Major conflict monitoring
Russia and the Assad regime in Syria: civilians in Aleppo governorate pounded
During January, Russia continued to bombard Idlib in support of the Assad government’s ongoing offensive. From the third week of the month, Russia’s air campaign also focused significantly on rebel-held areas of western Aleppo – resulting in further civilian harm.
In total, Airwars tracked 100 civilian harm events locally reported during January to have been carried out by Moscow alone or in partnership with the Assad regime -54 of which were in Idlib and 46 events in Aleppo.
This represented a 15% rise on the 87 events tracked in December 2019. In total, across these 100 January events, between 145 and 213 civilians were locally alleged killed – compared to between 132 and 170 such deaths during the previous month. Of these January numbers, as many as 77 were children and 31 women. Up to 548 further non-combatants were reportedly wounded during the month by Russian actions.
The tempo of strikes and civilian harm rose as the month wore on, as Syrian regime forces continued to advance in southern Idlib. Civilian harm events reported in Aleppo governorate spiked between January 16th and 24th . In the two days of January 20th to 21st alone, Airwars researchers monitored 20 incidents in Aleppo (20% of the entire month’s events). Of the 145 minimum claimed deaths during January, some 41% were in the province of Aleppo.
Once more, we saw reports of entire families killed. On January 21st, nine civilians including a family of six reportedly died in Russian or regime airstrikes on Kafr Ta’al village in the Western Aleppo countryside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the airstrikes targeted a farm near the village. Shahba Press said that six children and their parents were among those killed. One victim was identified as 22-year-old Mustafa Jdou’e.
On the same day, January 21st, ten civilians including up to six children died and as many as 42 more non-combatants were wounded in alleged Russian airstrikes on the town of Kafr Nuran. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that the bombing occurred around 4:35 PM local time. They published the names of nine dead civilians, including at least two children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that “residential buildings and gatherings of displaced people” were deliberately bombed. Among the victims were eight members of the Al-Hassan family; and three members of the Al-Qusair family.
As with previous months, January also saw major civilian harm incidents in Idlib. In the worse incident, between 10 and 19 civilians including at least four children and two women were reportedly killed and more than 20 non-combatants injured after alleged Russian or Syrian regime airstrikes on the town of Kafr Lata on January 29th. According to the Smart News Agency, “Russian warplanes launched a four-missile attack on civilian homes, a mosque and a road for the displaced in the village”.
Turkey in Syria
In January, Airwars continued to monitor sporadic allegations of civilian harm from Turkish actions in Syria. Our current assessment is that one civilian likely died and two or three more were wounded across three events. This is a sharp fall from the 12 likely deaths tracked during December 2019.
On January 1st, one civilian, named as Ammar Alhaji, was reportedly shot dead by members of the al Majd Brigade of the Syrian National Army in Tal Abyad, Raqqa governorate. Euphrates Post said the victim was a taxi diver. According to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, “the man was shot dead while he was trying to prevent fighters of Turkish-backed Al-Majd Legion from stealing his car.” Civilians took to the streets to protest in response to the alleged killing.
Up to three more civilians were likely wounded in two further events in Syria. On January 9th, one or two non-combatants were harmed when Turkish drones allegedly targeted an SDF Asayish (Kurdish Public Security Forces) checkpoint at the entrance of Ain Issa town, in Raqqa governorate.
Two days later, on January 11th, a woman, named as Zainab Mahmoud Hamada,
was reportedly injured in Turkish artillery strikes on the village of Bashranda, Aleppo governorate, according to sources on the ground.
Kurdish counterfire in Syria
Likely deaths from Kurdish counterfire in Syria outweighed deaths from Turkish actions during January. Our researchers tracked two civilian harm events assessed as likely carried out by YPG forces, killing between three and five civilians and injuring 18 more.
Between two and four civilians including at least one child and one woman were killed and up to five more wounded in alleged YPG artillery strikes on the city of Afrin, Aleppo governorate on January 20th, local media reported. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the child Muhammad Mar’i and Mrs. Turfah Meqdeh died. Additionally, @abowaelo tweeted a photo of a baby in the hospital, stating that the mother of the child was killed during the shelling earlier that day and that doctors managed to save the child by a cesarean operation on the deceased mother.
On January 29th, again in Afrin, local sources reported that one child died ad 13 more civilians, all adult males, were injured in alleged YPG artillery strikes on residential areas of the city. The White Helmets named the boy as 13-year-old Ahmed Tammam Qatayerji.
The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria
In January, for the first time since anti-ISIS operations began in August 2014, there were no civilian harm events attributed to the US-led Coalition against so-called Islamic State.
The Coalition said it had conducted just one strike in Iraq and seven strikes in Syria during January. The Iraq strike consisted of “one illumination mission for force protection”. The highly controversial unilateral US strike that killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport on January 3rd, was not counted in the monthly tally.
According to AFCENT, just 68 munitions were fire from the air over Iraq and Syria during January – a 57% fall on December 2019, and the lowest number of munitions fired in any one month since the start of Coalition actions against ISIS in August 2014.
Airwars continued to track reports of alleged US unilateral strikes in Syria during January; there were three reported unilateral strikes on Iran-backed groups, but no associated claims of civilian harm.
The number of reported civilian casualties and airstrikes in Libya slightly fell in January from the previous month. While in December Airwars recorded 189 strikes and between 25 and 29 civilian deaths, January saw 117 strikes, and 16 reported civilian fatalities.
