Reports

Reports

Published

November 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Libya

Libya witnessed an uptick of airstrikes in September as the Libyan National Army (LNA) air force, back by the United Arab Emirates, increased its campaign to seize areas of the country still outside its control. Local sources claimed 230 air and artillery strikes, of which 141 were either conducted by the LNA or the UAE.

However, the heavy bombing did not lead to more civilian casualties than in the previous month. Between 14 and 15 civilians were reportedly killed and another 29 to 36 injured. In August between 62 and 71 civilians had been reported killed. That decrease can be explained by the absence of major civilian harm events.

In the worst known civilian harm event in September, between three and four civilians were reportedly killed by an LNA/Emirati airstrike on the Al Qalaa neighbourhood of Murzuq.

Altogether, LNA/UAE strikes led to four or five alleged civilian deaths. Strikes by the Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkey led to six civilians deaths. Other incidents were caused by unknown belligerents, or by indiscriminate artillery shelling – the source of which is contested between the GNA and LNA.

In another major development, the US conducted four airstrikes in Libya between September 19th and 29th, its first officially declared actions since November 2018. AFRICOM said the strikes killed 43 ISIS fighters in Libya’s south, apparently degrading their capabilities to operate in the country.

Smoke rises after an alleged LNA/UAE airstrike on Mitiga Airport in Tripoli on September 26th (via Libya Observer)

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria

After four months of heavy bombardment, civilians trapped in Idlib governorate finally saw some respite during September thanks to a Moscow-brokered ceasefire which came into force on Saturday August 31st. This resulted in an immediate and drastic decline in allegations of civilian harm.

Airwars tracked just five casualty events reportedly carried out by Russia or the regime during September – compared to 109 in August. This is the lowest number of events tracked since May 2019. Across these five events, five civilians were claimed killed with nine or ten more wounded. All but one of the events were in Idlib governorate.

However, while allegations against Russia all but ceased, claims against the Syrian regime continue to surface in both local and regional media sources, with reports suggesting that Russia was providing reconnaissance support to the regime’s alleged attacks on rebels and civilians.

The second week of September saw a resumption in civilian harm allegations against Russia, with the first coming on September 10th. An alleged Russian airstrike killed an elderly displaced civilian man in the village of Duhr in Darkush area. The Syrian Network for Human Rights named 76-year-old Ahmad Eisa al Musa as killed, adding that the victim died when Russian warplanes fired missiles near a building sheltering IDPs. Ahmad Eisa al Musa’s son Abu Anas told Al Quds: “We were asleep at midnight when we heard the sound of a rocket that fell 50 meters away from us. Everyone came out but my father was late being sick and couldn’t walk easily.”

Syrian Civil Defense forces carrying the body of Ahmad Eisa al Musa, killed by an alleged Russian airstrike at around midnight between September 10th and 11th (via Syrian Network for Human Rights).

There were two events on September 12th. In the first, one woman was killed in alleged Russian or regime airstrikes on Sarja, Idlib according to a single source, the Shaam News Network.

The second event that day – and the worst of the month – occurred in Ma’aret Al Nu’man, Idlib. Two civilians including a child died and five or six others were injured in alleged Russian or regime strikes. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “shelling carried out by regime forces stationed in Khan Sheikhoun” killed a child and injured six other civilians. The little girl was named as Islam Sadir. Sources published very graphic images of burnt bodies.

Islam Sadir, killed in an alleged Russian or regime strike on Ma’aret Al Nu’man, Sept 12th (via @SyrianCoalition)

The following day, September 13th, one civilian died due to his injuries after an alleged Russian airstrike on the village of Aynata on the Al Rouj plains, Idlib, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Step News Agency added that civilians were also wounded, though it gave no numbers.

Additionally, there was one casualty event in Banes, Aleppo on September 15th. Several civilians were wounded after the explosion of a cluster bomb that was allegedly dropped by Russian warplanes, according to a single source, @so_ria98.

 

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

Between September 1st and 30th, the Coalition reported 28 strikes in Iraq – four more than August’s 24 strikes. It reported no multilateral actions in Syria for the month. However additional ground operations and unilateral US actions also continued.

According to AFCENT, 137 munitions were dropped on Iraq and Syria from the air in September by the US-led Coalition. This represented a 37% drop on the 218 released in the previous month.

Airwars tracked five civilian casualty events allegedly linked to the US-led Coalition in Syria during September – the same number as linked to Russia in Syria. This was two more events than during the previous month.

Currently, we assess three of these five events as fairly reported, and likely killing between three and five civilians. The first event occurred on September 4th. Local media said that one child, Ali al-Ahmad, was alleged killed at dawn during a landing operation carried out by the international Coalition in between the towns of Maizeela and the village of Marat on the road Deir Ezzor, and the province al-Hasakeh. The operation was reportedly accompanied by a military convoy believed to be from the SDF. Three other civilians were said to have been arrested.

On the same day (September 4th), two civilians were reportedly killed during another landing operation by Coalition forces. According to Asrar7days, US occupation helicopters carried out an aerial landing by the lake of Al-Bassel dam towards the east, reaching Wadi Al-Raml and another in Al-Haddaja village. The source noted that this came “amid fear and panic among the residents.”

There was one further event on the morning of September 19th in Al Zur, Deir Ezzor when two unidentified men were killed by an alleged Coalition drone strike, according to local sources. Deir Ezzor 24 said the men were masked and on a motorcycle when struck, though their combatant status was unclear. Activists told Smart News that it was not possible to identify the victims because their bodies were burned, but that they were  “most likely to be two members of the Islamic State”. Ain Hasaka claimed that activists later revealed the identity of one of the dead as  Abboud al-Fahad, a close relative of ISIS leader Hammam al-Tayyana.

#D24:Two masked men riding a motorcycle were targeted by an aircraft believed to belong to the coalition in #Azzir village near #AlBassirah city east of #DeirEzzor. pic.twitter.com/0s3MekoKmu

— ديرالزور24 (@DeirEzzor24) September 19, 2019

Deir Ezzor 24 footage of the aftermath of the strike on a motorcycle in Al Zur, Deir Ezzor, Sept 19th. The combatant status of the two adult male victims was unclear.

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

US Africa Command declared that it had conducted six airstrikes in Somalia on al-Shabaab during September – up from one in the previous month. It told Airwars that it currently assessed that no civilians had been killed or injured in these strikes.

On September 3rd, one strike killed an alleged terrorist in the vicinity of Jilib. In a second incident on September 3rd and not previously declared, AFRICOM officials later confirmed to Airwars that they carried out an action that struck an “al Shabaab associated vehicle”, also in the vicinity of Jilib.

A strike on September 17th killed two claimed al-Shabaab terrorists in Lower Juba Province. And in another incident not previously declared by AFRICOM, officials later confirmed to Airwars that they had conducted a strike in the lower Shabelle on September 24th, targeting “one al Shabaab associated vehicle”.

Two strikes also occurred on September 30th. In the first, the US military conducted an airstrike in self defence against an al-Shabaab IED attack on Baledogle Military Airfield (BMA) complex in Baledogle, US Africa Command reported. Ten terrorists fighters were killed and one vehicle destroyed. The second September 30th strike occurred in Qunyo Barrow, reportedly killed one al Shabaab fighter.

It is not known how many actions the CIA conducted in Somalia during the month, if any.

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during the month of September 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.

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during September. The last such alleged strike was in August 2018.

Advocacy

Military advocacy

In September the Coalition admitted the deaths of 22 additional civilians and the injuries of 11 others, over seven separate incidents – four of which were Airwars referrals. This included one mass casualty incident, in which the US admitted to killing 16 civilians in a strike in al Shafa, Iraq in April 2017. Local media at the time alleged that the 16 that had been killed were part of the same family.

“The Coalition conducted 34,573 strikes between August 2014 and the end of August 2019. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1,335 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition actions since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve,” their report read.

The Coalition has now admitted civilian harm in 326 individual events across Iraq and Syria.

▲ Smoke rises over the centre of Tripoli following an alleged Libyan Air Force strike on the headquarters of the Nawasi battalion, Sept 27th 2019 (via @LYyWitness)

Published

September 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria

As the Russian-backed regime offensive against rebels in Idlib and Hama continued during August, civilians trapped in these devastated governorates continued to pay a heavy price for the Assad government’s gains. Nevertheless, the month saw a 10% fall in civilian casualty events linked to Russia and/or the regime, with the maximum claimed death toll also dropping, by 53%.

Even so, Airwars tracked 109 separate alleged civilian harm incidents during the month. Once more, the volume of allegations meant that at time of publication Airwars was still researching and assessing August’s civilian harm incidents. However, initial estimates show that as many as 203 civilians were allegedly killed by Russian and/or regime actions in August, compared to a maximum of 432 such deaths across 121 events in the previous month.

Once again, Idlib bore the brunt: 90% of events tracked by Airwars were in the governorate. There were 10 additional incidents in Hama and one in Aleppo. Losses among the most vulnerable of civilians were again high: of the 203 civilians locally alleged killed, at least 35 were children and 16 women. As many as 432 additional civilians were reportedly injured. As Airwars researchers uncover further information on these events, it is likely that this toll will rise.

In the majority of cases, it was impossible to tell whether Russia or the regime were responsible for the civilian harm, with conflicting claims against both belligerents. Rarely in doubt was whether harm had befallen civilians. In the worst incident of the month, on August 16th, in Hass, idlib, most sources agreed that Russian airstrikes killed between 13 and 16 civilians including up to six children and three women – wounding as many as 30 more. However, the White Helmets also reported the use of regime artillery in the area.

According to Euphrates Post, Russian jets bombed “homes of displaced people” in the town. Local civil defence said that “a foetus, born prematurely” was among those slain, stating that “he was killed before he was given a name, and all members of his family were killed”.  His father was named as Abdul Jabbar Othman. The Syrian Network for Human Rights published an image showing body bags lining a corridor.

Bodies lined a corridor following an alleged Russian airstrike on Hass, Idlib on August 16th (via the Syrian Network for Human Rights)

On the following day, August 17th, a further six to eight civilians died in an alleged Russian or regime airstrike on Deir Sharqi in Idlib. According to the Step News Agency, the victims were all members of one family, and Smart said that they were comprised of a mother and her six children. Multiple sources named the fatalities as Ibrahim Hamoud Al-Hamoud, Majd Hamoud Al-Hamoud, Mohammed Hamoud Al-Hamoud, Ahmad. Hamoud Hamoud, Hamsa Hamoud Hamoud, Hudaiba Hamoud Hamoud and, a woman, Ghada Hamoud Hamoud. While local reports predominantly attributed blame to the Syrian regime, a number accused both Russian and Assad forces in their reporting.

Idlib’s Ma’arat al Numan came under particularly heavy fire during August, with Airwars researchers tracking eight separate civilian harm incidents in the town linked to Russia. The most devastating of these occurred on August 28th when between nine and 13 civilians were locally reported killed in what sources referred to as “a massacre” carried out by Russian or regime warplanes. According to the Euphrates Post, the civilians killed included five brothers. The Step News Agency reported that “a Su-24 warplane dropped its cargo of eight vacuum rockets at once in Ma’aret al-Nu’man, killing 10 civilians, including five members of the family – a mother and her children”.

The aftermath of an alleged Russian airstrike on Ma’arat al Numan, August 28th 2019 (via White Helmets)

Libya

Libya saw another intense month of fighting in August, as the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army continued to battle each other for control of the country. Between 62 and 71 civilians were locally alleged killed, a decrease on July’s tally of  75 to 114 deaths. Airwars counted 143 reported air and artillery strikes, one more than in the previous month.

An alleged LNA or Emirati strike in Murzuq was by far the worst civilian harm event recorded in August. At least 42 civilians were reportedly killed on August 4th when an airstrike struck a town hall meeting.

The event again raised fears of the conflict spiralling out of control due to international involvement. Civilian harm was also reported from Turkish airstrikes in two events, supposedly killing two people near Sirte.

Altogether, most civilian casualties were attributed to LNA or Emirati strikes, with 53 to 60 deaths claimed between those allies. Between 6 and 8 deaths were also reported from GNA and Turkish strikes. As both sides to the fighting have become increasingly complex, it can often be difficult to distinguish who exactly conducted an airstrike, as both the GNA and LNA seem to rely exclusively on foreign air power now.

