with no known public records of civilian casualties at the locations for those dates.

Following a strike by an A-10 Warthog at Hawijah in Iraq on April 12th “it was assessed that two unidentified civilians were killed” CENTCOM reports.

On June 19th a civilian was also injured when they strayed into the ‘kill box’ during an attack on ISIL vehicles near Tall al Adwaniyah in Hassakah province, Syria.

And on June 29th 2015, two or more civilians were killed or injured during a US strike on an ISIL tactical unit and two ISIL vehicles. As the attack commenced, two civilian vehicles also approached. As CENTCOM now notes, “there was insufficient evidence to determine the level of injuries to the civilians operating the passing car and motorcycle.”

Underestimating casualties

Two other events conceded by CENTCOM were previously known to field researchers and journalists. And here it seems, the US is underestimating the number of killed and injured.

On June 11th 2015 at Slouk near Raqqa in Syria, US aircraft targeted an ISIL tactical unit. CENTCOM now says its assessment is that “three unidentified civilians were killed.”

Yet local casualty recorders Raqaa Is being Slaughtered Silently had reported almost immediately after the attack that civilian Yusuf Al Sayid had died, along with his two wives and their five children.

Ouday Ammar Al Shawakh, killed in a US airstrike on July 4th 2015 (via SN4HR)

And on July 4th last, a US targeted strike in central Raqaa killed at least seven named civilians – among them three children – rather than the “three unidentified civilians” CENTCOM says were likely killed. Among the non-combatants known to have died that day are Mohammed Khalil Al Raheel (aged 50), Fouad Hamoud Al Nimr (aged 10), Ouday Ammar Al Shawakh (pictured right) and Raed Na’ila (11 years old.)

Despite such discrepancies, the decision by CENTCOM to release fresh details of civilian fatalities is likely to be welcomed by regional casualty recorders and NGOs.

Before now, the Coalition had yet to confirm a single civilian fatality – despite 35,000 bombs and missiles having been dropped on Iraq and Syria to December 31st. Instead, six ‘likely’ civilian deaths had been admitted to – a fraction of the many hundreds of civilians which all casualty recorders agree the Coalition is likely to have killed to date.

David Cameron: ‘We must look at allegations’

In related news, British Prime Minister David Cameron has stepped into an increasingly fraught row regarding alleged civilian casualties from RAF airstrikes.

Airwars researchers identified eight claimed incidents in December 2015 in the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Ramadi, in which a total of 72 to 83 civilian deaths were alleged.

Some of these December incidents are poorly reported, while others are contested. Even so, Airwars believes four of the events – each based on claims by two or more credible sources – warrant urgent investigation. The RAF has confirmed it carried out airstrikes in both cities on the dates in question, alongside other Coalition nations.

David Cameron: ‘We must look at civilian casualty allegations’

Yet the Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed on January 7th that when it came to assessing whether UK airstrikes in Iraq and Syria might have caused civilian casualties, it would not consider credible reports by outside agencies such as casualty monitors, international news media or NGOs.

Instead, the MoD said it was relying solely on “our own aerial assessments following each strike as well as on the ground evaluations from partners.” The disclosure appeared to contradict earlier assurances by a defence minister that the MoD “would consider all information relating to civilian casualties received.”

Challenged on the issue by the Scottish Nationalists this week, Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to indicate a policy shift: “We take a very careful approach to minimise and eradicate civilian casualties wherever we can. But obviously if people make allegations we must look at them,” he told senior MPs.

Published

November 21, 2015

Written by

Chris Woods

Centcom has finally confirmed that US-led Coalition operations against Daesh in Iraq have ‘likely’ killed civilians on the ground.

The November 20th admission comes some 468 days into a bombing campaign which has seen more than 5,400 airstrikes in Iraq alone, with hundreds of civilians so far alleged killed.

According to a newly declassified Pentagon investigation, a strike on March 13th 2015 – understood to have been by a US A-10 attack aircraft – targeted a Daesh checkpoint at the town of Hatra.

But also present were two civilian vehicles which aircrews and analysts failed to properly identify. In the ensuing strike both cars were also destroyed. At least seven civilians reportedly died – including two women and three children.

Coalition commander Lt General John Hesterman signed off on the investigation in June, noting: “I concur with the findings and conclusions of the IO [investigating officer], who substantiated by a preponderance of the evidence that civilian casualties had occured.”

‘I concur with the findings… that civilian casualties had occured.’ Coalition commander Lt General John Hesterman signs off on the investigation

Deaths at Hatra

Centcom now concedes four civilians ‘likely’ died in the attack at Hatra, including at least one child. Its investigation confirms that Coalition analysts and targeters failed to discriminate between civilian and ‘ISIL’ vehicles at the time – and did not spot the likely presence of a child at the target location, in the short time between the release of a GBU-38 missile and impact.

