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.
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.”
— Airwars (@airwars_) March 8, 2016
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.