After more than 4,000 airstrikes by the international alliance over a nine month period, the US-led coalition has finally conceded that its actions have killed civilians.
According to a statement issued by CENTCOM late on May 21st, an airstrike on the village of Harem near Aleppo six months previously had “likely led to the deaths of two non-combatant children.”
According to Airwars’ own records, one of those killed was five year old Daniya Ali Al Haj Qaddour, whose father Ali Saeed Al Haj Qaddour (an alleged fighter with the Al Nusra Front) also died in the attack according to reports at the time.
Daniya’s mother, and her young brother Saeed, were also reported to have been severely wounded in the bombing. The identity of the second slain child is not clear.
While welcome, CENTCOM’s admission that it has killed non-combatants also raises uncomfortable questions.
Details of the childrens’ deaths were published on social media and by Syrian monitoring groups within hours of the US attack, on the night of November 5th-6th 2014.
And redacted emails released by CENTCOM indicate that military officials were aware of possible civilian deaths almost immediately after the event.
Yet it was not until January 8 2015 – two months after the killings – that an inquiry was ordered. Overseen by coalition commander Lt. General James L. Terry, the declassified report confirms that a series of US air raids on the so-called Khorasan Group, a faction of Al Qaeda, had also “triggered secondary explosions.”
Although four children were reported killed at the time of the attack, CENTCOM’s investigation has only been able to confirm two “likely” deaths.
‘Too little, too late’ Airwars will shortly publish its own major report into civilians allegedly killed by the coalition since August.
Our provisional findings show that between 384 and 753 civilians have been reported killed in some 97 problem incidents, according to local and international media, and Iraqi and Syrian monitoring groups.
Verifying these claims can be extremely difficult. Most areas being bombed by the coalition are occupied by Islamic State. Civic society has often collapsed, and local people live in fear of retaliation for speaking out. Even so, evidence linking the coalition to civilian deaths can often be compelling.
“While we welcome CENTCOM’s admission after nine months of bombings that it has indeed killed civilians, it’s a case of too little too late,” says Chris Woods of Airwars.
“The first claims of civilian deaths from coalition actions emerged just days after air strikes began in August 2014. Since then, hundreds of likely non-combatant deaths have occurred, many in incidents better documented than the November 5th incident which CENTCOM has now conceded.”
Woods urged the coalition to speed up its investigation and review process – and to be far more transparent about where and when individual coalition members are bombing in Iraq and Syria.
Airwars Report on November 5th-6th Strike
November 5th-6th 2014: Harem, Idlib governorate, Syria Summary: Six months after US air raids targeted the Khorasan Group (part of the Nusra Front) and the militant group Ahrar al-Sham, the coalition finally conceded that two children had died in the attack – the first public concession of any civilian deaths after 4,000 airstrikes over nine months. The November 5th US raid targeted the villages of Harem, Bab Al Hawa, Sarmada, Reef Al-Muhameen and Binsh. Reports from the night remains confused, with civilian deaths claimed at a number of locations. Reuters carried a statement from Ahrar al-Sham saying that “The air strikes came last night and hit a number of areas in the liberated Idlib countryside,” and that casualties included “women and children and civilians.” CENTCOM later confirmed that US actions had led to civilian deaths at Harem. According to the Syrian Revolution Forum blog: “The planes of the Arab/Western coalition launched air strikes on Syrian cities adjacent to the Turkish border. The centre of the town of Harem was targeted with more than six raids causing the death of four children and causing massive destruction to residential and commercial property on Al Sijn street.” One of the children named as killed was five year old Daniya Ali Al Haj Qaddour, whose father Ali Saeed Al Haj Qaddour – a fighter with the Al Nusra Front – also died in the attack (both pictured below.) Daniya’s mother and brother Saeed were reported to have been severely wounded. Reported killed: 2-4 children Reported injured: Unknown Sources: Reuters, GRAPHIC Jakob Sheikh Facebook page [Danish], Syrian Revolution Forum [Arabic], Free Syrian Army [Arabic], Syrian Network for Human Rights [Arabic] [English], GRAPHIC YouTube video [two slain children], YouTube [post-strike destruction in Harem], YouTube (2nd video of destruction in Harem), YouTube, Syrian Martyrs [Arabic], YouTube [civil-defence rescuers search for survivors in Harem – Arabic commentary], YouTube [Syrian rescue services hunt for survivors], Violations Documentation Center [Arabic], CENTCOM declassified report Quality of reporting: High, with coalition confirming civilian casualties Coalition position: CENTCOM confirmed on May 21st 2015 that it likely killed two children in an airstrike at Harem. “We regret the unintentional loss of lives,” Lt General Terry said of the incident. “The Coalition continues to take all reasonable measures during the targeting process to mitigate risks to non-combatants, and to comply with the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict.”
GRAPHIC: Two child victims of US airstrike, Harem in Syria November 5 2015