The tragic events of March 13th were never publicly reported. Instead, the owner of one of the vehicles destroyed in the airstrike later wrote to the Coalition asking for compensation. Her testimony indicates the civilian toll is likely to be at least seven killed.

In a redacted email, the owner reveals that her car was carrying a family of two women and three children along with a civilian driver. Another vehicle with one or more civilians in it – possibly another family – was also present, she claims.

The partly redacted testimony of an Iraqi car owner which led Centcom to conclude it had killed civilians in Iraq on March 13th 2015

Rare admission

The US-led Coalition has displayed little urgency when it comes to addressing credible allegations of civilians killed.

Airwars researchers have so far identified 263 incidents in Iraq and Syria in which civilians were allegedly killed by the Coalition – with between 1,544 and 2,051 civilian deaths claimed in total.

Based on available evidence and confirmed Coalition strikes in the vicinity, we presently view at least 111 of these incidents – which reportedly killed 680 to 975 civilians between them – as having likely been carried out by US-led forces.

Yet this newly declassified report is only the second admission by the Coalition that it has killed any civilians in its long air war against Daesh. Two young girls were ‘likely’ slain in a US airstrike in Syria in November 2014, it was admitted six months later.

US officials were hinting in early September 2015 that another civilian casualty investigation was ready for release, and it remains unclear why the Coalition delayed publication for so long. A previously-secret Centcom document published by Airwars and others shows investigators had already concluded by early May of this year that “the allegation of CIVCAS [at Hatra] was likely credible.”

“An eight month delay between credible allegations of civilian casualties and publication of findings is unacceptable,” says Kinda Haddad of Airwars. “With more than 250 claimed incidents of civilians killed by US-led forces in Iraq and Syria, we need to see the Coalition taking this vital issue much more seriously.”

In a statement accompanying the Hatra report, Centcom spokesman Colonel Patrick Ryder noted that “we regret the unintentional loss of lives and keep those families in our thoughts“.

▲ Recent library image of a US A-10 attack plane, of the type thought to have carried out the Hatra strike (USAF/ Airman 1st Class Cory W. Bush)

Published

October 6, 2015

Written by

Airwars Staff

Denmark was one of the last international allies to join Coalition strikes against Islamic State in Iraq. Even so, the past year has seen such a heavy workload that Danish personnel went public with their complaints of fatigue. With all seven F-16s now safely home, guest reporter Rasmus Raun Westh looks at a year of strikes – and a battle to force Denmark to be more transparent on where it bombs. 

On the night of September 29th-30th, heavily-armed Danish combat aircraft took off from Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait for their last missions against Islamic State.

Danish aircrew and ground support personnel were finally coming home after 547 missions and 503 bombs dropped.

Four F-16s – each armed with two 2,000 pound bombs – would participate in a larger mission with the US Air Force. Another pair of F-16s took off later that same night, but returned with their bombs still attached, Middle East correspondent Puk Damsgård later reported from the base.

Their missions completed, Danish aircrew and ground support personnel were finally coming home after 547 missions and 503 bombs dropped.

Denmark formally joined the war against Daesh on October 2nd 2014, when the Folketing (Parliament) – in a near-unanimous vote – authorized the deployment of 140 Air Force personnel to Kuwait and 20 more to Coalition headquarters in Qatar. Another 120 Army personnel have been carrying out training missions in Iraq’s Anbar province, and the Kurdistan Regional Governorate.

Initially delayed by a lack of permits to operate in Kuwaiti air space, Danish fighter jets took off on their first mission on October 16th.

A Danish F-16 takes off on its last combat mission over Iraq, September 29 2015 (Danish MoD/Ronny Rasmussen)

Despite political intentions to extend the mission mandate into a second year, the seven F-16s were pulled home following a public appeal from overworked flight mechanics reportedly suffering illness and high absence rates.

During a visit to Denmark shortly before the withdrawal agreement, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey – citing a need for Denmark to be able to stay in the anti-Daesh war in the long run – endorsed the temporary withdrawal while encouraging the Danes to rejoin the fight “at the appropriate time”.

In place of the F-16s, the Danish Air Force is sending an AN/TPS-77 transportable radar to Ayn al-Asad Base in Anbar province, reportedly in response to a US request for a radar capable of replacing two AWACS surveillance aircraft currently flying over Iraq and Syria.

