June 2017

Written by

Alex Hopkins

According to Airwars estimates, May was the second deadliest month for civilians in Iraq and Syria since Coalition airstrikes began in August 2014. The month saw record numbers of strikes and of munitions released, leaving those civilians caught between ISIL and the Coalition in even worse straits. 

Casualty incidents due to Coalition strikes remained high in May, with 160 tracked events across both countries. As the campaign to seize Mosul entered a climactic phase, fatalities again reached alarming levels. And in the final weeks leading up to the official June 6th start of the offensive to take Raqqa, likely fatalities in and around that city rose by 19% from April – and by 30% for Syria as a whole.

Overall, a minimum of between 348 and 521 civilians likely died across Iraq and Syria in Coalition actions according to our provisional assessment – a 23% increase on April’s minimum estimates. A study of strike data shows that in Raqqa, more civilians are dying even when fewer targets are hit. This once again suggests a possible change to Coalition procedures which is placing civilians at greater risk of harm. 

Meanwhile after two months of ramped-up strikes, Russia scaled back its own actions in Syria. Reported civilian casualties were down by 61%. This meant that over two and a half times more casualty events were attributed the Coalition in Iraq and Syria than to Moscow’s actions in Syria. While a reduction in Russian strikes offered some much-needed respite to  non-combatants on the ground, it also placed in stark relief the unprecedented scale of the Coalition death toll measured against earlier stages of the campaign.

Coalition military developments

As of May 31st 2017, 12,820 airstrikes had reportedly been carried out in Iraq and 9,093 in Syria since the start of the Coalition campaign against so-called Islamic State. During May, 267 strikes were declared in Iraq – about 9% less than for April. The story increasingly centred on Syria, where there was an 11% increase in reported Coalition actions to 611 strikes in May – the highest number in any given month since Coalition actions began in August 2014.

May saw a record number of munitions fired in Iraq and Syria by the Coalition. According to official data published by US Air Force Central Command, its declared active members (the US, UK, France, Belgium, Australia – along with possibly Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) released a total of 4,374 munitions on ISIL targets in May. This was a 34% increase over the previous month.

Munitions figures provided to Airwars by CENTCOM are higher than those provided above by AFCENT, because they also include HIMARS rockets, helicopter attacks and artillery rounds. According to CENTCOM, the Coalition fired approximately 5,500 munitions between Iraq and Syria during May, with a split of 3,700 in Iraq and 1,800 in Syria. Of these, approximately 3,400 were in support of operations to liberate Mosul – exactly the same figure as in April – and approximately 1,000 were in support of operations to isolate Raqqa – a sharp drop of 47% on April. Yet as we report below, this decrease did nothing to reduce the number of likely civilian deaths tracked in the city.

April saw the UK – the most active ally in the Coalition after the US – playing  an even greater role in Mosul and in the escalating Raqqa campaign. The British Ministry of Defense reported carrying out 37 strikes in Iraq – a 37% increase on April. Meanwhile, actions in Syria almost tripled to 14 strikes. Despite more than 1,300 airstrikes in total – now focused heavily on urban areas with trapped civilian populations – the UK improbably still claims to have harmed no civilians in any attack.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["8qhW5"]={},window.datawrapper["8qhW5"].embedDeltas={"100":812,"200":677,"300":643,"400":617,"500":600,"600":600,"700":600,"800":600,"900":583,"1000":583},window.datawrapper["8qhW5"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-8qhW5"),window.datawrapper["8qhW5"]["8qhW5"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["8qhW5"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("8qhW5"==b)window.datawrapper["8qhW5"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

There was also a sharp rise in French actions. In Iraq, with 29 strikes declared during May, and almost double the 15 reported in April. In Syria, French raids increased by 50% to 9 declared strikes. The greatest leap occurred in French artillery strikes by its Task Force Wagram at Mosul, which rose to 262 total strikes – 38% more than April.

