One of 40 vehicles destroyed in an alleged Coalition strike at Mosul which killed up to 17 civilians (via NRN)
One of 40 vehicles destroyed in an alleged Coalition strike at Mosul November 16th, which also killed up to 12 civilians (via NRN)

International airstrikes and civilian casualty claims in Iraq and Syria: November 2015

Written by Basile Simon and Chris Woods on December 21, 2015

Additional reporting by Kinda Haddad and Latif Habib

Major military developments

  • November 2015 saw the greatest number of Coalition actions yet reported in the 16-month war, with 529 airstrikes in Iraq and 232 in Syria. Overall, a total of 5,638 air strikes had been carried out in Iraq, and 2,944 in Syria to the end of the month.

The 13 allies had between them cumulatively dropped 31,873 bombs and missiles against Daesh to month’s end, with a 20 per cent rise in the number of munitions released compared with October. In part, this spike was due to the Coalition individually targeting and destroying hundreds of individual ‘Daesh oil tankers’ in Syria.

  • In the wake of the November 13th Paris terrorist atrocities, France stepped up its attacks on so-called Islamic State in Syria, and also sent back to the region the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
  • After more than 5,000 airstrikes in Iraq, the US-led Coalition finally conceded on November 20th that it had ‘likely’ killed civilians in Iraq – six months after a similar admission for Syria. Seven or more civilians reportedly died in an airstrike at Hatra on March 13th – including two women and three children.

As Airwars noted at the time, it remains unclear why the Coalition delayed admitting the deaths for so long. A declassified CENTCOM document shows investigators had already concluded by early May of this year that “the allegation of CIVCAS [at Hatra] was likely credible.”

  • Russia continued its own major air campaign in Syria, with heavy bombers being used for the first time. Once again there were reports of a significant number of civilians killed in Kremlin strikes (see below.)

  • Two major Coalition bombing campaigns took place in November in Iraq. In the north, the Coalition supported a joint operation by the Peshmerga, the PKK, and the People’s Protection Units to retake Sinjar and regain control of Highway 47, a major Daesh supply route between Raqqa and Mosul. Coalition aircraft carried out 155 air strikes in the vicinity.

Two Syrian cities immediately across the border from Sinjar were also heavily bombed by the Coalition: 70 and 55 strikes were carried out respectively around Al Hawl and Hasakah.

In the centre of Iraq, the city of Ramadi also saw heavy bombings. The capital of the Anbar province had fallen to Daesh in May 2015. The Iraqi army has since encircled the town, giving a ‘last warning’ to civilians to leave the city before an assault. Coalition aircraft conducted 149 airstrikes in the near vicinity.

French combat aircraft in the Middle East November 2015 (Ministère de la Défense)
French combat aircraft in the Middle East November 2015 (Ministère de la Défense)

Coalition civilian casualties

  • There were 18 alleged civilian casualty incidents in November 2015 reportedly involving Coalition aircraft – 13 in Iraq and five in Syria. Total claimed fatalities were 129 to 152 non-combatants killed.

Airwars presently assesses nine of these events as fairly reported: that is two or more credible sources, and Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. Between 67 and 90 civilians were reported killed in these incidents (with an estimated 48-68 deaths in Iraq and 19-22 in Syria.)

Seven further events are currently poorly reported; one is contested; and one incident appears to have been fabicated by so-called Islamic State.

  • A number of major casualty incidents were attributed to Coalition aircraft for the month. On November 10th, nine named civilians from two families were reported killed in an alleged Coalition dawn strike at the small Syrian village of al Bootha – close to the scene of fierce clashes between Kurdish ground forces and Daesh.
Missile fragment reportedly found at scene of a lethal Mosul airstrike, November 16 2015 (via NRN)
Missile fragment reportedly found at scene of a lethal Mosul airstrike, November 16 2015 (via NRN)

On November 16th between seven and 12 civilians were reported killed following an alleged Coalition strike on the directorate of agriculture in Mosul. A further 28 to 39 people were reported injured. The incident took place in the Al Faisaliah area, and according to reports most if not all of those killed had no links to Daesh. An ISIL propaganda video showed some victims in their vehicles, with others including children taken to a local hospital.

Again in Mosul, on November 19th up to 10 workers at a dairy factory were reported killed after a Daesh IED facility next door was destroyed in a Canadian airstrike. In a later statement to CBC News, Canadian Forces Major General Charles Lamarre said the strike had been reviewed and “did not reveal any information to suggest that civilians had been harmed or killed… The nearest structure to the strike was well outside of the explosive radius of the weapons used‎.” However, graphic footage released by Islamic State showed not only the apparent destroyed IED facility but also a badly damaged adjacent building, including dead and injured persons.

And on November 26th, local sources in Fallujah alleged that Coalition aircraft bombed a house with three families inside near Khalid Bin Al Waleed mosque, killing at least 12 and wounding six more – mostly children and women. The Baghdad Centre for Human Rights said that both Coalition and Iraq government aircraft had participated in the attack, while all other sources pointed only to the Coalition.

Aftermath of Canadian strike at Mosul November 19th which reportedly killed 10 civilians (via Nineveh Reporters Network)
Aftermath of Canadian strike at Mosul November 19th which reportedly killed 10 civilians (via Nineveh Reporters Network)
  • On November 25th, claims were made on social media that a ‘French airstrike’ had struck a primary school in Mosul, killing 28 children. However local activists and journalists strongly denied the claim, which appears to have been a crude propaganda attempt by Daesh. The Nineveh Reporters Network challenged the claimed attack, insisting that ‘there has been no Coalition strike in Mosul for the past three days.’ MNB also described the claim as Daesh propaganda, while an Iraqi official told Shafaaq there was “no truth as reported by some media about the killing of a number of pupils in an aerial bombardment of a primary school by French aircraft.”
  • In Syria on November 18th, up to ten civilians were killed in an airstrike on a civilian fuel facility in the Brigade 17 area of the city. Most sources attributed the attack to the Coalition. However, the Russian Ministry of Defence has also reported destroying 500 fuel trucks in the Raqqa and Dayr az Zawr areas at the time, making attribution difficult.

Russian civilian casualties

  • At Airwars we’ve now finished assessing Russian airstrikes in Syria to October 31st, and have as a result revised upwards our minimum estimate to 345-501 likely killed in the first 32 days of Russian strikes.

According to our Syria  researcher, based on field reports from monitoring groups and media and social media claims, there were 98 new civilian casualty incidents in Syria for November which allegedly involved the Russian Air Force. The total claimed casualty range for these new events was 394 to 414 killed.

However, due to the large number of ongoing alleged incidents involving Russia, we are still assessing these new events – and so are currently unable to make a provisional estimate of likely deaths. Other monitoring groups have published their own assessments, all of which indicate that many hundreds of civilians have now been killed in Syria by Russia:

– The Violations Documentation Centre estimates that in the two months to November 30th, Russia killed 835 non-combatants in Syria. This compares with 302 civilians the VDC believes have been killed by the US-led Coalition in Syria since September 2014.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights reports that to December 1st, Russian strikes in Syria had killed 570 civilians, including 152 children and 60 women.

– And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that to November 20th only, that “Russian airstrikes had killed 403 civilians, including 97 children under 18 and 69 adult women over 18 years of age.”

Bustan el-Qasr, following an alleged Russian airstrike on November 8th which killed 8 civilians (via Shaam News)
Bustan el-Qasr in Aleppo province, following an alleged Russian airstrike on November 3rd which killed eight civilians (via Shaam News)