Major conflict monitoring
Russia and the Assad regime in Syria: civilian harm events quadruple
November saw an alarming escalation in reported harm from Russia’s ongoing Idlib campaign, which once more left noncombatants trapped on the ground and in great peril. Overall, Airwars researchers tracked 77 locally claimed civilian harm events allegedly carried out by Moscow and/or the Assad regime in November – all but four of which were in Idlib. This was more than four times the 18 incidents tracked during October – and represented the greatest number of claimed Russian events in any one month since August 2019.
In total, across these 77 November events, between 108 and 124 civilians were locally alleged killed – compared to between 23 and 31 such deaths during the previous month. More alarmingly, of these November tolls as many as 35 children and 23 women were claimed killed – with as many as 298 civilians additionally wounded.
Once again, we saw frequent reports of entire families being killed in strikes on residential areas. On November 2nd, four members of one family including a woman and two children died and dozens more were wounded in alleged Russian airstrikes on the al Shamali neighborhood of Jabala village, in southern Idlib governorate, according to local sources. The fatalities were named as Faisal Al – Abdullah, Ahmad Mohammad Al-Abdullah, Hussein Al-Abdallah, and the wife of Ahmad Al-Abdallahadultfe.
On November 17th, six members of another family were reported killed in an alleged Russian airstrike on Al Mallaja village, Kafar Nubul, in Idlib governorate. ShahbaPress said that two children were among those killed, adding that 14 other civilians were wounded, though the Smart News Agency put the injured at three people. The fatalities were named as Ahmed Kamel Al Maqsous, Ahmed Kamel Al Maqsous (female), son of Ahmed and Amani Al Maqsous, Salma Kamal Al Maqsous (female), Nujoud Kamal Al Maqsous (female), and Amina Kamel Al Maqsous, also female.
However, the worst incident of the month followed on November 20th, when seven members of three families, including four children, reportedly died and 11 more civilians were wounded in alleged Russian airstrikes on Maarat al-Numan in Idlib. Citing the director of the civil defence in the town, Shaam News said there had been three Russian raids. According to Syria Live ua map, “a whole family – four children, a woman and a man displaced from Kafrnabouda town – were killed”. Seven victims from the Basas, Qtiesh, and Al Hammoud families were named as killed – four of whom were children. Sources published graphic images of the victims.
6 شهداء من المدنيين وعدد من الإصابات نتيجة استهداف الطيران الحربي الروسي مدينة معرة النعمان بريف ادلب الجنوبي بغارات جوية. pic.twitter.com/rYts1buv9n
— IDLIB PLUS (@IdlibPlus) November 20, 2019
Warning – contains graphic images: The aftermath of alleged Russian airstrikes on Maarat al-Numan, Nov 20th.
Turkey in Syria
Despite a declaration of a ceasefire against Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on October 23rd, strikes by both Turkish and Kurdish forces continued in November, though at a significantly lower rate.
Violations of the ceasefire – including executions of prisoners – continued on both sides throughout the month, indicating a certain brutality to this campaign which we didn’t observe to this extent during the previous Afrin conflict in early 2018. On November 27th for example, Human Rights Watch claimed that the ‘safe zone’ established by Turkey to protect civilians was instead the scene of possible war crimes, including executions.
In total during November, Airwars researchers tracked 25 alleged civilian harm events reportedly involving Turkey in Syria. This represented an 80% fall on November’s 124 events. Airwars is still assessing these 25 incidents, though our provisional assessment indicates that 14 civilians likely died across six events graded as ‘Fair’ – compared to the minimum of 125 civilians who died in such incidents in October. Up to a further 39 non-combatants were likely wounded.
On November 9th for example, local media reported the death of two civilians and the injuring of five more in an alleged Turkish drone strike on non-combatants who were collecting cotton in Hishe/Kisha village, Ain Aissa, in Raqqa. Hanî Ehmed Al-Rawî (25) was reported among the killed in the attack and Elî Hemîd al-Khilal (45), Tariq al-Ehmed (30), Mihemed al-Ehmed (29) and Hemûd al-Ehmed (20) were among the injured.
The worst event of the month occurred on November 23rd in the village of Mala, Ain Aissa, Raqqa. Five civilians were reported killed and between three and 22 others including a child injured in alleged Turkish forces mortar, gun fire and drone strikes on the village. ANF added that three civilians were injured when a Free Burma Rangers health team has been attacked by Turkey.