On May 8th, Australia made a welcome move towards greater transparency when it published its first fortnightly report, detailing both strikes and their locations. From May 1st to May 31st, Australia said it had dropped a record 119 munitions on Iraq over the course of the month – approximately 24 strikes, of which 21 were in  the vicinity of Mosul.

Royal Australian Air Force technical personnel start post flight maintenance on an F/A-18A Hornet following an Operation OKRA mission (Australian Defence Force)

Push to Mosul’s Old City and Raqqa’s gates

At the start of May, a new front was opened up in the Mosul offensive as Iraqi forces advanced from the north west of the city. On May 7th, the Mushairfah district was captured, though ISIL continued to put up fierce resistance.

By May 14th, Iraqi forces had won significant ground, and military officials estimated that ISIL controlled no more than 9% of West Mosul. Subsequent gains included the Rifai district on May 17th and the July 17 neighbourhood on May 20th. The Al-Najjar district was captured on May 22nd.

The humanitarian situation however remained dire, with 400,000 residents still believed to be trapped in the Old City centre. On May 26th, the Iraqi Air Force dropped leaflets urging civilians to evacuate the Old City – a difficult proposition at best amid heavy airstrikes and ISIL’s deliberate targeting of fleeing civilians. By May 29th, the capture operation was said to be in its last stages, with 95% of Mosul seized according to Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Meanwhile in Syria, by May 3rd the Syrian Democratic Forces had recaptured almost all of Tabaqa, a strategic city west of Raqqa. On May 11th, the Coalition announced the liberation of the Tabaqa Dam, all of the city and the airfield following a negotiated surrender with an ISIL faction.

The fourth phase of the Raqqa campaign was announced on May 10th. Steady advances were then made throughout the month, with the capture of villages and hamlets, culminating in the seizing of six villages on May 30th. However, by the time the Kurdish-dominated force reached the gates of Raqqa city, the Coalition estimated that at least 2,500 ISIL fighters remained inside – along with as many as 100,000 trapped civilians.

Coalition civilian casualties

May was the second worst month for likely Coalition civilian deaths since the beginning of the campaign in August 2014. From already high levels, 23% more non-combatants were likely killed in Iraq and Syria compared to April. As the US-backed campaigns to liberate West Mosul and Raqqa escalated, civilians were repeatedly put at extraordinary risk, whether in their homes, or as they attempted to flee those wartorn cities and towns now under constant aerial and ground bombardment.

Across both Iraq and Syria, Airwars researchers tracked 160 casualty events – a marginal increase of 1% compared to April. Of these, 76 incidents are presently assessed as fairly reported, meaning our researchers monitored two or more credible uncontested sources, and with the casualties occurring in an area where the Coalition has confirmed airstrikes that day. Airwars currently assesses that between 348 and 521 civilians died in these events, compared to a minimum of 283 deaths in April.

The overall number of civilian deaths alleged from Coalition actions for May in Iraq and Syria – across all ‘fair’, ‘poor’ and ‘contested’ events – currently stands at between 1,337 and 2,152.

For the fifth consecutive month, civilian casualty incidents tied to the Coalition in Iraq and Syria outnumbered those allegedly perpetrated by Russia in Syria. Following an escalation in April, May saw Moscow dramatically scale back its strikes. This further emphasized the scale of May’s Coalition death toll, which was more than two and a half times higher than those casualties allegedly linked to Russian actions.

The aftermath of an alleged Coalition strike on Al Mayadeen, May 22nd 2017  (via Deir Ezzor 24)

Raqqa: civilians at greatest risk yet

Likely civilian fatalities from Coalition airstrikes in Syria rose by 30% in May, amid rising concern from international agencies and human rights groups at the rising toll. Throughout the month, Airwars researchers tracked 118 claimed Coalition casualty events in Syria alone – 74% of all reported casualty events in both Iraq and Syria. Of these events, 70 were in our view fairly reported, leaving an estimated death toll of between 283 and 378 civilians. This was a significant rise from an estimated minimum of 218 people killed in May.