Smoke rises at Mitiga International Airport after artillery shelling on August 3rd 2019 (via Libya Akhbar)

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

Between August 1st and 31st, the Coalition reported 24 strikes in Iraq – a fall of 27% on July’s 33 declared strikes. Additionally, it reported two strikes in Syria, up from the one strike conducted in the previous month. However additional ground operations and unilateral US actions also continued.

According to AFCENT, 218 munitions were dropped on Iraq and Syria from the air in August by the US-led Coalition. This represented a 108% jump on the 105 released in the previous month – and the greatest number of bombs and missiles fired since March 2019.

Our researchers tracked three civilian harm incidents linked to the Coalition in Syria during August, one less than in July. However, worryingly the civilian death toll rose on the previous month. Current estimates show that between seven and 37 civilians likely died in Coalition actions during August, compared to between four and 22 in July. Proportionally, a high number of Coalition civilian harm events are presently being reported per strike in Syria – suggesting either a change in tactics or a lowering of prioritised protections for non combatants.

Two of these three incidents were reportedly counter-terrorism raids. On August 1st, six civilians likely died in a raid on Baka’a village in the area of Tal Hamis, Hasakah. According to Khabour, “Two aircraft belonging to the International Alliance landed in the village of Beka`a, before heavy machine guns and rockets hit several houses in the village [….].The bombing led to the death of an entire Iraqi family, after the collapse of the house over their heads.” The source added that Coalition forces “withdrew immediately after the destruction of the house, without retrieving any bodies.” A report by Vedeng News said that two members of ISIS were arrested in a house.

On August 16th, two unidentified men were reportedly killed in another Coalition ground operation, this time in Al Man’iya in Raqqa governorate. According to Shaam News, the Coalition operation was “targeting two displaced families”. Suriye.u.a.d said that two “unidentified men” were killed, though their combat status is currently unclear.

The third, and most concerning incident, occurred on August 31st in Kafr Jalis, Idlib. CENTCOM confirmed that it had conducted a unilateral US airstrike on what was reportedly an Al-Qaeda command centre. Step News said that the strike killed 14 members of ISIS. However, local sources claimed that children and women from the families of members of ISIS living in the area were killed in the attack as well. The Syrian Human Rights Committee reported that 29 people were killed, identifying 22 by name, of whom six were children. Baladi meanwhile estimated a total death toll of 30, most of whom were buried under the rubble, while Alquds reported on a total of 51 dead, though it is unclear exactly how many of these were civilians.

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

US Africa Command declared that it had conducted just one airstrike in Somalia during August – the same number as July.

According to AFRICOM, the strike occurred on August 20th and targeted an al-Shabaab terrorist in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow. The command said that one terrorist was killed, and that at this time it assessed that no civilians were killed or injured in this strike.

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during the month of August in Yemen. The last declared US action was on June 24th in Al Bayda province.

However, on August 21st, a social report alleged that a “US drone airstrike targeted Al Qaeda base on the border of Al-Bayda and Marib governorates in Yemen”.

Airwars reached out to CENTCOM and asked if it had carried out this attack; CENTCOM reiterated that it “did not conduct any strikes in Yemen in August 2019”. This could, therefore, be a CIA strike.

US drone airstrike targeted Al Qaeda base on the border of Al-Bayda and Marib governorates in Yemen https://t.co/LuWXQdFiq1

— Crispin Burke (@CrispinBurke) August 21, 2019

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during August. The last alleged strike was in August 2018.

Advocacy

At the end of August, the US led Coalition published its 33rd consecutive monthly civilian casualty report. This declared that “The Coalition conducted 34,580 strikes between August 2014 and the end of July 2019. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1,313 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition actions since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve.”

The US-led alliance conceded just one new incident, which it said was an Airwars referral. Five civilians died at Karabla near al Qaim on August 23rd 2017, the Coalition now concluded.

The Airwars geolocation team had itself identified the site (34.376786, 41.060586) of a locally reported attack near an elementary school which killed five civilians, including three women. Those precise coordinates then helped the Coalition’s civilian casualty assessment team to determine it had in fact been responsible for the attack.

Original reports of the incident mention the area surrounding Al Mahdi (المهدي) Elementary School in the neighbourhood of Karabla (الكرابلة). Airwars was able to pinpoint the school – which helped Coalition assessors to conclude that its aircraft had indeed killed five civilians.

▲ The aftermath of an airstrike on Ma'arat al Numan in Syria, August 28th (via White Helmets)

Published

August 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria

July was another terrible month for civilians trapped in Idlib and Hama governorates, as the Russian-backed Assad offensive continued to intensify. In total, Airwars tracked 121 separate alleged civilian harm incidents, three more than in June. Some 82% of these events were in Idlib governorate and 16% in Hama. There were also three incidents reported in Aleppo.

The volume of allegations meant that, once more, at time of publication Airwars was still researching and assessing July’s civilian harm incidents. However, unrefined estimates show that across these 121 incidents, up to 432 civilians were allegedly killed by Russian and/or regime actions. That tally included at least 63 children and 42 women. As many as 800 additional civilians were reportedly injured. As Airwars researchers uncover further information on these events, it is likely that this death toll will rise.

July saw a number of disturbing mass casualty incidents in Idlib, where scores of civilians reportedly died. The chaotic situation meant that in the majority of events (78%) it was impossible to determine whether Russia or the regime were responsible for deaths – with frequent and conflicting claims against both belligerents.

On July 5th, between 7 and 16 civilians were reported killed and up to 24 more wounded in airstrikes on Mhambel in Idlib, according to local media. The Syrian Network for Human Rights – which blamed regime missiles and barrel bombs – named the children Arij, Saher and Samer Abdul Qader Abdul Aal, along with their father and their mother Yasmin Taher Hafyan among those slain, adding that the shelling resulted in “fires and destruction of homes and property, forcing large numbers of people to flee.” While eleven sources pointed to the regime, some others named both Russia and the regime as responsible.

The children Arij, Saher and Samer Abdul Qader Abdul Aal were killed along with their father and their mother Yasmin Taher Hafyan in an alleged regime barrel bombing in Mhambel town, Idlib, July 5th (via Syrian Network for Human Rights)

Civilian homes repeatedly came under fire during the month. On July 16th, between eight and 12 civilians died in alleged regime or Russian airstrikes on Ma`ar Shourien in Idlib. Shaam News referred to the incident as “a massacre”, while Syria u.a.d said that the regime had struck a market, resulting in “30 dead and wounded”.

The White Helmets attend the scene of a strike on Ma`ar Shourien, Idlib, July 16th (via Macro Media Centre)

Much worse was to come on July 22nd with another alleged Russian or regime airstrike on both a market and civilian homes, this time in Ma’arat Al Nu’man. The final death toll spanned between 25 and 42 civilians, with up to 80 more wounded. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights referred to the incident as “the biggest massacre since the beginning of the violent escalation at the end of last April”.

Footage from the aftermath of the alleged Russian/regime strike on a market in Ma’arat Al Nu’man, July 22nd.

Libya

Libya witnessed a sharp increase in civilian casualties in July, largely due to a devastating strike on a migrant detention in Tajoura on July 3rd that killed at least 53 civilians. The incident marked the worst case of civilian harm in the North African country since 2011.

Blame for the event was apportioned to the rebel Libyan National Army (LNA) by most sources, with the rival, UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) claiming it was in fact conducted by an Emirati F-16 in support of the LNA.

Between 53 and 80 civilians were reported killed at Tajoura – many  of them migrants and refugees from other nations. An additional 10 to 17 civilians were reportedly killed during July by other LNA air and artillery strikes in Libya.

According to local sources, GNA strikes also killed between 6 and 10 civilians in July. Ally Turkey, which reportedly increased air support for the UN-backed government, was allegedly responsible for at least one civilian death in  a drone strike.

Altogether, between 75 and 114 civilians were reportedly killed by 141 air and artillery strikes in Libya in July. This marked a significant increase on the 6 to 14 deaths resulting from 116 monitored strikes in June.

Scorched cars after an alleged LNA airstrike on Gheryan on July 31st (via Ean Libya)

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

Between July 2nd and July 31st, the Coalition reported 33 strikes in Iraq – an increase on the 13 strikes conducted within the previous four week period. Additionally, the Coalition reported one strike in Syria, the first publicly declared action in that country since May 4th.However ground raids and Special Forces actions have also continued – which are often not reported.

According to AFCENT, 105 munitions were dropped on Iraq and Syria from the air in July by the Coalition – a 22% fall on the 135 released in the previous month.

However, with the US-led alliance still refusing to give the locations of its strikes, it remains impossible to  to assess where or on which specific dates these strikes occurred – and for Airwars to cross-match any potential civilian harm events. This was particularly worrying in July, a month in which Airwars tracked four incidents of civilian harm in Syria allegedly linked to US-led Coalition forces.

On July 13th, local media reported that Abed Abdullah al-Numan, a shepherd from the town of Al Tayana, was killed by an alleged Coalition airstrike when he was out working in the Faltih desert (Badit Faltih), north of Deir Ezzor, near the Syrian-Iraqi border. The Syrian Network for Human Rights said that the aircraft responsible was “without a pilot”, while Suriye u.a.d blamed a Coalition helicopter.

Shepherd Abed Abdullah al-Numan was out with his sheep when he was struck by an alleged Coalition airstrike at Badit Faltih, north of Deir Ezzor – near the Syrian-Iraqi border, on July 13th (image via Euphrates Post).

On July 29th, alleged Coalition airstrikes on the Al Zer area of Deir Ezzor claimed the lives of a number of people and injured others, although it is unclear from reports whether they were combatants or non-combatants. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Coalition targeted an ISIS cell in hiding, killing five members. However Baladi reported that the victims were civilians, naming them as “Abdul Karim Mohammed al-Wattb, the son of Hussein al-Hindula, and a young man from the town of Zer”.

Additionally, between two and 15 civilians died in a counter-terrorism raid on Al Takaihi near Al Basira town, Deir Ezzor, on July 16th. The Coalition reportedly struck the house of an ISIS leader, Ragheb Hussein al-Hindoura, at dawn after he refused to surrender when the house was besieged by the SDF. According to Deir Ezzor 24, 15 civilians in the adjacent house were killed, though Euphrates Post dismissed claims of civilian harm, reporting that only Ragheb Hussein al-Hindoura was killed – and his wife injured. Orient News noted that the Coalition had carried out “dozens of landings in the countryside of Deir Ezzor, targeting elements, leaders and cells”.

There was one other civilian harm event linked to the Coalition. On July 4th, a child was reported killed and another wounded in a collision with a Coalition vehicle in Al Hasakah. According to Halab Today, the two children were on a motorcycle which collided with a Coalition vehicle on patrol. Kurdstreet News and Rojava052 claimed that the vehicle belonged to French forces. Hani Al Afin, a 12-year-old, was reportedly killed, while 15-year-old Yasser Abdul-Baki suffered concussion.

 

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

US Africa Command declared that it had conducted just one airstrike in Somalia during July – a sharp fall from the six strikes carried out in the previous month.

The strike occurred on July 27th against ISIS terrorists in the Golis mountains region in northern Somalia, reportedly killing one terrorist. AFRICOM currently assesses that no civilians were harmed in this strike.

US Army General Stephen J. Townsend – who had previously led the US-led Coalition against ISIS in Iraq and Syria – took charge of AFRICOM in a ceremony on July 27th, replacing General Thomas D. Waldhauser, who had led the command since 2016.

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during the month of July in Yemen. The last declared US action was on June 24th in Al Bayda province.

It is unknown whether the CIA separately carried out any attacks in Yemen during July.

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during July. The last alleged strike was in July 2018.

Advocacy

UK advocacy

Airwars UK Advocacy Officer Chloe Skinner, and Deputy Director Dmytro Chupryna, met with a representative from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in July, as part of our ongoing engagement with the forthcoming review of the UK’s ‘Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict’ policy paper.

During the meeting, Airwars made a number of  recommendations for inclusion within the prospective review. These included the improvement of assessment processes to better monitor civilian harm resulting from military actions; the establishment of Civilian Casualty (CIVCAS) Teams during UK conflicts; the appointment of a senior civilian within the military with responsibility for non combatant harm issues; the need for military engagement with external sources, and the reconciliation of public reports of harm; a commitment to better practice based on a lessons learned approach; and the need for annual reporting on civilian casualties resulting from UK actions to Parliament.