Ein Issa: Scenes of ambulance operations carried out by Free Burma's Rangers in Ein Issa city, as a result of Turkish forces and their affiliated opposition attack on the region#syria #SDF #US #Turkey pic.twitter.com/PYGvhAcSaM
— NORTH PRESS AGENCY – ENGLISH (@NPA_English) November 23, 2019
Airwars also tracked eight casualty incidents allegedly blamed on Kurdish counter fire during November. This was a sharp fall of 81% from the 42 claimed incidents in October. Our current estimate is that four or five civilians – of whom at least three were children – likely died in these events. As many as 41 more civilians were likely wounded.
On November 19th for example, three children died and ten other civilians were wounded in alleged YPG artillery fire on a school building being used as a shelter for IDPs in Jern Al Haj Salih in Tal Abyad, Raqqa governorate, local sources said.
Barış Pınarı Harekât bölgesine yönelik taciz/saldırılarına devam eden ve bombalı terör saldırıları düzenleyen terör örgütü PKK/YPG, bu kez de Tel Abyad’ın Curn köyüne attığı havanlarla okulu vurdu. 3 masum sivil yaşamını yitirirken, çocuklarla birlikte 8 sivil de yaralandı. pic.twitter.com/ifxV4LJiTR
— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) November 19, 2019
Above: three children were reportedly killed in alleged Turkish fire in Tal Abyad, Raqqa, on November 19th.
The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria
Between one and three civilians were likely killed and up to six more wounded in one casualty incident assessed as fair by Airwars during November.
On November 22nd, Khalid Al Hamoud Al Hammadi was reported killed and his wife and five children wounded in an alleged Coalition airstrike on his house in the Latwa neighbourhood of Dhiban town, Deir Ezzor.
Local sources said that the Coalition carried out a raid with the SDF on suspected members of ISIS. According to Xeber 24, the operation “involved three US Apache helicopters, fighter planes and two reconnaissance planes, during which clashes took place between gunmen in the Al-Lattwa neighbourhood and SDF fighters”.
All sources claimed that Khalid Al Hamoud Al Hammadi was a civilian, though Jesr Press said that he also threw a bomb (grenade?) at members of the SDF ‘to defend himself.’ A strike was then reportedly called in on his home. The Euphrates Post said that two members of the SDF also died and five were wounded.
Poignantly, Jesr Press added that Khalid Al Hamoud Al Hammadi had been married just the previous day, stressing that he had no links with any armed groups.
The Coalition later issued a statement saying that it had conducted a “clearance mission in Deir ez-Zor province, Syria Nov. 22”. It added that the operation had “resulted in multiple ISIS fighters killed and wounded” and the capture of more than a dozen – though made no mention of civilian harm concerns.
At time of publication of this report, the Coalition had not yet published strike data for November, though informed Airwars on December 16th that it would be published soon.
In total, throughout November, Airwars researchers independently tracked 11 reported airstrikes in Syria that were locally blamed on the Coalition. Of these 11 actions, seven reportedly targeting Iranian-backed groups. Airwars has asked CENTCOM whether the US is once again conducting unilateral strikes in Syria, but we had not yet received a response as we went to press. It is also possible that some or all of these unclaimed incidents were in fact Israeli actions.
Civilian harm was only reported in one of these 11 Syria events. On November 8th, a single source, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that three tents were reportedly bombed in alleged Coalition airstrikes in Khabira area in the northeastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. It is unclear how many people died in this event.
According to AFCENT, 153 munitions were dropped on Iraq and Syria from the air in November by the US-led Coalition. This represented a modest 8% fall on the 166 munitions released in the previous month.
Compared to the previous month, Libya saw slightly lower levels of airstrikes and civilian harm in November. Between 23 and 31 civilians were locally alleged killed from 169 air and artillery strikes, while in October, 25 to 33 civilians were locally reported killed by 226 strikes.
The great majority of deaths resulted from strikes allegedly conducted by the Libyan National Army (LNA) or its ally the United Arab Emirates with 17 to 25 civilian fatalities blamed on their actions. Together, the two parties reportedly conducted 114 strikes, underlining their dominance in the air which led to General Khalifa Haftar declaring a no-fly zone over Tripoli in late November.
Six reported strikes by the Government of National Accord (GNA) led to one alleged civilian casualty on November 13th in Qasr Bin Gashir. The victim was named as Ahmed Abdel Razzaq Nouri Abu Sedira.