The overall death toll for May in Syria – across ‘fair’, ‘poor’ and ‘contested’ events – currently stands at between 500 and 728 non-combatants allegedly killed by the US-led Coalition.

Of the 70 likely events in Syria, 86% occurred in and around Raqqa – where probable civilian deaths increased by 19% from April (256 to 341 killed). However unlike in Mosul, the plight of Raqqa’s civilians caught between ISIL and deadly Coalition and SDF actions continued to receive little attention from the international press.

An analysis of the number of targets bombed in and around Raqqa in recent months raises particular concerns. In March, the number of targets bombed in Raqqa province actually decreased by 39% from February. Given this, it might have been expected that civilian deaths would fall. Yet instead they rose more than fivefold to their highest levels yet – with between 275 and 743 civilians likely killed just around Raqqa.

In April, Airwars monitored a 47% drop in targets bombed. But while the number of likely civilian deaths also fell, this was only by 24%.

Official data for May for Raqqa is more complex. On the one hand, 289 airstrikes were reported – more than double the number carried out in April. The number of targets bombed – a far more accurate metric than strikes – tripled to 591. As already noted, likely civilian deaths around Raqqa were up by around one fifth.

It therefore appears that since February there has often been little correlation between the number of strikes or targets bombed, and civilian deaths in Raqqa. This may indicate that the unprecedented increase in fatalities from Coalition actions is related to an undisclosed change in the rules of engagement or offensive procedures on the battlefield.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["GOLAH"]={},window.datawrapper["GOLAH"].embedDeltas={"100":1191,"200":814,"300":694,"400":660,"500":617,"600":600,"700":600,"800":557,"900":557,"1000":557},window.datawrapper["GOLAH"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-GOLAH"),window.datawrapper["GOLAH"]["GOLAH"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["GOLAH"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("GOLAH"==b)window.datawrapper["GOLAH"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Kinda Haddad, head of the Airwars Syria team, has watched the situation unfold with increasing concern.

“Civilian deaths have risen consistently and dramatically since the end of December 2016,” says Haddad. “The coalition was the single largest contributor to non-combatant fatalities in Syria during May, killing more civilians than either ISIL, the regime or the Russians according to local and regional monitors.”

“In May the coalition continued its push into Raqqa province with often little apparent regard for civilians – whose situation is getting ever more dangerous,” she added. “Non-combatants are now firmly stuck between Daesh mines or snipers which are killing civilians attempting to leave – and the Coalition, which is hitting them both in their homes and when they try to leave.”

Civilian casualties were not confined to Raqqa and its environs. Following the surrender of ISIL in Tabaqa on May 11th, Airwars recorded a 48% drop in casualty events in the town during May. Nevertheless a minimum of 64 civilians were still reported killed in the vicinity – just three deaths less than in April – across 11 events.

In the two days of May 6th-8th alone, four incidents were tracked in Tabaqa. The worst of these occurred on May 7th when at least 20 civilians including eight children and four women were killed in an alleged Coalition raid on the Al Awwal and Al Thaleth neighbourhoods, according to local sources. The journalist Mohab Naser told Airwars that a Coalition jet struck a four-storey building, resulting in the death of many residents. He named six members of the Jubran family (ranging in ages from one to 78 years) and three children from the Al-Issa family.

Abi Zakariya al Issa, eight-years-old, died in an alleged Coalition raid on Tabaqa’s Third neighbourhood on May 7th, according to Mohab Nasser.

Four days later, on May 11th, another eight children and four women reportedly from the same family died, and dozens more were wounded, in an alleged Coalition raid on the Al Hashem area, north of Raqqa city, according to local media. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll as high as 15, while Al Raqqa Truth – also pointing to the US-led Coalition – named Othman al Ahmad al Hamoud, Zakiya al Othman, Mozer Othman al Hamoud, Amira Othman al Hamoud and Marya Hadi and her sons as victims.