Airwars maintains that the proper assessment and reporting of those civilians killed in UK military actions – and a lessons learned approach informed by those fatalities – is a baseline requirement for an update to a paper focused upon the protection of civilians. Airwars will continue to engage in this ongoing process.

Military advocacy

During July, the US-led Coalition conceded two additional civilian harm events during the war against ISIS – admitting two deaths and three injuries. This brought the admitted Coalition tally since 2014 to at least 1,321 civilian fatalities.

The Coalition also dismissed as ‘Non Credible’ some 62 additional cases, most of which were referrals from the Amnesty International/ Airwars investigation into the US-led assault on Raqqa in 2017, in which at least 1,600 civilian deaths likely resulting from Coalition actions were highlighted.

 

Additional reporting: Maike Awater, Abbie Cheeseman, Oliver Imhof and Chloe Skinner.

Conflict monitoring and assessments (July):  Maike Awater, Poppy Bowers, Laura Bruun, Abbie Cheeseman, Shihab Halep, Salim Habib, Alex Hopkins, Oliver Imhof, Osama Mansour, Hanna Rullmann, Laurie Treffers and Anna Zahn.

▲ The aftermath of an alleged Russian or regime airstrike on civilian homes and a market in Ma’arat Al Nu’man, July 22nd (via Syria Civil Defense)

Published

August 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Six monthly update

The first half of 2019 saw the defeat of ISIS as a territorial entity in Syria by the US-led Coalition, though the cost to civilians trapped in Deir Ezzor governorate was significant. Airwars research indicates that civilian deaths likely caused by Coalition strikes rose by 34% between January and June on the first six months of 2018 – with at least 416 civilians killed.

Russia’s campaign in support of the Assad government led to a similar reported civilian toll, with increasingly ferocious assaults on Idlib and Hama governorates claiming the deaths of at least 410 non combatants, mostly since May 1st. 

Elsewhere, in Libya a bloody fight for control of the capital Tripoli between two rival governments saw tens of thousands displaced by fighting. Airwars estimates that locally alleged deaths between January and June 2019 rose more the fivefold on claimed deaths during the first half of 2018.

Meanwhile, in Somalia, the US had already conducted as many counter-terror strikes by June 30th than in all of 2018. 

Russia in Syria

In the first half of 2019, Airwars monitored between 410 and 737 claimed fatalities from 293 alleged Russian casualty events in Syria. This was a fall of 56% on the reported 669 incidents tracked during the first six months of 2018, which had been driven by the ferocious Eastern Ghouta and Dara’a assaults.

However, 75% of Russia’s actions during January to June 2019 took place in the nine weeks from May 1st – as the Assad government’s focused onslaught against both Idlib and Hama intensified, killing hundreds of civilians still trapped on the ground.

Given the volume of allegations, some of these incidents have not yet been fully vetted by Airwars. Initial figures indicate that responsibility for around 70% of the 293 events tracked in the first half of 2019 is currently contested between different belligerents, with sources blaming both Russian and Assad government forces. That does not generally mean such allegations are in doubt – but rather reflects the frequent challenge of positively determining exactly which belligerent inflicted civilian harm.

Overall, Airwars researchers have tracked a total of 3,835 claimed civilian casualty events allegedly involving Russian aircraft between September 30th 2015 and June 30th 2019. The total locally claimed civilian fatalities in these events ranges from 13,305 to 21,441. At least 8,198 of those reportedly killed in these incidents have been individually named by local outlets, on social media, and by casualty recorders.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 6,347 civilians have been killed by Russian warplanes from September 2015 to July 2019. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts this figure at 8,114 civilians, giving an averaged estimate of 7,231 non combatants slain by Russian strikes.

The US-led Coalition in Syria

Early 2019 saw the culmination of more than four years of fighting by the US-led Coalition and its Kurdish ground allies the SDF, when ISIS was defeated as a territorial entity in its last Syrian stronghold. However the cost to civilians was again significant. 

In total between January and June 2019, Airwars tracked 46 alleged civilian harm incidents involving the US-led Coalition – significantly below the 293 alleged Russian civilian harm events during the same period in Syria. All but three of these 46 Coalition incidents were in Syria.

The current Airwars estimate is that between 416 and 1,030 civilians likely died as a result of Coalition actions between January 1st and June 30th this year. All but one of these deaths occurred in Syria across 32 fairly reported incidents. This marks a 34% rise on the minimum number of 310 civilians likely killed by the Coalition in the first half of 2018, according to Airwars estimates.  The Coalition has so far conceded causing civilian harm in five incidents in 2019, killing a total of three civilians and wounding six more.

Despite US President Donald Trump’s shock December 2018 claim of an imminent withdrawal from Syria, from January 2019 civilians faced increasing danger as Coalition air and artillery strikes pounded a fast-diminishing slice of ISIS-held territory. Indeed as previously reported, an Airwars analysis of both strikes and engagements in the so-called MERV (Middle Euphrates Valley) indicates a sometimes higher tempo of Coalition actions in Syria in the first two months of 2019 than were recorded at Mosul during March 2017, the most intense and deadly period of the battle  for Iraq’s second city.

The impact on civilians trapped in just a handful of towns and villages was often devastating: some 98% of the minimum 416 civilians likely killed by Coalition in the first six months of 2019 perished between January 1st and the final announcement of the liberation of  Baghouz, Deir Ezzor from ISIS on March 23rd.

For January to June 2019, in a reflection of the ferocity of this final stage of the campaign, Coalition air and artillery actions in Syria increased by 102% on the first six months of 2018, with 1,898 strikes reported. Most were by the US.

Airstrikes conducted by both the UK and France, Washington’s most active allies in the Coalition, instead continued to fall from January onwards. Between January and June the UK declared approximately 30 airstrikes, while France reported that its Rafales had carried out 34 strikes. However, this decline in airstrikes was deceptive; French artillery played a crucial early role in the final assault on Deir Ezzor, with Task Force Wagram conducting 126 strikes in the Euphrates Valley between January and June 2019 – of which 114 occurred during January.  The French artillery task force was finally disbanded on April 29th.

With this steep fall in strikes by the UK and France – and likely a limited number of air actions by Iraq into Syria – it is reasonable to assume that the US was responsible for the overwhelming majority of air and artillery strikes during the first half of 2019 – and indeed most associated civilian harm in eastern Syria

Meanwhile, despite the defeat of ISIS in Iraq in late 2017, the US-led alliance reported 231 strikes in that troubled country in the first half of 2019 – a 76% increase on the 131 strikes publicly reported in the first six months of 2018. However, with the Coalition slashing public transparency in December 2018, it is now impossible to assess where or on which specific dates these strikes occurred – and for Airwars to cross-match any potential civilian harm events 

In total, from August 8th 2014 to June 30th 2019 in both Iraq and Syria, Airwars has to date monitored 2,877 incidents locally alleged against the US-led Coalition fighting so-called Islamic State. Among these incidents, it has been claimed locally that a total of between 19,048 and 29,324 civilians were killed.

Airwars presently estimates based both on its own assessments, and events confirmed by the US-led alliance, that a minimum of between 8,175 and 13,051 civilians are likely to have died as a result of Coalition actions. The alliance itself has so far conceded at least 1,321 deaths resulting from 317 events.

Footage from Sky News of Al Baghouz, following the defeat of ISIS as a territorial entity in Syria on March 23rd 2019.

Libya

The first six months of 2019 saw a sharp increase in civilian casualties and airstrikes in Libya compared to the same period the previous year. Between 70 and 117 civilians were locally alleged killed between January and June, while in the first six months of 2018 between 13 and 20 civilians were alleged killed.

A total of 163 air and artillery strikes were allegedly conducted between January and June 2018, while 556 reported strikes were monitored in the first six months of 2019 – a 241% increase.

The sharp rise in actions and civilian harm can be explained by the relatively calm political environment in the north African state in early 2018, where the only major battle occurred in Derna, which was later conquered by the Libyan National Army from jihadist forces. The great majority of civilian casualties in that period therefore come from LNA actions.

While early 2019 was also relatively quiet, the situation escalated with the LNA’s offensive on Tripoli beginning in April. Many civilians have died in that battle – slightly more from Government of National Accord strikes in an attempt to defend the capital. The GNA was reportedly responsible for between 28 and 39 civilian deaths, while the LNA allegedly killed between 17 and 38 civilians. 

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia 

The Trump presidency has seen a steep hike in US strikes in Somalia focused on both the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Al-Shabaab and a more recent campaign against ISIS in Somalia. AFRICOM has informed Airwars that in 2019 to July 2nd, it had conducted a total of 46 strikes – one more strike than the 45 declared during all of 2018.

Yet despite this steep rise in actions, the US has only admitted to two civilian deaths (a woman and a child) from its strikes in Somalia since 2007. This one admission came on April 5th, and concerned a strike a year earlier on April 1st 2018.

However, an investigation by Amnesty International documented what it says were 14 civilians killed in just five recent US airstrikes in Somalia.

Yemen

The US campaign targeting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS-Yemen continued into the first half of 2019, though at a far slower pace than in previous years.

US Central Command told Airwars that it had carried out nine strikes in Yemen from January 1st to June 30th. It added that during all of 2018, it had carried out a total of 36 air strikes.

There have been no allegations of civilian harm from these January to June 2019 strikes, though up to six terrorists were claimed killed in total. In a January 1st strike on Yemen’s Marib province for example, the US confirmed the death of al Qaeda operative Jamal al Badawi, who had been indicted for his role in the October 12th 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

Pakistan

No US drone strikes have been reported in Pakistan so far in 2019, with the last claimed CIA strike locallly reported in July 2018.

In a blow to transparency, on March 7th US president Donald Trump revoked those parts of former president Barack Obama’s executive order which had required officials to publish annual figures on the number of civilians killed in US strikes outside of war zones. This order, which had applied to both the CIA and JSOC, covered US strikes in Pakistan as well as Yemen and Somalia.

 

Major conflict monitoring for June 2019

Russia and the regime in Syria

During June 2019, the Assad government’s assault on Idlib and Hama governorates continued to intensify, with civilians once again paying a major price. Overall, our researchers monitored 118 locally reported civilian casualty events blamed on Russia during the month, a 12% increase on May’s 105 alleged incidents.

This significant volume of allegations meant that at time of publication, Airwars was still researching and assessing June’s civilian harm incidents. Unrefined estimates show that across these 118 incidents, up to 223 civilians were allegedly killed by Russian and/or regime actions. That tally included at least 38 children and 38 women. As many as 395 additional civilians were reportedly injured. As Airwars researchers uncover further information on these events, it is likely that this death toll will rise.

Of June’s incidents, 72% were in Idlib governorate and 21% in Hama. As in May, there were also a small number of events tracked in Aleppo.

Once more, most larger scale casualty events were reported in Idlib. On June 10th for example, between 4 and 13 civilians died in an alleged Russian or regime airstrike on the village of Jbala, Idlib. According to Syria.liveuamap five of the fatalities were children.

At least 10 civilians, including 5 children and a woman, were killed as Syrian or Russian aircraft fired missiles on residential neighborhoods in Jabala, Idlib governorate on June 10th 2019 (via Syrian Network for Human Rights)

Worse still was to come on June 19th when as many as 12 civilians including up to six children died in an alleged Russia or regime airstrike on the village of Benin.  Multiple sources referred to this incident as “a massacre”, with the White Helmets adding that the strike “targeted shops and a main road in the town”. Sources named 11 victims, including several members from the Al Jasem, Dabbas, and Al Qa’oud families.

مجزرة مروعة ترتكبها طائرات النظام في بلدة #بينين بريف ادلب، راح ضحيتها 7 شهداء وعشرات الجرحى pic.twitter.com/J7kHVpgK56

— عبد الغفور الدياب (@abuhuzaifa_) June 19, 2019

Video of the aftermath of an alleged airstrike that struck Benin on June 19th (via @abuhuzaifa_)

Libya

As the battle for control of Libya’s capital Tripoli entered its third month, the intensity of the fighting slightly dropped as a result of an ongoing military stalemate and high temperatures. Local sources reported 116 air and artillery strikes, a 47% fall compared to the previous month. Civilian casualties also fell from an estimated 19 to 25 in May, to between 6 and 14 deaths in June. A further 25 civilians were reported injured.

In the worst known incident of the month, up to nine civilians were reported killed by an alleged Libyan National Army (LNA) strike on Tajoura. Additionally, the Tajoura Heart Hospital was apparently damaged in the attack, raising concern about the increased targeting of civilian infrastructure in Libya.