Those decreases can be explained by a very shaky truce between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) which started on January 12th. In the first days after the agreement, both parties mostly abided by the agreement. But on January 16th repeated violations by both parties began, with 39 air and artillery strikes reported until the end of the month. It is worth pointing out that the majority of these strikes were conducted by artillery, unlike during previous months where airpower had dominated.
During the truce, international backers reportedly violated the arms embargo on several occasions – despite promising to stop at the Berlin peace conference on January 18th. Turkey apparently equipped the GNA with better air defences, rendering it difficult for the LNA to strike by plane or drone around Tripoli.
How will the #LNA manage to thwart these?
— Jalel Harchaoui (@JMJalel_H) February 9, 2020
Overall, local sources reported 60 air and artillery strikes by the LNA or its ally the United Arab Emirates throughout January, reportedly killing 13 civilians. The GNA and Turkey allegedly conducted 15 strikes between them, reportedly resulting in one civilian death.
As many of the strikes reported in January were indiscriminate artillery shelling, attribution of responsibility was difficult. For 36 strikes during the month, no belligerent could be determined. Another four strikes were contested between the GNA and LNA; these reportedly killed three civilians.
US counter terrorism campaigns
On February 25th, Airwars launched a major new online resource on Somalia providing the most comprehensive look yet at US counter terrorism actions in eastern Africa, and associated civilian harm claims.
Meanwhile AFRICOM informed Airwars that it had conducted six airstrikes in Somalia during January – all against al-Shabaab. It stated that no civilians were harmed in these strikes. However local communities reported differently.
In its first declared action in Somalia of 2020, AFRICOM said that a strike on January 3rd killed al-Shabaab terrorists near Bacaw.
During several days of fighting in Middle Juba, US forces conducted an airstrike on January 26th which targeted and reportedly destroyed an al-Shabaab compound in the vicinity of Jamaame.
Additionally, on January 27th, US Africa Command declared on the same day that it had conducted an airstrike on al Shabaab in the vicinity of Jilib, which it said had killed one militant. However, it was later reported that a 20-year old farmer named Mohamed Moalim was killed in the strike, with the location given as Hoombooy.
Relatives of the victim told Somali Memo that he was killed a “drone strike while planting a sesame field.” They added that he was “killed near some trees” and that only a “few parts of his body” were found.
#US military accused of killing a 20-yr-old farmer identified as Sidi Moalin following a #drone strike inside a farm near #Jilib town in #Somalia's Middle Juba region.#AFRICOM confirms conducting the strike, claims it killed an #AlShabaab fighter. pic.twitter.com/1XWlDhBiBt
— Morad News (@MoradNews) January 29, 2020
The last strike of the month was on January 29th, on an al Shabaab compound in Jilib. One al-Shabaab terrorist was killed, according to AFRICOM.
In the early morning of 29 January, The Federal Government of Somalia in coordination with and supported by the US Government, conducted an airstrike inside the al-Shabaab-controlled city of Jilib.
One al-Shabaab occupied compound was destroyed in the strike. pic.twitter.com/2kQMQdFqDZ
— Ismael Mukhtaar Omar (@imukhtaar) January 29, 2020
In addition, the US was implicated in several other events during January – though none had associated civilian harm claims. On January 7th, US troops were said to have participated in a ground operation together with Somali forces in Lafta Anole. This reportedly led to 35 dead Al Shabaab fighters. Xinhua also reported an airstrike without specifying who conducted it.
Between one and three Al Shabaab militants were allegedly killed on January 16th in Wanlaweyn, when government forces raided a house. It was unclear whether US forces took part in the attack.
And on January 22nd US airstrikes allegedly supported Somali forces near Hargessa Yarey in Middle Juba, killing several Al Shabaab members. On the same day US strikes allegedly targeted Saakow, reportedly killing several Al Shabab militants. However, in an email exchange with Airwars on February 4th 2020, an official stated said that AFRICOM did not conduct “any kinetic operations” on January 22nd.
CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during January 2020 in Yemen. The last declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province.
It is not known how many actions the CIA conducted in Yemen during the month, if any.
There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during January. The last such alleged strike was in August 2018.
After several wonderful years of Airwars’ Netherlands-based advocacy officer being embedded in the offices of PAX For Peace, our Dutch advocacy officer moved into the office of the Utrecht Centre of Global Challenges at Utrecht University at the beginning of January.
Our new partnership is similar to Airwars’ ongoing collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London in the UK. We look forward to exchanging knowledge and experience with the Centre, which accommodates for example the Intimacies of Remote Warfare project. PAX will remain a crucial partner of Airwars in the Netherlands, and we look forward to future collaboration with their exceptional Protection of Civilians team in particular.
On January 28th, Airwars UK, Airwars Stichting, and our Dutch partners met with the Netherlands Ministry of Defence in The Hague, at the invitation of the Ministry. In the wake of the Hawijah scandal, the Ministry of Defence has shown some willingness to critically revise its transparency policies. We are hoping to launch a similar process in the Netherlands to Airwars’ engagement with the Pentagon’s current civilian harm reduction review. We therefore aim to share our knowledge, to help militaries improve their civilian harm monitoring and hopefully, in turn, reduce casualties on the battlefield.
During January, Airwars took on a key role within SPA-N (the Security Policy Alternative Network). This important resource includes civil society organisations, activists, foundations, researchers and other experts working together to challenge securitised responses to crises and threats, and promotes alternative security policies and approaches that promote peace, human rights and development.
The group brings expertise from among others, the Open Society Foundation, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, the Conflict Analysis Research Centre, OSIWA, BUCOFORE, and the Oxford Research Group, in addition to Saferworld which began the initiative.