As May wore on, there was no respite for Raqqa’s civilians. On May 14th, up to 22 female non-combatants  died when an alleged Coalition airstrike at Al A’Keirshi village hit three cars traveling to their place of work. Some reports indicated the women were employed in agriculture. The Smart News Network – citing Reuters – put the death toll even higher, at 30, of which it said 22 were female. Among the victims were three members of the al Mustapha family along with Nawwaf Mohammed Al Turki al Sawa’an, reportedly killed when his motorbike was hit. While reports of the number of victims varied, sources were agreed they were cut down in the midst of ordinary activities.

Nawwaf Mohammad Al Turki al Sawa’an, killed in an alleged Coalition airstrike on Al A’keirshi, May 14th 2017 (via RBSS)

By May 24th, Airwars was tracking seven claimed events per day in Syria. In one of the worst incidents monitored by our researchers, six children and seven women were reportedly killed in an alleged Coalition raid between May 23rd and 24th in Al Barouda village in western Raqqa, according to local media. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently put the death toll as high as 16 – including nine members from the al-Nayef al-Haj family – most of them displaced from Al Sukhna.

Displaced civilians, desperately seeking refuge from fighting elsewhere, often bore the brunt of the violence. On May 27th – in yet another incident in which vehicles were allegedly struck by Coalition warplanes – at least 17 displaced non-combatants reportedly died when buses they were riding in on the road between al Kasrat and Ratla village were hit. Baladi News put the death toll as high as 20, while Masaida added that women and children were among the dead. Many more people were said to have been wounded. It was yet another grim story from a month which saw ordinary Syrians suffering in extraordinary numbers – whether they were sheltering in their own homes, or attempting to live their lives amid the ongoing chaos of the battlefield.

ShbibG was one of a number of sources blaming the Coalition for the death of 20 civilians in a strike on a convoy of vehicles on the road between al Kasrat and Ratla village on May 27th.

Mosul: civilians remain in grave danger

Iraqi civilians remained at extreme risk as the campaign to seize West Mosul from ISIL moved into its final phase. Of the 40 alleged Coalition civilian casualty events tracked in Iraq during May, 93% of them were reported in Mosul.

Deaths remained high. Overall across all categories – ‘fair’, ‘weak’ and ‘contested’ – between 740 and 1,241 civilians were claimed killed by the Coalition in the city throughout May – compared to between 743 and 917 in April. Determining who was responsible for these fatalities continued to prove extremely challenging. Only 37 civilians are currently assessed as being likely killed by the Coalition in May, across five casualty events deemed fairly reported.

In most other cases, reports might either reference only general bombardments, or instead variously blame Iraqi and Coalition air and ground forces, or ISIL. Across 27 contested events in Iraq for May, between 565 and 1,054 non-combatants died – an average of at least 21 civilians killed per incident.

“Iraqi forces have changed their plans several times,” explains Airwars’ Iraq researcher. “After they failed to control Old Mosul they moved to the north west of the city in the first week of May, and liberated all the neighborhoods around the the city like Rifai and 17 July and Shifa. ISIL then forced civilians to move to the Old City to use them as human shields, thereby forcing Iraqi forces to slow down their operation.

“Many civilians were killed by Daesh when they were trying to flee to Iraqi forces – we’re talking about hundreds in Zanjili and Old Mosul. Iraqi forces and the Coalition have failed to secure safety corridors for them.”

The Coalition reported 157 strikes in Mosul during May – an 11% drop from April. A far more reliable indicator of the ferocity of activity, however, was the number of targets bombed. This figure rose by 55% to 1,577 targets struck, the highest level since March. Moreover, CENTCOM reported that 3,400 munitions were released in support of operations to liberate Mosul – exactly the same figure as in April. Why then were deaths in May not much higher at Mosul?

“Iraqi forces became very cautious when dealing with civilians after widespread criticism of the high number of casualties across recent month,” explained our Baghdad-based researcher, who has visited Mosul more than a dozen times during the recent fighting. “Additionally, forces moved to the Iraqi/Syrian border and liberated many districts and villages there, which held few civilians compared to the numbers we saw inside Mosul itself.”