June was also the first month since the beginning of hostilities between two rival governments, where the rebel LNA reportedly caused more civilian harm than the Government of National Accord (GNA). Between 2 and 10 civilians were allegedly killed by LNA strikes, while only one civilian was reportedly slain in a GNA strike. Another three civilians were allegedly killed in a contested event resulting from indiscriminate shelling.

While no foreign airstrikes were publicly reported, the LNA released a prisoner of war, initially believed to be a Portuguese mercenary, who turned out to be an American air force veteran, shot down while flying sorties for the GNA.

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

No Coalition strikes have been publicly reported in Syria beyond May 4th 2019. However, strikes in Iraq have continued. During June, the Coalition publicly reported 13 strikes up from 11 in May.

AFCENT reported that 135 munitions were dropped from the air over Iraq and Syria during June – a 150% rise on May.

The UK’s MoD said that it had carried out one airstrike against members of ISIS on an area of marshland some 27 miles south-west of Kirkuk on June 13th. The month also saw a detachment of the UK’s “formidable new, fifth generation combat aircraft” the F-35B Lightning flying their first sorties over Syria on June 16th – with more since.

Meanwhile, France reported that two of its Rafales carried out a planned strike mission in Iraq on June 24th as part of Operation Inherent Resolve. The French MoD said this was conducted in cooperation with several other nations of the Coalition.

Airwars tracked one alleged civilian harm event during June. On June 30th, a confirmed unilateral US strike with high-explosive missiles against Al Qaeda at Rif Al Mouhandessen near Aleppo, Syria, on the afternoon of June 30th is also locally reported to have injured at least two children and two women, and killed a number of foreign Al-Qaeda linked fighters. According to Step News, a total of seven injured people were evacuated including the two children and two women, in addition to the bodies of three men.

The US-led Coalition reported that the attack had killed eight members of Al-Qaeda including commanders, though made no mention of civilian harm. A senior official later confirmed the strike to have been a unilateral US action, noting to Airwars, “That was not a CJTF strike.”

آثار قصف طيران التحالف لمقر كان يتواجد فيه قادة وشرعيين من تنظيم حراس الدين في ريف المهندسيننسأل الله أن يتقبلهم في الشهداء pic.twitter.com/BinhzoH0JF

— جليس الشهداء (@jalaysalshuhada) June 30, 2019

Video showing bodies of stuck under the rubble caused by a unilateral US strike in Aleppo on June 30th (via @jalaysalshuhada)

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

US Africa Command declared that it carried out six strikes in Somalia during June, down from seven the previous month. It currently assesses that no civilians were harmed in these attacks.

Five of these strikes targeted the terror group Al-Shabaab. On June 5th, one alleged terrorist was killed in an airstrike in the vicinity of Tortoroow. On June 16th, two strikes in the vicinity of Jilib killed two alleged militants; on June 24th a further strike near Jilib killed another alleged militant; and finally a strike on May 25th in the vicinity of Kunyo Barrow killed one more alleged terrorist.

Additionally, there was one declared US airstrike on ISIS in Somalia. As with the three May strikes on ISIS, this event occurred in the Golis Mountains, reportedly killing six alleged militants.

Yemen

According to CENTCOM, there was one US military strike against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) during June. This occurred on June 24th in Al Bayda. The US command assessed that no civilians were harmed in this strike.

According to Xinhua, five members of AQAP were killed in strike on the Dhi Nhim district in the northwest of al Bayda late in the evening

It is unknown whether the CIA separately carried out any attacks in Yemen during June.

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during June. The last alleged strike was in July 2018.

Advocacy

Military advocacy

Between January and June, the US-led Coalition assessed several hundred alleged civilian harm events for Iraq and Syria – finding 50 of them to be ‘Credible’, and 169 events to be ‘Non Credible.’ A further 131 civilian fatalities were added to the official tally – with the Coalition declaring that it had killed at least 1,321 non combatants during the five year fight against ISIS.

Airwars held several meetings with senior European defence officials in the first six months of the year, calling on militaries to improve their own public transparency – and to adopt some of the accountability better practices recently pioneered by US forces.

Team members also held several meetings with US defense officials in Washington DC, as part of a broader engagement by NGOs and international agencies on civilian harm mitigation issues.

European advocacy

In June, our Netherlands-based conflict researcher and advocacy officer Maike Awater attended a gathering organised by Stichting Democratie en Media to meet other organisations working on stimulating public debate. The meet-up was intended to connect organisations working on similar issues, to share thoughts and ideas and to find potential opportunities for collaboration.

UK advocacy

Members of the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Human Rights and Drones collaboratively organised a parliamentary debate on ‘The continued importance of IHL in the Protection of Civilians’ on June 18th.

In order to create a preparatory briefing for MPs, the APPG’s coordinators organised a roundtable discussion in advance of the debate, and Airwars was invited to participate.

A transcript of the parliamentary debate is available here, during which many MPs noted the changing nature of warfare, including the shift to the use of airstrikes and the related fallacy of the precision narrative.

Among others, Ann Clwyd, MP for Cynon Valley, highlighted her “concern about the Ministry of Defence’s ludicrous claim that there was only one civilian casualty resulting from its operations in Mosul and Raqqa in the fight against IS”. She added that the UK could not expect to lead on the global stage in the protection of civilians until a dedicated civilian casualty team, among other measures, was put in place.

The debate comes as the Foreign Commonwealth Office is in the process of revising the UK government’s own lapsed strategy on the Protection of Civilians. Airwars will continue to engage on this critical issue.

 

Additional reporting: Maike Awater, Abbie Cheeseman, Hanna Rullmann, Osama Mansour, and Chloe Skinner.

Conflict monitoring and assessments (June): Ali Abbas Ahmadi, Maike Awater, Poppy Bowers, Laura Bruun, Abbie Cheeseman, Shihab Halep, Salim Habib, Harry Holmes, Alex Hopkins, Oliver Imhof, Osama Mansour, Hanna Rullmann, Laurie Treffers and Anna Zahn.

▲ The aftermath of an alleged Russian or regime airstrike on Saraqib, Idlib, June 22nd (via the White Helmets)

Published

June 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Russia in Syria

During May Syrian government forces, supported by Russia, continued to pound rebels in Idlib – leaving in tatters an earlier ceasefire deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Many civilians trapped on the ground faced a horrifying ordeal, with Airwars tracking a very significant increase in civilian casualty incidents in Syria reportedly carried out by either Russia or the Assad regime.

Overall, our researchers monitored 105 locally reported civilian casualty events blamed on Russia, a massive 304% rise on April’s 26 incidents – and the highest number of events seen since March 2018, in Eastern Ghouta.

The volume of allegations meant that at time of publication, Airwars was still researching and assessing some of May’s civilian harm incidents. Unrefined estimates show that across these 105 incidents, up to 277 civilians were allegedly killed by Russian and/or regime actions. That figure included up to 70 children and 54 women killed. As many as 459 additional civilians were reportedly injured, some critically.

Almost 80  per cent of May’s incidents were in Idlib governorate, with a further 16% in Hama. Civilian infrastructure came under heavy fire. On May 19th, in an incident which killed up to 10 civilians including as many as six children in Kafaf Nabil, Idlib, Step News reported that  multiple airstrikes deliberately “targeted infrastructure and hospitals”,  with Halab Today reporting that 15 homes were destroyed. Many sources said that Mariam Maternity Hospital in southern Idlib was out of service as a result of the raid, while Step News alleged the “destruction of the hospital”. Victims included two children named as Ibrahim and Suleiman al Ismail and their pregnant mother.

Footage showing the aftermath of an alleged Russian airstrike on Kafar Nabil, May 19th (via Halab Today TV)

Airwars tracked four separate casualty incidents in the town of Maarat al Numan in Idlib during May. In the worst of these, between 7 and 12 civilians were reportedly killed with up to 40 more wounded in alleged Russian or regime strikes on a popular market in al Masqed al Kabir square, in the middle of the city on May 21st-22nd. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, there was also a strike near al Kabir Mosque. Reports were grim, with media activist Ghayath al-Daher telling Geiroon that “most bodies were torn to pieces”. One victim was named as the young boy Mohammad al Shawwaf.

Mohammad al Shawwaf killed in an alleged regime airstrike on Ma’aret al Numan, May 22, 2019 (via SN4HR)

May also saw six casualty events in Aleppo governorate, with four occurring within 24 hours on May 28th. In the most concerning,  up to 10 civilians including three children died and as many as 20 more were wounded in an alleged Russia or regime strike on Kafar Halab, local media reported. The White Helmets who were at the scene blamed Russia, and said that high-explosive missiles had struck the market in the middle of the town.

Syrian Civil Defense volunteer putting out a fire caused by an airstrike on Kafar Halab on May 28th (via Syrian Civil Defense).

Libya

As the two rival governments continue their struggle for Tripoli, Libya witnessed an increase in the number of strikes compared to April. Airwars monitored reports of 218 airstrikes in May, a 40% rise. Our current estimate is that between 19 and 25 civilians died and 28 to 35 were injured in these incidents, compared to between 37 and 65 killed in April.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) was again allegedly responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, reportedly killing between 13 and 16 civilians. Local sources also accused the GNA of being the perpetrator of the month’s worst civilian harm event, on May 14th, when six civilians were reportedly killed by indiscriminate shelling in Qasr Bin Gashir.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) was itself accused of having killed between 3 and 6 civilians through airstrikes, with the most significant event in Zawiya on May 13th.

For the first time during the renewed fighting in Tripoli, civilian harm was also alleged against a foreign actor. Three civilians were reported killed on May 12th in Naser, with local sources accusing of either the LNA, the UAE or Egypt of conducting the strike. Meanwhile, Turkey was again claimed to have been supporting the GNA with drones and military advisors.

Neither competing government managed to make significant territorial gains in May. General Khalifa Haftar rejected international calls for a ceasefire, and vowed to fight until the pro-GNA militias in Tripoli were defeated.

A child injured on May 3rd in the Al Keramia neighbourhood in Janzur by “indiscriminate shelling” (via Field Medicine and Support Center)

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

No Coalition strikes have been publicly reported in Syria beyond May 4th, and for the second consecutive month, Airwars tracked no civilian harm events assessed as likely caused by US-led Coalition air or artillery strikes in either Iraq or Syria.

There were, however, allegations of civilian harm stemming from a reported counter-terrorism raid in Al Shahil on May 8th. According to local media, at least five people were killed in a three hour operation between midnight and dawn on the city’s al Katef neighbourhood.

The source Deir Ezzor 24 named Haji Khleif Al-Abdullah Al-Othman and his sons Muhammad and Ahmed as among those killed, when they were reportedly shot at by a helicopter hovering over their home. However, Syria.liveuamap said that the victims were not civilians, but members of ISIS. The source claimed that a total of six ISIS members were killed when the Coalition carried out a landing operation in support of SDF ground forces, who were driving armoured vehicles. There was further dispute among other sources as to the the combatant status of the victims.

On May 18th, representatives of the Coalition and the SDF held a meeting with tribal figures and the families of the victims of both the Al Shalil operation, and an incident in Daman on April 24th-25th. According to Deir Ezzor 24, the families called upon the Coalition to provide evidence that their sons were connected to ISIS, questioning the credibility of such claims. Moreover, the source reported that the Coalition stated at the meeting that the victims “had resisted international Coalition forces during the operation.” The families were reportedly unhappy with the Coalition’s explanation of the event, and had called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

Demonstrations against the SDF in Al-Shahil in Deir al-Zour, after at least six alleged civilians were killed in a joint US-SDF operation on May 8th (via @ANews_Arabic).

Strikes in Iraq have continued, though at a steeply declined rate. Between May 5th and June 3rd, the Coalition said that it had conducted 11 strikes in Iraq, a 73% drop on the 41 strikes reported in the previous four week period. With the Coalition still refusing to provide the locations of these strikes however, it remains impossible to assess whether they might have caused civilian harm.

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

U.S. Africa Command carried out seven strikes in Somalia during May, up from five in the previous month. It currently assesses that no civilians were harmed in these strikes.

Four of these strikes were on the terror group Al-Shabaab. On May 5th, three alleged terrorists were killed in vicinity of Tortoroow; on May 22nd, a strike on the Lower Shabelle region killed two claimed terrorists; and strikes on May 24th and May 26th, both in the Golis Mountains, killed a total of six alleged al Shabaab fighters.