Vi trækker syv F16-fly hjem. Men kampen mod IS fortsætter, bl.a. med træningsbidraget i Irak. #dkpol

— Carl Holst (@CarlHolst) August 22, 2015

Denmark’s then-Defence Minister announces end of F-16 mission

Transparency issues In a series of articles penned by this author for Dagbladet Information, Danish MPs and others have heavily criticized Denmark’s military for its lack of transparency in its war against Daesh.

The first Danish strikes coincided with a change in the wording of press releases sent out by US Central Command. Prior to the Danish engagement, CENTCOM’s summaries would include lines like “the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of the Netherlands aircraft participated in these airstrikes.”

Defence chief General Peter Bartram visiting F-16s in Kuwait, August 2015 (Danish MoD)

As of October 21st 2014 however, “out of respect for participating nations“, CENTCOM now left it up to individual countries to identify their role in airstrikes.

In its own first mission update on October 20th, Danish Defence Command informed the public that its F-16’s had flown “11 missions in Iraq” and that the fighters had “used bombs in connection with some of the missions”. There was no mention of which locations had been struck, or on which dates.

“You shouldn’t be able to track one specific attack in one specific area back to a Danish plane. We prefer to hide in the crowd,” Colonel Søren W. Andersen said in an interview with Dagbladet Information – a policy later defended by General Peter Bartram, head of the Danish military.

Colonel Andersen confirmed that the Danish military had asked CENTCOM not to identify Danish actions in its press releases, though argued that the introduction of the ‘partner nation’ term was a result of “several interests that had to be united” rather than a Danish request exclusively.

We prefer to hide in the crowd” Spokesman Colonel Søren W. Andersen, justifying Denmark’s decision to refuse to say where it bombs

A FOIA request by Danish reporter Charlotte Aagaard later confirmed the Danish policy of rendering it impossible to identify Denmark’s role in strikes, “neither directly or by through deduction”, specifying that “the Danish contribution should not be mentioned in Coalition press releases if fewer than three nations are mentioned in relation to the activity in question.”

Under pressure from Danish media, mission updates were initially expanded in November to include the names of provinces and cities targeted – although dates and locations of attacks were still withheld. Three months later, Defence Command scaled back the level of geographic detail by omitting city names. And from March a caveat was added noting that strikes took place ‘primarily’ in e.g. Anbar province, thus leaving open the possibility of strikes elsewhere.

‘No civilian casualties’ Despite its reticence in saying where it bombs, Denmark recently set a new benchmark for Coalition transparency.

No Danish aircraft had featured in a recently declassified CENTCOM report on 45 alleged civilian casualty incidents in Iraq and Syria to April 30th. However in early September Danish  Armed Forces announced they may have killed civilians during an Iraq air strike on Sunday August 30th.

Suspicions had been aroused during a post-strike video review, Colonel Søren W. Andersen told DR – and the strike was now the subject of a CENTCOM investigation. As a subsequent statement noted, “In certain parts of the video material, showing four people and a vehicle, actions are taken that could be considered as not openly hostile.”

In an announcement published on October 2nd, shortly after the last F-16  missions, Defence Command announced the CENTCOM investigation had found the strike “most likely” did not kill civilians, but that the four people targeted were “in the process of planting roadside bombs”.

“The Coalition has reviewed all accessible material from the attack. This includes, among other things, full video material of the attack from two Danish F16-planes; the pilots’ own observations; as well as other intelligence,” the statement read.

In keeping with its generally more secretive approach to warfare, Danish Defence Command has said it will publish only the report’s conclusions, and that the investigation itself will remain classified.

Danish technicians check weapons for the final F-16 missions (Danish MoD/Ronny Rasmussen)

Return of the F-16s? The war against Daesh still enjoys fairly wide support in the Danish parliament. Even with newly elected green party The Alternative joining the leftist Red-Green Alliance in the anti-war choir, seven out of nine parties have expressed support for a new mandate, including the provision of radar in Anbar province.

I am open to the idea, but I am not yet decided.” Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen on possible future deployments to Syria

Although newly appointed Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen has indicated a possible return of Denmark’s F-16s in the summer of 2016, no timescale has so far been set. In political interviews and parliamentary hearings, Jensen has also supported expanding the Danish mission into Syria following Canada, Australia and France’s recent lead.

“I am open to the idea, but I am not yet decided. We will decide once we redeploy our F-16s. Several things come into play here. One is our allies, another is that our troops are deployed with the backing of a strong and wide mandate,” Jensen has said.

The Foreign Minister’s apparent reticence may be an acknowledgement that the Socialist People’s Party – presently a backer of the mission – has expressed skepticism about bombing Daesh in Syria.

▲ Danish aircrew load a 2,000lb bomb onto an F-16 for its last Iraq mission (Dabnish MoD/ )