The deadliest events in Iraq’s second city during May occurred in the first four days of the month as Iraqi Forces renewed their attempts to seize West Mosul’s key neighbourhoods. Between May 1st and 3rd alone, up to 79 civilians died and 159 were wounded, mostly women and children, following what local media alleged were Coalition and Iraqi airstrikes on many neighbourhoods in West Mosul. Mosul News Network named Mohammed Abdullah Ramadan as a victim, blaming both the Coalition and the Iraqi air force, while Al Araby referred to “indiscriminate shelling” of the Rifair, Zanjili and July 17 neighbourhoods by Iraqi forces.

Airwars tracked six casualty events in the Zanjili neighbourhood alone during May. The most alarming occurred on May 30th, when local media reporting that as many as 200 non-combatants died with dozens more wounded in airstrikes referred to by a member of Mosul Direct, Mohammed Hassan, as “hysterical bombing”. Once more, most victims were reportedly women and children. Typically,  sources were divided on whether the Coalition or the Iraqi air force were the perpetrators of the carnage. According to Alaraby, “dozens of houses in the neighbourhood were destroyed to the ground.” Once more, however, Mosul’s non-combatants were deprived of knowing who it was that was killing them.

Between May 12th and 15th, 108 civilians were killed and 265 wounded in alleged Coalition airstrikes and artillery shelling across several neighbourhoods of West Mosul, according to local sources. These deaths were assessed as contested, it once more being unclear who was responsible. Yaqein reported that there had been “continuous shelling” across four days on the right side of Mosul, while local resident Um Imam Ahmed published an image on Facebook, commenting that the “bodies of 30 civilians, including nine members of a family” were still under the rubble following a Coalition raid.

Perhaps most worrying was the warning by members of the Provincial Council that there were still more than 200,000 civilians trapped in neighbourhoods still controlled by ISIL – many of whom had fled to these areas to escape battles elsewhere. UNICEF warned that as many as 100,000 children were still at extreme risk in Mosul.

A photo posted on Facebook by Um Imam Ahmed – showing the destruction and one of the victims of heavy shelling in West Mosul (via Um Imam Ahmed)

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

In April we saw a 36% leap in casualty incidents allegedly involving Russia in Syria, with 155 events tracked throughout the month. In May, however, this number fell by 61% to 61 casualty events. This brought the number of allegations down to levels last seen between December 2016 and February 2017.

As previously reported, due to an unprecedented increase in allegations against the Coalition in Iraq and Syria, Airwars has had to pause full vetting of Russian strikes in Syria. It will therefore be some time before researchers can undertake a deep assessment of the May 2017 data. However, the raw figures show that across these 61 incidents between 205 and 317 non-combatants were reported killed in alleged Russian actions. Given that these numbers are unvetted and unfiltered, these should not be directly compared to the Coalition estimates contained in this report.

“The number of Russian airstrikes in May may have been reduced due to the application of deescalation zones, though these airstrikes did not stop completely and still killed a significant number of civilians,” says Airwars researcher Abdulwahab Tahhan, who has been tracking reported Russian actions in Syria on a daily basis.  “While Russia used to focus its airstrikes against places packed with civilians, in Idlib and Aleppo for example, it now seems to have changed focus to less populated ISIL-controlled areas in Homs or Hama. Even so, many civilians in these areas still reportedly died.”

It remains unclear whether Russia’s reduced actions in Syria will continue, with May again highlighting how unpredictable Moscow’s own campaign can be. For now however, ordinary Syrians in certain areas have at least some respite.