Additionally, there were three declared US airstrikes on ISIS in Somalia. These were all in the Golis Mountain. The first occurred on May 8th against an ISIS encampment and reportedly killed 13 terrorists. This was followed by another strike the following day (May 9th), killing a further four. The final strike against ISIS was on May 22nd and killed two more alleged members of ISIS.

Despite this ongoing ramp up in airstrikes under the Trump Administration, the US has  confirmed responsibility for only two civilian deaths in its secretive war in Somalia. This admission came on April 5th and concerned a strike that occurred on April 1st 2018.

Yemen

According to CENTCOM, there were no US military strikes against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) during May. It is unknown whether the CIA separately carried out any attacks.

CENTCOM’s last two declared strikes were in Al Bayda on March 29th. The US military command assessed that no civilians were harmed in either of these actions. In total for 2019, CENTCOM says it has so far conducted eight strikes in Yemen.

However as the Saudi-led air and ground war against Yemen’s Houthi government raged on, civilians remained in extreme danger elsewhere. On May 16th, fresh fighting erupted in the port city of Hodeidah as a UN-backed de-escalation deal broke down, while civilian casualties were also reported in the Houthi-controlled capital, Sana’a.

According to OCHA, in the first quarter of 2019 more than 900 civilian casualties have been reported in Yemen, with Yemenis “More likely to die in their own homes than anywhere else, as a result of war.”

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during May.

Advocacy

Military advocacy

Along with other NGO partners, Airwars met with US defence officials in Washington DC during May, as part of a continuing dialogue process to secure improvements in civilian harm monitoring, assessments and reporting by the US military.

We also continue to engage with the US-led Coalition on civilian harm allegations resulting from the war against so-called Islamic State. To May 31st, Airwars had tracked up to 29,313 alleged deaths from 2,874 claimed Coalition civilian harm events in Iraq and Syria since 2014. Our own current estimate is of 8,005 to 12,851 civilians likely killed by Coalition actions.

The US-led alliance has itself so far assessed 2,059 of these incidents as ‘non credible’; and a further 302 events as having caused civilian harm. Overall, the Coalition had admitted to at least 1,302 civilians killed by its actions against ISIS, to May 31st 2019.

In its monthly casualty report for May 2019, the Coalition confirmed an additional six events, one of which was an Airwars referral. A further 15 incidents were classed as ‘non credible – with 111 alleged events still in review.

European advocacy

In May, our Netherlands-based conflict researcher and advocacy officer Maike Awater attended the European Forum on Armed Drones (EFAD) in Brussels, a civil society network of organisations working to promote human rights and respect for the rule of law. EFAD was formed in particular to engage on the growing global use of armed drones, and to address key concerns regarding their deployment and proliferation, through engaging with governments, and with European institutions and civil society; and by promoting political and public debate.

Discussing similar topics, Maike also attended a Brussels conference, European Perspectives on Remote Warfare, organized by PAX. A series of panels discussed how emerging military technologies and new security policies are shaping the norms and principles of war.

On May 28th, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Netherlands Parliament discussed the country’s contribution to the anti-ISIS Coalition in Iraq. During the debate, three political parties – SP, Groenlinks and PvdA – called on the government to release strike data for Dutch airstrikes in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, for the entire duration of the mission. The parties submitted a total of eleven policy recommendations, to improve monitoring and reporting on civilian casualties from Dutch military actions.

The second panel is covering legal, ethical, and transparency implications of new tech and #remotewar , with @LarryLewis_ from @ElkeSchwarz & @ElenLazarou pic.twitter.com/s1wfquxzJw

— European Forum on Armed Drones (@EFADrones) May 15, 2019

UK advocacy

As our new conflict researcher and advocacy officer focused on UK-based advocacy. Dr Chloe Skinner joined Airwars in May from a strong background in academic research and human rights field work.

The last British government policy on protection of civilians during conflicts was published in 2011, and has since lapsed.  As the ‘penholder’ on the Protection of Civilians agenda at the UN Security Council, the UK is now poised to update its own strategy in the coming months, with NGOs including Airwars participating in the initial phases of this process.

Alongside many of our partner NGOs, and representatives from the Foreign Office, DFID, and the Ministry of Defence, our Deputy Director Dmytro Chupryna and advocacy officer Chloe Skinner attended two roundtable discussions in May, discussing the UK’s role in the Protection of Civilians, and on concrete steps toward a more comprehensive British strategy.

Airwars emphasised the importance of including civilian casualty recording as a requirement in the forthcoming strategy update, as well as the crucial need for improved assessment processes by the MoD. We will continue to assert that civilian casualty recording must be a baseline requirement in any UK protection of civilians policy – strengthening mechanisms for transparency and accountability, as well as informing a ‘lessons learned’ approach to future conflicts.

 

Additional reporting: Maike Awater, Abbie Cheeseman, Hanna Rullmann, Osama Mansour, and Chloe Skinner.

Conflict monitoring and assessments (May): Ali Abbas Ahmadi, Maike Awater, Poppy Bowers, Laura Bruun, Abbie Cheeseman, Shihab Halep, Salim Habib, Harry Holmes, Alex Hopkins, Oliver Imhof, Osama Mansour, Hanna Rullmann, Laurie Treffers, Clive Vella, and Anna Zahn.

 

▲ An alleged Russian airstrike hits Jisr al Shoughour, May 22nd (via Mohammed Ghorab)

Published

May 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Following the capture of Al Baghouz and the defeat of ISIS as a territorial entity on March 23rd, US-led Coalition air and artillery strikes in Syria effectively stopped, while actions in Iraq have also heavily declined in recent months. Consequently, Airwars has not tracked a civilian casualty event in Syria assessed as likely caused by Coalition air or artillery strikes since March 21st. However civilian harm has been reported during counter terrorism raids.

The last known civilian harm event in Iraq was recorded on March 24th  – itself the first publicly alleged incident in that country since May 2018.

The Airwars mission to monitor all casualty allegations from international actions in Iraq and Syria remains unchanged – and we will continue to track civilian harm allegations in both countries when they occur, including from Turkey and Russia, which is again on the offensive. Our tracking of civilian harm from all belligerents in Libya also continues – with our team particularly busy monitoring the ongoing battle for control of Tripoli.

From this month, our assessments will also foreground strikes and claims of civilian harm from US counter-terrorism campaigns in Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, with Airwars now taking over monitoring from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

In addition, our post-conflict work continues to expand. Launched in April, a major Airwars project with Amnesty International revealed that more than 1,600 civilians likely died as a result of Coalition strikes in the devastated city of Raqqa during 2017. Alongside this, our advocacy engagement with militaries and governments continues, as we seek answers on behalf of the most vulnerable peoples affected by war.

Major conflict monitoring

Libya

Libya’s two rival governments are engaged in a lethal struggle for control of that troubled nation’s capital. The Tripoli offensive of the rebel Libyan National Army (LNA) began on April 4th, with the month seeing a major spike in both airstrikes and civilian harm allegations. Throughout April Airwars tracked 156 airstrikes, and monitored reports of between 37 and 65 civilians killed.

The largest known share of victims came from airstrikes from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), with between 14 and 22 civilians reported killed. LNA strikes reportedly resulted in a further 9 to 14 civilian deaths. For a further 14 to 25 civilian fatalities no blame could be apportioned, as many resulted from indiscriminate artillery shelling according to reports. Rapidly changing frontlines and disinformation about territorial control made events particularly hard to track.

In the worst known incident for April, up to 12 civilians were killed in Al-Swani south of Tripoli by indiscriminate artillery shelling. Five days later, up to 8 civilians were killed in Tripoli’s Abu Salim neighbourhood, likely by LNA shelling.

In addition, internationalising of the conflict now seems likely. Remnants of Chinese made missiles were found at the sites of several airstrikes in Tripoli, almost certainly fired by Wing Loong drones. Both the United Arab Emirates and Egypt operate Wing Loongs and back Khalifa Haftar’s LNA – though it is not presently known whether either or both nations was responsible for these attacks.

For its part, the LNA said it had captured a Portuguese mercenary pilot after reportedly shooting down a Mirage flown by a GNA-supporting faction based at Misurata. Both the LNA and GNA appear to be using mercenaries to fly lethal air sorties. And both have repeatedly been accused of receiving arms from foreign backers, in violation of the UN arms embargo.

After a month of fighting there was still no end in sight to the struggle between two rival governments. Territorial control had not significantly changed, contrary to the LNA’s stated expectation to take the capital within days. A protracted stalemate will place at further risk tens of thousands of civilians caught between the two sides.

Besides events in Tripoli, one civilian casualty event was recorded on April 2nd in Kufra in the extreme south of the country. Four civilians were allegedly killed by an unknown aircraft. Both the LNA and the US’s AFRICOM denied responsibility for the attack – although an LNA spokesman insisted the victims were “terrorists.”

Radwan Milad Attiya, reportedly killed by indiscriminate shelling on April 19th (Image via Tripoli Now)

Russia in Syria

As the net continued to tighten during the Assad government’s offensive against rebel forces in Idlib and Hama governorates in Syria, April saw a 30% increase in alleged Russian or regime civilian casualty events – though the number of claimed fatalities fell slightly on March.

In total, between 29 and 59 civilians were locally alleged killed across 26 events in April – compared to between 36 and 94 such fatalities across 20 events during the previous month. Of these 26 events, seven were assessed by Airwars as likely resulting from Russian actions, killing an estimated 7 to 15 civilians. For the remaining 15 incidents, reports were conflicted as to whether Russia or the Assad regime were to blame. Some 42% of April’s 26 events were in Idlib governorate, and a further 42% in Hama.

The worst incident of the month occurred on April 23rd, when up to nine civilians were reportedly killed and dozens more wounded in alleged Russian and regime strikes on Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib. Among the named fatalities were seven year old Ghazi Nahem, eight year old Yunus Ddo, and the little girl Aysha Makhzoum.

Aysha Makhzoum, killed in shelling on Khan Sehikoun on April 23rd (via Khan Sehikoun and its countryside lens Facebook page).

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

Following the announcement of ISIS’s defeat as a territorial entity in Syria on March 23rd, air and artillery strikes in Syria all but stopped. Between March 24th and May 4th the Coalition reported 23 strikes in Syria. No Syrian strikes have been publicly reported beyond that date, although counter-terrorism raids have continued.

For the first time since the start of anti-ISIS actions in August 2014, Airwars tracked no civilian harm events assessed as likely and caused by US-led Coalition air or artillery strikes in either Iraq or Syria during an entire month.

There were however two allegations of civilians killed in joint counter-terror raids by the US-led Coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces. On April 13th, between one and five civilians were alleged killed in a joint landing operation involving the Coalition and the SDF at Al Takihi, Deir Ezzor. The raids reportedly targeted the home of an ISIS fighter; however, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the victims were shot by SDF forces.

In a similar event at around 1 am on April 25th, up to six civilians including a family of four reportedly died in a joint operation by the SDF with air support from the Coalition  at Al Daman. According to Step the house of Farhan Mazhour al-Sarhan was raided, killing Farhan Mazhour Al Sarhan,  two of his adult sons and one of their wives (who was pregnant), Step alleged that the SDF fired on the house knowing that the victims were civilians. A reported eyewitness told Deir Ezzor24 that the SDF shot the family members “in cold blood”.

In a later post, Deir Ezzor 24 claimed that the Coalition and SDF held an extended meeting on May 18th with the families of victims of two “massacres”, the April 25th event in Al Daman and a later event on May 8th-9th in Al Shahil. During the meeting, which was also said to have been attended by tribal elders, the families pressed the Coalition to provide evidence that the victims had any links with ISIS – and to recognise that their intelligence had been incorrect.

Meanwhile, there were 41 strikes declared by the Coalition in Iraq between March 24th and April 20th (a 59% fall on the 99 strikes conducted in the previous four week period). Again, Airwars tracked publicly reported no civilian casualty events.

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Beginning in April, Airwars took over the monitoring of US drone strikes and reported civilian harm in three long-running counter-terrorism wars in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. In the coming months, Airwars will be incorporating the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s invaluable 17-year archive into its own site – ensuring permanent and public accessibility.

Somalia

The US has been carrying out covert strikes in Somalia since 2007, primarily focused on the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Al-Shaabab. Additionally, US special forces continue their more recent campaign against ISIS in Somalia.