For 49 strikes the belligerent could not be determined or was contested between GNA and LNA. These lead to another civilian death.
In one of the worst incidents, seven to ten civilians were allegedly killed by an LNA or UAE strike on a biscuit factory in Tripoli on November 18th. The same belligerents were accused of conducting a strike on Umm Al Aranib on November 28th when between six and eleven civilians, many of them children, were reportedly killed.
US counter terrorism campaigns
US Africa Command declared that it had conducted three airstrikes against al-Shabaab during November – up from one strike the previous month. The command says it currently assesses that no civilians were injured or killed in these strikes – though local reporting suggested otherwise.
The first declared US strike occurred on November 12th in the vicinity of Jilib, killing one alleged terrorist.
A second strike occurred on November 19th in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, killing another terrorist, according to AFRICOM. However the terror group al Shabaab insisted the victim was in fact a local civilian businessman it named as Ismail Issa Bhutan. Somalia News 24/7 quoted a witness who said that the man killed “was a businessman who had a shop in the town, [and who] was killed in the attack.”
BREAKING: Suspected #US drone strike reported in #AlShabaab-controlled town of Kunya-Barow in #Somalia's Lower Shabelle region. Witnesses say that a man who was a businessman and had a shop in the town was killed in the attack. #Somalia pic.twitter.com/4SVDYT9Ize
— somalia (@somalinews247) November 19, 2019
The third strike of the month occurred on November 30th, again in the vicinity of Jilib. AFRICOM gave no information on the number of alleged terrorists killed in this strike, stating that it was still assessing the results, but that no civilians were harmed.
According to local source Ilwareed, there were in fact two actions. While the first targeted a communications centre, a second “targeted the home of an al-Shabaab official named Abu Abdalla, located in the southern outskirts of Jilib district. Government forces confirmed the time when the officer’s house was bombed, and said the entire house and vehicles were destroyed.”
Mareeg said that four al Shabaab fighters died when the communications centre was hit, though its report suggests a ground attack had been responsible: “The center announced last week that it has been upgraded with modern equipment to improve its communication with al-Shabaab leaders. The center was almost completely destroyed after being targeted by several rocket propelled grenades, according to credible sources.” Mareeg also said that it appeared that the militant target of the second strike had escaped injury.
CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during the month of November 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 November. The last such alleged strike was in August 2018.
UK advocacy officer Maysa Ismael took part in an Action on Armed Violence workshop on ‘Gender and Explosive Weapons’ at Chatham House on November 26th. The workshop discussed the gendered impact of explosive weapons on civilians and the lack of gender-segregated data when it comes to recording casualties.
Additionally, Maysa attended the launch of Oxford Research Group’s report on ‘Fusion Doctrine in Five Steps: Creating Routine Fusion in Africa’ on November 26th which also presented an opportunity to meet with advocacy and research partners.
On November 4th, the Dutch Ministry of Defence finally claimed public responsibility for an airstrike in Hawijah, Iraq, in June 2015, which led to the deaths of at least 70 civilians. The acknowledgement followed after Dutch media organisations NOS and NRC had published a major investigation asserting that the Netherlands had been responsible for the deadly attack on an ISIS IED factory.
On November 5th, Dutch newspaper NRC published an opinion piece by Airwars director Chris Woods, who wrote that the Hawijah case represented a shocking example of the lack of military and political transparency for civilian harm in the Netherlands; and noting that the Iraqi and Dutch peoples had been denied the basic facts for more than four years.
Two debates were held by the Dutch parliament on the matter, on November 5th and November 27th. In the run-up to these, Airwars provided Members of Parliament with factual information. For example, we briefed MPs on how other Coalition countries, such as the United States, report on civilian casualty claims as a result of their own airstrikes. We also live tweeted the debates on Twitter in English.
Prime minister Rutte continues to state that "until today, it is unknown how many civilians died", while CENTCOM officials confirmed in December 2018 in an email to Dutch media @NRC and @NOS that 70 civilians had died. pic.twitter.com/AA1M8OSZXz
— Airwars (@airwars) November 27, 2019
In a letter from the current Dutch Minister of Defence published on November 27th, significant improvements for Dutch transparency were promised. For example, the Dutch MoD says it will now publish the date, location and weapons used in airstrikes during the first Dutch deployment period between 2014 and 2016; and to standardise weekly reporting of strikes in case of future missions. These were improvements that Airwars had been pushing for since the first appointment of a Netherlands-based advocacy officer by the organisation back in 2016.