Abdallah al Ibrahim al Jarrah, killed in an airstrike on Dibsi Afnan, Tabaqa, May 8th 2017. Most sources blamed Russia or the regime – though one pointed to the US-led Coalition (via Al Raqqa Truth)

Airwars launches fundraising appeal

Responding to the sharp increase in reported civilian casualties from Coalition actions in Iraq and Syria in recent months, Airwars has launched a $50,000 appeal to help the project keep up with events.
“Our small team is working flat out to track 16 foreign powers presently bombing in Iraq and Syria – while trying to hold them to account for the civilians they harm. Now, with the death toll sharply rising, we need the public’s help,” says Airwars Director Chris Woods.
Airwars declines to accept funding either from militaries or from governments participating in the hostilities in Iraq, Syria and Libya. It is funded entirely by grants from philanthropic organisations, and by public donations.
Airwars research team: Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Shihab Halep, Eline Westra, Christiaan Triebert, Oliver Imhof, Poppy Bowers, Beth Heron, Tareq Haddad, Samuel Oakford and Chris Woods
▲ Devastation in Raqqa following an alleged Coalition airstrike on May 27th (via RBSS)


May 2017

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Civilians continued to pay a lethal price in April from the Coalition-backed campaigns to liberate both West Mosul and Raqqa. The volume of casualty incidents remained high, with 159 claimed events tracked across Iraq and Syria. However estimated likely deaths fell by 46% – mainly in the absence of March’s mass casualty incidents. Nevertheless, between 283 and 366 civilians likely died across Iraq and Syria according to our provisional assessment, making April the second worst month for civilian fatalities since Coalition actions began in August 2014.

The unprecedented recent toll meant that for the fourth consecutive month, civilian casualty incidents attributed to the Coalition in Iraq and Syria outweighed those reportedly involving Moscow in Syria. This higher number in April was only marginal, however After three months of scaled-back actions, Russia’s often brutal air campaign was once again building momentum, and casualty events increased by 36% from March. Ordinary Iraqis and Syrians remained in extreme danger from airstrikes by all belligerents. 

“With three full months of airstrike and civilian casualty data from Donald Trump’s presidency, we are now seeing the emergence of clear trends,” says Director of Airwars Chris Woods. “Around Raqqa in particular – where most strikes are by the US – we are seeing high civilian casualties where six months ago we would not. This is the clearest evidence yet that protections for civilians on the battlefield appear to have been scaled back – with the inevitable consequence of higher deaths and injuries. As the battle for Raqqa itself approaches, we therefore remain extremely concerned for the fate of hundreds of thousands of civilians still trapped within the city.”

Coalition military developments

As of April 30th 2017, 12,553 airstrikes had been carried out in Iraq and 8,482 in Syria since the start of the Coalition campaign against so-called Islamic State. During April, 292 strikes were declared in Iraq – an increase of 9% from March. There was also a 26% increase in reported actions in Syria, with 548 strikes carried out throughout the month – the highest number of strikes in any given month since Coalition actions began in August 2014. However, given a significant change to the Coalition’s daily reporting made during April, some caution is required when comparing the number of strikes carried out in both Iraq and Syria with those in previous months.

On April 22nd, the Coalition informed Airwars that it had made an adjustment to what events it now counted in its daily reports and weekly figures – explaining that strike tallies would now include all ground artillery actions as well as air strikes. By our calculation this added 858 strikes to the overall tally, which the Coalition confirmed were ground artillery strikes dating back to August 2014.

The declared active members of the Coalition (the US, UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Australia – along with possibly Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) dropped a total of 3,274 munitions on ISIL targets in April, according to official data published by US Air Force Central Command. This was a 16% decrease over the previous month.

Munitions figures provided to Airwars by CENTCOM are higher than those provided above by AFCENT as they include HIMARS rockets, helicopter attacks and artillery. According to CENTCOM, the Coalition deployed approximately 6,100 munitions between Iraq and Syria during April, with a split of 3,800 in Iraq and 2,300 in Syria. Of these, approximately 3,400 were in support of operations to liberate Mosul – a reduction of 38% on March – and approximately 1,900 were in support of operations to isolate Raqqa – a 5% drop on March.

The Mosul figures in particular suggest the Coalition significantly scaled back its actions following an outcry over high civilian deaths in the city in March, resulting from heavy bombardment by both the Coalition and Iraqi forces.