During April, AFRICOM says it carried out five airstrikes in Somalia. Three of these were on Al-Shaabab. They occurred on April 9th in the Jilib, Middle Juba region; on April 11th in the vicinity of Garowle, in the Lower Shabelle region; and on April 19th in the vicinity of Jamaame, in Lower Juba. Four Al-Shabaab terrorists were reportedly killed.

Additionally, there were two declared US airstrikes on ISIS. The first of these on April 14th reportedly killed the second-in-command of ISIS-Somalia, Abdulhakim Dhuqub, in the vicinity of Xiriiro, in Bari region. On April 26th, a precision airstrike reportedly killed three ISIS terrorists in the Golis Mountains, in the Puntland region. AFRICOM has informed Airwars that no civilians were currently assessed as having been killed or injured in any of these strikes.

Under Donald Trump’s presidency, US strikes in Somalia have continued to rise. In 2018, there were 43 declared strikes. AFRICOM tells Airwars that it has already conducted 33 airstrikes during the first five months of 2019. In addition to the five strikes in April, there were nine in January, 15 in February and four during March.

The US has only admitted to two civilian deaths (a woman and a child) from its actions in Somalia since 2007. This sole admission came on April 5th this year, and concerned a strike on April 1st 2018. Those conceded deaths came in response to a report by Amnesty alleging at least 14 non-combatant fatalities in five other incidents over the last two years. This illustrates both the importance of fieldwork in uncovering civilian harm -and the significant disparity in casualty estimates by monitors and AFRICOM.

Yemen

According to CENTCOM, there were no US military strikes against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) during April. It is unknown whether the CIA separately carried out any attacks.

The first know US drone strike outside a regular battlefield took place in Yemen in 2002, killing six alleged Al Qaeda terrorists. In 2007, Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP), which then became the controversial focus of US covert and clandestine operations in Yemen under President Obama from 2009 onwards.

Yemeni soldiers and US airpower succeeded in removing AQAP from its strongholds. However, the group later became embroiled in the ongoing civil war – one of the greatest humanitarian crises of today, which killed or wounded almost 100 civilians per week during 2018, according to the UN.

US counter-terrorism strikes in Yemen have see-sawed in recent years. In the first 100 days of President Trump taking office more strikes hit Yemen than in 2015 and 2016 combined.

However CENTCOM told Airwars that it did not conduct any strikes in Yemen during April 2019. Its last two declared strikes were in Al Bayda on March 29th. The US military command assessed that no civilians were harmed in either of these actions. In total for 2019, CENTCOM says it has conducted eight strikes in Yemen (two in January and six in March). The January air strikes took place in Marib and Al Bayda governorates.

The US war against Al Qaeda in Yemen is only a small part of the conflicts wracking that nation. More than 8,400 civilians have credibly been reported killed in the ongoing Saudi-led air and ground war against the country’s Houthi government, according to the Yemen Data Project – which has been collecting and disseminating data on the war since 2016. And in April, Bellingcat launched its own investigative website examining Saudi-led strikes in Yemen.

Pakistan

There were no publicly alleged CIA strikes in Pakistan against either Al Qaeda or the Taliban during April.

The US began drone strikes in Pakistan in June 2004. These have been aimed at various groups including Al-Qaeda, the Pakistan Taliban, and the Haqqani Network. The US carried out 10 times more CIA drone strikes in Pakistan strikes under President Barack Obama than under George Bush. However, with the effective defeat of Al Qaeda Central and a decline in militant activity in Pakistan’s tribal areas, strikes have petered out in recent years.

In a blow to public accountability, in March of this year President Donald Trump revoked a key part of an Obama 2016 executive order, requiring US officials to publish annually the number of civilians killed in US drone strikes outside of war zones – describing the order as “superfluous”.

When contacted by Airwars and asked if the US had carried out any strikes in April, the Pentagon said it had “nothing to report on airstrikes in Pakistan”.

 

Advocacy

At least 1,600 civilians died in the battle of Raqqa – ten times more than the Coalition concedes. That  was the key finding of a major new study by Amnesty International and Airwars which published in April. The groundbreaking project, which combined Amnesty’s extensive fieldwork with Airwars’ rigorous remote monitoring of the Raqqa campaign, offers the most methodical estimate to date of the death toll from the US-led battle to retake the city from ISIS.

War in Raqqa: Rhetoric versus Reality identified almost 500 incidents of civilian harm from alleged Coalition actions, and named 1,000 victims. Amnesty launched a new data-led website to expose the scale of destruction from Coalition strikes on the city. There was also an interactive exhibition at the Architectural Association in London, which included a 360 degree tour of the shattered ruins of the ancient city. This was accompanied by a series of lectures on Raqqa and modern warfare.

There was significant media pickup of the project’s findings, across multiple languages. The Coalition tells Airwars that it is currently assessing 95 Raqqa events referred to its assessors by Amnesty.

Our geolocation team also showcased the Raqqa project’s findings at a workshop in Rotterdam at the Het Nieuwe Instituut, focusing on architecture and investigative journalism. The event specifically explored how satellite image analysis and open source materials are used in our advocacy work to investigate civilian harm claims. 

Talking through geolocation examples and what to look for in photos to locate them in satellite imagery – how would the features in the photo appear from above and which would be significant? Trees, buildings under construction, building heights, power lines. pic.twitter.com/IReo7n1Apj

— Alison Killing (@alisonkilling) May 4, 2019

During April, Airwars’ Netherlands-based conflict researcher and advocacy officer Maike Awater also attended a NATO conference on Cultural Property Protection. The event brought together experts from various domains, including NGOs, policy makers, academics and military personnel.

Back in London, former UK Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson announced to Parliament on April 8th that the MoD would discontinue reporting on “airstrikes” and instead start reporting on each weapon release. This small but positive move was welcomed by Airwars. Along with other NGOs, we have repeatedly stressed that weapon releases are a more useful metric for monitoring intensity of bombardment than the imprecise term ‘airstrike’ – which might refer to multiple weapons fired across a number of engagements.

The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria conceded a further 34 civilian deaths in April, bringing the total number of admitted fatalities across the war against ISIS to 1,291. It noted that it is still investigating 122 incidents of alleged civilian harm.

An interview with Mohammed Othman Aswad, the only survivor of an alleged Coalition airstrike on his home in Raqqa, June 28th 2017 (via Amnesty International)

Additional reporting: Maike Awater, Abbie Cheeseman, Hanna Rullmann and Osama Mansour.

Conflict monitoring and assessments (April): Ali Abbas Ahmadi, Maike Awater, Poppy Bowers, Laura Bruun, Abbie Cheeseman, Shihab Halep, Salim Habib, Harry Holmes, Alex Hopkins, Oliver Imhof, Osama Mansour, Hanna Rullmann, Laurie Treffers, Clive Vella, and Anna Zahn.

▲ Smoke rises above Jisr Al Shougur following an alleged Russian strike from a battleship off the coast of Latakia, April 9th 2019 (via LCCSY)

Published

May 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Conflict monitoring

After 56 months of war, March finally saw the defeat of ISIS as a territorial entity when the town of Al Baghouz in Deir Ezzor governorate fell to Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on March 23rd. However, this final intense month of fighting came at what appeared to be significant cost to civilians on the ground.

March was marked by reports of increasingly distressing, mass casualty incidents in the ISIS-held Al Baghouz camp, culminating in a catastrophic event between March 18th and 19th which killed at least 160 civilians according to local monitors. As a result, March saw a 253% hike in minimum likely deaths from alleged Coalition strikes in Syria on the previous month.

March also saw international strikes in Iraq more than double on February – and the first Coalition civilian casualty event tracked by Airwars in the country since May 2018. But with the alliance having slashed public transparency for its actions it remains impossible to know where Coalition strikes occurred – and, crucially, whether they resulted in civilian harm.

Meanwhile, civilians trapped in Syria’s Idlib governorate found themselves in increased danger from Russian air power. Airwars researchers tracked an 82% rise in casualty events linked to Moscow – the highest number of incidents in a month since September 2018. Up to 94 civilians were alleged killed by either Russia or the Assad regime in March – compared to a maximum of 56 such deaths in February.

Coalition actions fall in Syria – but remain intense

Multiple pauses to allow civilians to leave Al Baghouz in March delayed a final declaration of victory. Just days after resuming the assault on the town, the offensive slowed once again on March 4th as a secondary humanitarian corridor was opened. According to the SDF on March 5th, 3,000 people were evacuated in just a day – figures which, once again, showed that the Coalition’s estimates of the number of civilians trapped in this scrap of land were way off the mark.

The assault resumed on March 10th, and the SDF finally seized the heart of ISIS’s al Baghouz camp – the terror group’s last populated slice of territory – on March 18th-19th. However, skirmishes continued. By March 20th, US President Donald Trump was stating that “the Caliphate is gone as of tonight” – though the SDF and US officials initially exercised more caution. Victory was formally declared by the SDF in a ceremony on March 23rd.

#BREAKING: This is the moment #SDF raised its flag and declared victory over #ISIL in #Baghouz, #Syria minutes ago. After almost 6 years of war, finally the #ISIL/ #Daesh lost its whole territory today and the war on this terror group entered in its next stage an hour ago. pic.twitter.com/aQ4V8EKdQK

— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) March 23, 2019

Between February 24th and March 23rd, the Coalition conducted 290 air and artillery strikes in Syria – a 21% fall on the 365 strikes carried out between January 27th and February 23rd. On average, this was 10 strikes per day (down from an average of 13 strikes per day in the previous 28-day period of January 27th to February 23rd). While the tempo of strikes fell, the Coalition bombardment, now focused entirely on a tiny slice of land no larger than a few football pitches in Al Baghouz, remained intense.

According to AFCENT, 900 munitions were released from the air across Iraq and Syria during March 2019 – a 48% rise on February’s 607 munitions.

Continuing the trend of the entire war, the US remained responsible for the vast majority of these strikes during March – and most probably for the majority of associated civilian harm claims.

There was small increase in airstrikes by the UK. The MoD reported approximately 5 to 9 airstrikes in Syria – up from two in February. France meanwhile reported two airstrikes in Syria, down from six in February. There were also six missions by France’s artillery forces in the Euphrates Valley – the same number as for February. The number of strikes conducted by Iraq within Syria in March is not known.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation for tens of thousands of Syrians who had managed to flee Al Baghouz remained dire. By March 22nd, Al Hol refugee camp reportedly contained 74,000 refugees – up from 11,000 three months previously. According to UNICEF, some 3,000 ISIS children were housed in camps in north-east Syria by March 13th.

A US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon refuels from a 28th Expeditionary Aerial Refuelling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker, March 1st 2019. (via US Air Force)

Likely civilian deaths from Coalition actions in Syria more than triple

In March, civilian casualty incidents linked to the Coalition in Syria rose significantly. Overall, Airwars researchers tracked 15 reported casualty events, compared to seven in the previous month. Of these 15 events – all of which were in Al Baghouz  – twelve are presently assessed as being fairly reported. An event is assessed by Airwars as ‘Fair’ when it involves two or more uncontested and credible public sources, in addition to confirmation where possible that the Coalition carried out strikes in the vicinity that date.

Airwars tracking reveals a 253% leap in minimum likely deaths from the US-led alliance’s actions on February’s minimum figures.  Airwars currently estimates that between 268 and 752 civilians likely died across these 12 Syrian events – a massive increase of 253% on the minimum of 76 civilians likely killed in February. More worrying still, of these 268 civilians at least 59 were children and 14 were women, according to locals. As many as 284 additional civilians were also reported wounded.

As in February however, reporting from the ground remained poor and often confused.  Yet as images of charred bodies and mass graves emerged from the Al Baghouz camp, it became clear – as it has repeatedly throughout this fierce war – that civilians had endured great suffering as part of the final effort to secure a territorial victory over ISIS.

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Coalition incidents of concern in Al Baghouz camp

Disturbing reports began emerging from ISIS-held Al Baghouz camp within the first few days of March – and both the severity and scale of the civilian harm only increased as the month wore on.

Airwars tracked the first of 15 casualty incidents in the camp likely the work of the US-led alliance on March 3rd. Local media reported that the Coalition struck an ammunition depot that caused a large explosion in the camp. According to Hamah Now, up to 250 civilians were killed and wounded in this one event, though the Twitter account sakeraldeen put the number much lower, reporting the “burning of dozens of children and women” when the only field hospital tent in the camp was allegedly hit.

Small arms fire and Coalition air and artillery strikes on Al Baghouz on March 3rd 2019 (via SDF Press).

On March 10th-11th between 50 and 70 civilians – mostly women and children – were also reportedly killed and dozens more wounded when “devastating bombs of enormous proportions” hit the vicinity of the camp in the early hours of the morning. According to Syrian state media Sana News, the strikes “targeted dozens of families” who were attempting to escape areas besieged by ISIS fighters. Despite all sources attributing blame to the US-led Coalition, its spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan told Arabic RT News that the alliance saw “no evidence of casualties among civilians”.

The aftermath of alleged Coalition strikes which hit Al Baghouz camp in the early hours of March 10th-11th 2019. (via @as_saabireen)

Only a few days later, on March 13th, another alleged Coalition airstrike on the al Baghouz camp killed up to 100 more civilians, according to local media. The lowest death count of 20 was given by the twitter account Christian Turner, who said that “warplanes attacked displaced persons and their cars”, though several sources put the number killed as high as 100. Mu’adh Muhammad al-Ali al-Daham, reportedly a prominent ISIS journalist, was claimed killed along with two civilians – a child and his mother, reportedly of French origin.

🛑 2 ÈME AVIS DE RECHERCHE.Cet enfant Français est gravement blessé il est entre la vie et la mort en Syrie.

Il réclame une certaine « Marianne » peut être sa grand mère.

Merci de partager afin de retrouver sa famille en France ou de procéder à son identification en urgence ! pic.twitter.com/kHSCUQaJST

— Idriss Sihamedi☝🏼 (@IdrissSihamedi) March 14, 2019

Tweet from @IdrissSihamedi that reads: “This French child is seriously injured. He is between life and death in Syria”.

According to local media, some time between March 18th and 19th, between 160 and 300 more civilians died in yet another  “massacre” at the camp.

Reporting was however confused, and only two sources specified exact death counts. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 200 people including members of ISIS and their families died in Coalition shelling of the camp on Tuesday March 19th. Of these, the Observatory said that 160 were civilians including 45 children. The victims were then reportedly buried on the morning of Wednesday March 20th.

On March 20th, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently published several pictures alongside a report that alleged the SDF “dug mass graves to bury those killed and even those merely injured” after taking control of Al-Baghouz.

However, Nors For Studies (an Arabic-language source which describes itself as a Syrian research centre though which was not known for casualty claims in Deir Ezzor until very recently) put the death toll at a staggering 300 civilians, a figure then tweeted by others. There were also claims that of these 300, some had been killed by “sniping”, though Eldorar went on to give some context to the claim by Nors for Studies, reporting on March 20th that “the camps of Al Baghouz have witnessed campaigns of genocide during the past 24 because of strikes by the Air Alliance [the US-led Coalition].”

Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently noted that ISIS had used “hundreds of civilians as human shields during the raids”. In a shocking assertion, the local source also claimed that “immediately after taking control of the town [Al Baghouz], SDF militias dug mass graves to bury those killed and even those merely injured.”

Al Hasaka Arabea claimed that journalists had been prevented from entering the vicinity by “the intelligence service of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party”, who had reportedly removed  “the bodies from the massacres committed by the Kurdish protection units” in a convoy of trucks.

The full story of what occurred in Al Baghouz camp on March 18th-19th, remains unclear, though grisly footage indicates a devastating civilian casualty incident which requires urgent investigation. Moreover, the intensity of bombing in Al Baghouz, coupled with the Coalition’s failure to accurately estimate the number of families still trapped in the area, suggests that little had been learned from the earlier battles for Raqqa and Mosul in 2017.

The aftermath of alleged Coalition shelling on Al Baghouz camp, March 18th-19th, in which at least 160 civilians allegedly died (via RBSS)

Coalition incidents of concern in Iraq

While Coalition actions in Syria declined during March, for the third straight month strikes in Iraq increased. Between February 24th and March 23rd, the Coalition reported 99 strikes in Iraq – a 120% rise on the 45 strikes conducted in the previous four week period. However, with the Coalition refusing to now declare where they had carried out strikes it was impossible to assess whether any of these actions might have resulted in nearby civilian harm.

This was particularly worrying given that during March Aiwars tracked the first publicly reported civilian casualty event reportedly carried out by the US-led Coalition in Iraq since May 2018. On March 24th, a girl was reported killed and a man injured when an airstrike was carried out on a house in Al-Oudan district, north of Rutba, Anbar province, Iraq.

The actions were believed to have been carried out by American forces, according to 24news. agency. Other members of the family were reportedly arrested, though the reason remains unknown.

Russia in Syria: an 82% rise in casualty events

As the Assad government’s offensive against rebels continued in Idlib governorate, Airwars tracked 20 publicly reported civilian harm events in Syria during March allegedly linked to Russia – an 82% rise on the 11 events seen in February. This marked the highest number of claimed incidents in any one calendar month since September 2018.

In total, between 36 and 94 civilians were alleged killed in these twenty March events – compared to between 29 and 56 such fatalities during the previous month.

However, unlike in February when all events were assessed by Airwars as Contested, – with allegations against both Russia and the Assad regime, and with claims against the regime in many cases outweighing those against Moscow – March saw a sharp rise in incidents assessed as likely carried out by Russia alone. Overall, there were 10 such events, counting for between 25 and 63 civilian deaths.

All but three of March’s events were in Idlib governorate, where residential areas of Idlib city itself and villages on its outskirts came under intense fire, resulting in several disturbing mass casualty claims.

On March 13th, between eight and 17 civilians including as many as eight children and four women across multiple families died in alleged Russia airstrike on residential areas in Idlib city, reportedly striking the al Kasih area in the middle of the city and the Al Qousor area. Fatalities included three very young children from the Hawana family along with two teenagers from the Zair family.

A wounded child following an alleged Russian strike on Idlib, March 13th 2019 (via SN4HR)

In the worst alleged Russian casualty incident of the month, as many as 28 civilians died and up to 30 more were injured in what Baladi said were up to “15 successive Russian strikes” on the towns of Kafriya and Al Fou’a in Idlib on March 22nd. Multiple sources reported the use of cluster bombs, while Orient News noted that civilian infrastructure including residential neighbourhoods, markets and mosques were targeted. One victim was named as 50-year-old Ali Wahid Qalla.

The White Helmets remove a child from the rubble after an alleged Russian airstrike on Kafriya and Al Fou’a, March 22nd 2019 (via Syrian Network for Human Rights)

Libya

There was only one airstrike reported in Libya in March, conducted by an unknown plane near Brak and allegedly killing three ISIS militants on March 4th.

This low number of reported incidents amounted to the quiet before the storm, as LNA and GNA battled for control of Tripoli during April. According to some, Libya is currently teetering on the verge of its third civil war since 2011, with severe clashes putting civilians significantly at risk.

Advocacy

Military advocacy

The Coalition, unusually, assessed just one civilian casualty incident in March, conceding that two civilians were injured in an event in Rawa, Iraq in September 2017. The original claim of civilian harm had come from a single local source with an unknown casualty toll – an allegation Airwars had provisionally assessed as weak.

The Coalition’s recent confirmation of civilian harm in this event has highlighted both the importance of listening to affected communities, as well as the value of rigorous assessments by militaries

Elsewhere, our military advocacy team spoke at BBC Connected in London, where their presentation focused on how Airwars has frequently challenged the Coalition’s narrative of “precision warfare” through its own monitoring of the digital testimonies of local affected communities.

Next up is @sophiecdyer talking about the work of @airwars #BBCnewsHACK pic.twitter.com/BCqFGXOQRC

— BBC Connected Studio (@BBC_Connected) March 26, 2019

European advocacy

March 20th marked the second anniversary of the most deadly Coalition action in Syria in the war against ISIS – an airstrike on the Al Badiya school in Al Mansoura which was  in use as an IDP shelter. At the time of the incident, local sources reported an alarmingly high numbers of civilian fatalities, coupled with photo and video evidence. Airwars assessed this incident at the time as most likely having caused significant civilian harm. However it would take many months for the US-led Coalition to take responsibility.

In the absence of a credible Coalition assessment, two major investigations into al Mansoura were then conducted. On the ground research by Human Rights Watch identified 40 of the civilian victims, while stating that many more were likely killed. And according to estimates by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the strike most likely killed over a 150 civilians. The Coalition nevertheless denied that the airstrike had killed civilians until 18 months after the event, when it finally admitted responsibility for the 40 named civilians identified by HRW.

Germany, as part of the international alliance against ISIS, had acknowledged its own role in the strike by providing intelligence on the target site to the Coalition command, as well as battle damage assessment flights after the attack.

In commemoration of the event, German television network WDR covered the incident in a feature that aired on March 14th, which included an interview with our Netherlands-based advocacy officer on Airwars’ own assessment of the incident, and our reflection on the culpability of Coalition allies which provide intelligence which in turn result in civilian harm eventss.

Also marking the second anniversary of the event, the European Center for Constitutional Rights and Airwars hosted a panel discussion in Berlin, with experts from Human Rights Watch, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, and PAX discussing the important investigations conducted into al Mansoura, and recommendations for preventing such incidents occurring in future conflict.

"When do we get governments to disclose more information on civilian casualties resulting from air strikes in Syria? How do we challenge failure of duty to investigate?" Tremendous discussion on transparency and accountability at @ECCHRBerlin pic.twitter.com/7u4C8KePXS

— Natalia Benedetti (@_NBenedetti_) March 20, 2019

Additional reporting: Maike Awater, Abbie Cheeseman and Osama Mansour.

Conflict monitoring and assessments (March): Ali Abbas Ahmadi, Maike Awater, Poppy Bowers, Laura Bruun, Abbie Cheeseman, Sophie Dyer, Shihab Halep, Salim Habib, Harry Holmes, Alex Hopkins, Oliver Imhof, Osama Mansour, Hanna Rullmann, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Laurie Treffers, Clive Vella, and Anna Zahn.

▲ The aftermath of alleged Coalition shelling of Al Baghouz camp, March 18th - 19th, which allegedly killed at least 160 civilians (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)

Published

April 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Conflict monitoring

During February, civilian harm claims against the US-led Coalition in Syria continued to be a major problem. The month saw several alarming large-scale casualty incidents in the town of Baghouz – the last territorial holdout in Syria for so-called Islamic State (ISIS) – meaning that the likely death toll from Coalition actions in February rose by 27% on the previous month.

Alarmingly, the February also saw a tripling in claimed deaths from alleged Russian and/ or Syrian government actions on January’s estimates. As Assad’s forces stepped up their campaign against rebel forces in north-west Syria, Airwars tracked six reported casualty events in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib. While the majority of sources attributed the civilian harm to regime artillery, there were also allegations against Russia. Up to 56 civilians were claimed killed in contested events implicating both the Assad government and Russia in February – compared to a maximum of 18 such deaths in January.

Coalition actions and reported civilian casualties

During February, ISIS’s former extensive ‘caliphate’ was reduced to just one town in eastern Syria, Al Baghouz. On February 9th, following a week-long pause to allow civilians times to flee, SDF ground forces backed by US-led Coalition air and artillery strikes, again announced a ‘final’ operation to seize the town.

By February 12th, it was estimated that 20,000 civilians had fled ISIS-held areas within recent weeks. By February 16th, ISIS was now reportedly cornered within a 600-700 square metre area of the town. Thousands of civilians still remained trapped, taken as hostage and used as human shields by ISIS or simply refusing to leave – once more postponing any declaration of victory.

Intensity of Coalition strikes in Al Baghouz pocket

A slowdown in the SDF’s advance was reflected in Coalition strike numbers in February. A total of 365 air and artillery strikes were conducted in Syria from January 27th to February 23rd according to official data,  a 70% fall on the previous four week period. Munitions dropped from the air also fell by 70% on January. According to AFCENT, 607 air released bombs and missiles were fired across Iraq and Syria during February – compared to 2,005 munitions the previous month.

 

This steep fall in strikes may be misleading as an indicator of the intensity of Coalition activity within the tiny Al Baghouz pocket. An Airwars analysis of both strikes and engagements in the so-called  MERV indicates a higher tempo of Coalition actions in Syria in the first two months of 2019 than were recorded at Mosul during March 2017, the most intense and deadly period of that battle. The Coalition had that month declared 152 strikes on the city, an average of five strikes per day.

Even in February 2019, – a month in which Coalition actions dropped steeply – there were still on average over two and a half times as many strikes per day reported in Al Baghouz than were seen at Mosul.