Declared strikes in Iraq by both the UK and France also fell sharply in April. In the period of March 28th to May 2nd, the UK reported 27 strikes (a 27% fall from March), while French actions decreased by 65% to just 15 strikes. France’s artillery strikes in Mosul however, which have ramped up significantly since January 2017, reached their highest level yet with 190 declared strikes in Mosul. That represented a 24% increase on March.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["FA8at"]={},window.datawrapper["FA8at"].embedDeltas={"100":814,"200":681,"300":653,"400":613,"500":613,"600":600,"700":600,"800":600,"900":600,"1000":586},window.datawrapper["FA8at"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-FA8at"),window.datawrapper["FA8at"]["FA8at"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["FA8at"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("FA8at"==b)window.datawrapper["FA8at"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Slow progress in Mosul – and a focus on Tabaqa

April saw the first direct US attack against the Syrian regime when President Donald Trump ordered cruise missile strikes on a Syrian airfield on April 7th in response to Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack of April 4th. The US strikes provoked a furious response from Russia. Some civilian casualties were claimed in the vicinity, though Airwars presently assesses these as weakly reported.

On the ground, the Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces continued their offensive along the Euphrates River to oust ISIL from Tabaqa, to the west of Raqqa. The SDF continued to make significant progress both in the city and around the vital Tabaqa Dam throughout the month. As of April 30th, it had won control of around 40% of the town. Meanwhile in Raqqa itself the SDF – supported by Coalition airpower – continued to erode ISIL’s defences around the north of the city.

Progress in West Mosul however was much slower, hampered by ISIL booby traps, snipers and mortar fire as the terror movement held on to the Old City. Following a 19 day pause, Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service resumed their advance on April 11th. Meanwhile CTS Units continued to encircle the Old City, nearing the area’s northern boundary. On April 27th, the CTS said that just four more districts still had to be seized before West Mosul was fully recaptured.

Civilians, however, remained in a perilous position throughout the month. The UN estimated that 400,000 were still trapped in the Old City during April amid warnings of the worst humanitarian disaster of the entire war. 

A Belgian F-16 refuels from a US tanker over Syria during a sortie in support of Coalition, April 10th, 2017 (US Air Force)

Coalition civilian casualties

After a record tally of civilian casualties the month prior, April saw a 46% decrease in the minimum number of non-combatants likely killed from Coalition airstrikes across Iraq and Syria according to present Airwars estimates. But as the Coalition-backed campaigns in Mosul and Raqqa continued, reported fatalities remained at a very high level, giving April the dubious distinction of being the second worst month for likely Coalition civilian deaths since the start of the war.

Across both Iraq and Syria Airwars researchers tracked 159 casualty events – a small decrease of 6% on March. Of these events, 67 were fairly reported – a classification which means that an incident has two or more credible uncontested sources, and took place in an area where Coalition airstrikes were confirmed in the near vicinity. Airwars currently assesses that between 283 and 366 civilians died in these events – compared to a minimum of 521 deaths in March.

The overall number of deaths alleged from Coalition actions for April in Iraq and Syria – across ‘fair’, ‘poor’ and ‘contested’ events – currently stands at between 1,196 and 1,652.

The scale of this death toll means that for the fourth consecutive month, civilian casualty events attributed to the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria once again outweighed those reportedly involving Russia in Syria. However this  reporesented only a marginal difference, since April saw a significant ramp up in Moscow’s own actions in Syria.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["X4dMN"]={},window.datawrapper["X4dMN"].embedDeltas={"100":889,"200":644,"300":559,"400":542,"500":517,"600":500,"700":500,"800":474,"900":474,"1000":474},window.datawrapper["X4dMN"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-X4dMN"),window.datawrapper["X4dMN"]["X4dMN"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["X4dMN"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("X4dMN"==b)window.datawrapper["X4dMN"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Syria: Tabaqa on the edge

While likely civilian deaths from Coalition airstrikes in Syria fell 34 per cent from March’s record high, this may have been of little comfort to affected civilians.