The intensity of the Coalition’s assault often placed civilians on the ground in grave danger. Indeed, Airwars tracking indicates that the number of civilians likely killed by Coalition strikes in February rose by 27% on January’s minimum figures. Our current estimate is that between 76 and 128 civilians were slain in Coalition actions in Deir Ezzor throughout February. This rise was largely the result of one catastrophic mass casualty event in Al Baghouz on February 11th, which reportedly killed up to 100 civilians – and was the worst reported Coalition civilian casualty incident tracked by Airwars in Syria since June 2017.

As strikes continued to rain down on the town, Airwars once more urged the Coalition to take better steps to protect the most vulnerable Syrians on the ground, while Human Rights Watch expressed grave concern for those attempting to escape ISIS during its  last stand. On February 19th, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that hundreds of families were still trapped in the Baghouz pocket and called for safe passage.

For those who did manage to escape, the humanitarian situation remained bleak. The UN estimated that since December 2018, approximately 45,000 people – many of them women and children – had fled the Hajin and Al Baghouz areas, arriving at the Al Hor camp in Hassakah malnourished, sick, and in dire need of medical attention.

US Army Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, fire their M777 howitzer during counter-fire operations at Firebase Saham, Iraq, December 18th 2018. (via US Army)

While there was a sharp drop in actions in Syria in February, for the second consecutive month, air and artillery strikes in Iraq instead increased. Between January 27th and February 23rd the Coalition reported 45 strikes – more than double the 22 actions publicly declared in Iraq between January 1st-26th. However, with the Coalition having ended transparency for its actions it was no longer possible to determine where these strikes had occurred – and whether they might have caused civilian harm. This was particularly alarming given the relatively steep rise in strike numbers.

Actions by the UK and France, the remaining international partners in the US-led alliance, continued to fall during February. The UK reported just two airstrikes in Syria, down from 19 the previous month. Additionally, it conducted one airstrike in Iraq, on a cave ten miles east of Tal Afar. The month also saw the withdrawal of eight British Tornados from the fight – though RAF Reapers and Typhoons remained in theatre.

Paris reported six airstrikes near Hajin, a 75% fall on the 24 actions conducted in January. There was also a significant reduction (87%) in actions by France’s artillery forces in the Euphrates Valley: six missions were conducted in February by Task Force Wagram, compared to 114 the previous month.

YPG-released footage of airstrikes on an ISIS camp in Al Baghouz, Feb 21st (via YPG Press Office)

The Coalition in Syria: likely civilian deaths rise by 27%

Throughout February, Airwars researchers tracked a total of seven incidents of concern blamed on the Coalition – a 56% fall on the 16 events tracked during January. All seven of these incidents are presently assessed as being fairly reported. An event is assessed by Airwars as ‘Fair’ when it involves two or more uncontested and credible public sources, in addition to confirmation where possible that the Coalition carried out strikes in the vicinity that day.

However, the minimum number of estimated deaths across these seven incidents increased by 27% on January’s minimum figures. Airwars’ current estimate is that between 76 and 128 civilians likely died in these seven events, compared to between 60 and 118 civilians likely killed during January.

Given a collapse in local reporting in Syria, these figures may nevertheless represent an under-estimate of civilian harm. “The information coming out of Al Baghouz was very scarce,” explains Abdulwahab Tahhan from the Airwars Syria team. “Our daily monitoring showed that air and artillery strikes were ongoing, with the possibility that details of many more civilian deaths might emerge once ISIS was defeated and aid organisations able fully to enter the area. This is what we saw in Raqqa, where many more civilian fatalities were uncovered once ISIS had been driven out of the city.”

Coalition incidents of concern in Syria

As fierce clashes occurred in ISIS’s last stronghold, civilians trapped on the ground were repeatedly placed in a perilous position throughout February. Of the seven events tracked in the month, four of them were in Al Baghouz.

In the first Al Baghouz incident, one woman died on February 1st when the Coalition allegedly struck a residential building in the town. Surrounding houses were also reportedly damaged. One source, Suriye UAD, said that Coalition warplanes had struck a mosque, though no other reports supported this claim.

On February 9th, between three and five civilians died in an alleged Coalition airstrike on Al Tayyana town according to local media. Euphrates Post reported that ISIS had attacked the al Omar oil field by motorcycle, after which the Coalition carried out several airstrikes which also killed three civilians and wounded others. Horrya News put the civilian death toll higher, at five.

Just two days later, on February 11th, Al Baghouz again came under intense fire, with Airwars tracking three separate and increasingly severe claimed casualty events in the town. In the first, four civilians died when Coalition jets allegedly struck houses on the outskirts of the town, according to sources including Dama Spots and Saba News. @DeirEzzor24 reported that the fatalities included two children and two women (though Elrabi Elyoum instead claimed that four men had died).

In the second event, a further 16 civilians were reported killed in Coalition air or artillery strikes. Multiple sources including Al Souria and Middle East Online said the victims included seven children and eight women. One man was also reported killed.

Finally, between 50 and 100 civilians were reported slain in another alleged Coalition airstrike on Al Baghouz – making this the most catastrophic alleged event Airwars had tracked in Syria since June 2017. Most sources reported that the majority of the victims were women and children, though only Syria TV gave specific figures, claiming that among the dead were two women and two children. According to SANA News, which is affiliated with the Assad government, Coalition warplanes had reportedly struck a camp for displaced persons though there was some confusion regarding the exact date. SANA placed the incident on February 12th, while LCCSY reported the incident a day earlier.

Photo of the news published by A’maq agency, an ISIS propaganda news channel (via Alsouria).

Coalition incidents of concern in Iraq

There were no known publicly reported incidents of concern in Iraq during February which resulted from US-led Coalition actions.

Russia and the Assad government in Syria

 In February, Airwars tracked 11 publicly reported civilian harm events in Syria allegedly linked to Russia – one event less than during January. However, the minimum number of claimed deaths more than tripled on January’s estimates. In total, between 29 and 56 civilians were alleged killed across these 11 February events – compared to between 9 and 18 civilians during the previous month.

All of these events were assessed by Airwars as Contested, involving allegations against both Russia and the Assad regime. In most cases, claims against regime artillery outweighed those reports blaming Russia – though there were also allegations that Russian forces were conducting artillery strikes.

February saw Assad’s forces ramping up their assault on north-west Syria, with a sharp rise in strikes on towns in northern Hama and Idlib governorates. Of the 11 events tracked by Airwars in February, 64% were in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, which the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, said had been turned into “a ghost town”.

On February 15th, in what local media described as “a massacre”, up to 14 civilians including up to six children and four women died in alleged Russian or Assad government artillery strikes on Khan Sheikhoun. According to Baladi, regime forces “stationed in the village of Abu Dali shelled the city of Khan Sheikhoun with artillery and missile shells” resulting in “a massacre” of eight civilians.

Most sources joined Baladi in pointing to the regime. However, Smart News and Kafr Zeita blamed Russia. The White Helmets said that “25 rocket launchers” had attacked the city, and put the death toll at nine. @abuhuzaifa tweeted that children had been burned alive in fires. Sources named multiple fatalities from the Al-Aindani and Al Ayan families among those killed.

An unnamed child killed in an alleged Syria regime or Russian artillery strike on Khan Sheikhoun, February 15th 2019 (via Khan Sheikhoun)

Four days later on February 19th, in an event again most likely caused by government shelling, another five civilians reportedly died in Khan Sheikhoun. Khaleej  Online noted that this was “the third day in a row” that regime forces had bombarded the town, adding that the death toll had now “soared to 20 civilians, mostly women and children” – with “dozens” more wounded. Ahrar tweeted that 50 shells were fired on the town. While most sources attributed the civilian harm to the regime, the Step News Agency noted that Russia was also carrying out artillery strikes.

Clouds of smoke rise from Khan Sheikhoun following an alleged Assad regime artillery strike on February 19th (via Ahrar)

Strikes continued to rain down on Khan Sheikhoun for the remainder of the month, and on February 23rd as many as seven more civilians including two children and two women were reportedly killed. Once more, there was disagreement over responsibility: the Syrian Network for Human Rights named Mrs. Adiba Baroud  as killed by a “regime missile launcher”, though Smart News reported that a child died in shelling by Russian forces. Multiple sources published graphic images of victims. Other victims were named as Huthayfa Diop (a young man), his daughter Hala Huthayfa Diop and another child, Muhammad Hassan al-Kurdi.

The White Helmets search rubble for survivors following a strike on Khaan Sheikhoun on February 13th (via @abuhuzaifa_ )

Libya

In February, the situation in Libya remained unstable. There were 13 reported airstrikes conducted in various locations across the country.

An ongoing military operation in the south by the rebel LNA intensified in the towns of Murzuq and Ghodwa. The LNA reportedly conducted 10 airstrikes in the region, including at El Fil, Murzuq and Ghodwa. Airwars recorded one instance of reported civilian harm from these LNA actions, with an elderly man claimed killed and a seven-year-old girl wounded in Murzuq town.

Despite ongoing violence at Derna city, media coverage there remained poor. According to Human Rights Watch, as a result of clashes during February in the Old City, at least four women and three children were killed.

Additionally, the US apparently conducted a covert airstrike on February 13th which targeted an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) convoy in Ubari town. Following the strike, the spokesman for the GNA publicly confirmed that the US had conducted the attack. However, when Airwars reached out to AFRICOM to seek confirmation, officials denied taking part in the raid. However, With the GNA standing by its statement that the US conducted the strike, this suggested the attack may have been a covert  and undeclared mission by the CIA.

Elsewhere, reports said an airstrike was conducted near the Libya-Egypt border; with the Egyptian air force blamed. Additionally, there was a strike carried out by an unknown party in Zliten city near Tripoli, in the west of Libya.

Advocacy

Military advocacy

February saw the Coalition concede 54 civilian additional deaths linked to the 2017 Battle of Raqqa, originating from six Airwars incident reports and one mass casualty event first published by Amnesty International.. These new admissions represented a 33% increase in the number of civilian deaths acknowledged by the international alliance for that battle. While the official death tally now stands at 159, this is far below the Airwars minimum estimate of 1,500 to 2,000 civilian deaths from Coalition actions at Raqqa.

In total, Operation Inherent Resolve had recognised the deaths of at least 1,257 civilians across the four year campaign in Iraq and Syria to the end of February, noting that it was still investigating a further 182 alleged incidents of civilian harm.

An Airwars animation of declared Operation Inherent Resolve strikes prior to December 2018 – when the Coalition stopped publishing the dates and locations of its actions – went viral in February. The original video and its call for the Coalition to reinstate transparency, saw more than 600,000 engagements across Twitter and Facebook, and was re-posted in multiple languages including Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish and German.

The awareness-raising video, created in collaboration with the Scottish design studio Rectangle, was picked up internationally by commentators, analysts and correspondents.

Airwars tracked & mapped every single Coalition anti-ISIS air & artillery strike (all 32,000) in Iraq & Syria from 2014 to 2018. That ended December 16th when the US-led alliance stopped saying where & when it bombs. For the sake of transparency, @CJTFOIR should reverse decision. pic.twitter.com/RWWdpu7N0s

— Airwars (@airwars) February 5, 2019

European advocacy

In February, our Netherlands-based advocacy officer Maike Awater engaged with MPs from political parties in the Netherlands in preparation for a round table discussion with policy experts. This focused in particular on good practice examples of transparency and accountability policies from allies in the international Coalition against ISIS.

Additionally, Maike met with other civic society actors in Belgium, to explore possible approaches to raising awareness of Belgian military transparency issues. With operational concerns often cited by the Belgium government as a reason for poor transparency, discussions focused on whether new opportunities for engagement might emerge once ISIS was defeated as a territorial entity.

Also discussed was the importance of re-engaging in dialogue with political parties in Belgium during upcoming elections. Talks also included a discussion of  standardised policies on civilian harm monitoring, assessments and compensation mechanisms for affected civilians on the battlefield.

Additional reporting: Maike Awater, Sophie Dyer, and Osama Mansour.

Conflict monitoring and assessments (February): Ali Abbas Ahmadi, Maike Awater, Poppy Bowers, Laura Bruun, Abbie Cheeseman, Sophie Dyer, Shihab Halep, Salim Habib, Harry Holmes, Alex Hopkins, Oliver Imhof, Osama Mansour, Hanna Rullmann, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Laurie Treffers, Clive Vella, and Anna Zahn.