There were 103 known alleged casualty events in Syria in April – 65% of all Coalition events for the month. Of these, we currently assess 59 incidents as fairly reported, likely killing between 218 and 286 non-combatants – compared to a minimum of 328 civilians who likely died across 52 ‘fair’ events in March. All but three of April’s likely deaths occurred in Raqqa governorate.

This drop in casualties could be explained by a fall in strikes reported in or near Raqqa: 116 strikes were declared – a 52% decrease on April. Moreover, the number of targets bombed – perhaps a more telling metric than strikes – also fell sharply to 195 – a 47% drop on targets struck in April. Yet despite this scaling back in Coalition actions, our researchers continued to track frequent and alarming reports of civilian casualties around Raqqa – including the deaths of multiple families when civilian homes were hit.

April also saw a significant jump in contested events. There were 15 such incidents in which conflicting sources pointed to the Coalition and/or artillery strikes or strikes by Assad regime or Iraqi warplanes. Between 62 and 241 civilians reportedly died across these incidents.

The overall death toll for April in Syria – across ‘fair’, ‘poor’ and ‘contested’ events – currently stands at between 359 and 609 non-combatants alleged killed by the US-led Coalition.

“Although the number of  fair incidents in April was a little higher than in March, the civilian casualties were lower as unlike in March there were no mass casualty events,” explains Kinda Haddad, head of Airwars Syria team. “As with March, we saw the majority of the allegations in Raqqa governorate – with a particular focus on the city of Tabaqa.”

Victim Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Mohammed Al-Alawi killed in an alleged Coalition airstrike on an internet cafe in Huneida, April 7th (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered)

The first significant Coalition event in Syria occurred on April 7th, when up to 21 civilians died and dozens more were wounded in an alleged Coalition airstrike on an internet cafe in Hunaida, according to multiple local media. All sources attributed the event to the Coalition, with @infoctma specifically blaming “US Coalition planes”. The Violations Documentation Center named 15 victims, including four sons of Mouhammad al-Aani. There would be five further casualty events in Hunaida during the month.

But by far the worst hit location was – as in the previous month – the city of Tabaqa, with a record 21 civilian casualty incidents reported in the vicinity during April, killing a minimum of 67 civilians. Coalition actions in or near Tabaqa were intense throughout the month, with a total of 224 strikes declared and 367 targets bombed – 88% more targets than in Raqqa city itself. During the worst week – April 16th to 23rd –  Airwars tracked 10 incidents alone. Unlike in March however, death counts in each incident remained relatively low (up to a maximum of seven killed in any one event).

Abd al Salam and Ali Abu Aish were killed with their entire family when an alleged Coalition airstrike hit their car in Tabaqa, April 24th 2017 (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)

Further serious casualty incidents occurred towards the end of the month. On April 24th on the road out of Tabaqa, up to 18 non-combatants including nine children and three women perished in alleged Coalition strikes which hit “a car of a family trying to flee the city”, according to local sources. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently reported the death of the family of Ali Abu Aish, allegedly killed by gunfire from a Coalition plane as they attempted to escape the town.

Non-combatants’ homes also continued to come under fire. On April 29th, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently reported the death of  “the family of Ali al Mabrouk made up of five people, killed after a raid on their house west of the church in the Al Wahab neighbourhood in Al Tabaqa.” Vicitms were named as 33-year-old, Intissar al Ali al Mabrouk, 25-year-old Zeinab Ali Al Mabrouk and 15-year-old Alaa Ali Al Mabrouk.

By May 1st, it was reported that Tabaqa was now almost totally under SDF control with the exception of one or two neighbourhoods. For too many civilians however, liberation had come too late.

An SDF fighter pictured in Tabqah in late April 2017 (via Mohab Nasser) 

Mosul: civilians still at significant risk

In the wake of March’s record toll, there was a steep decrease in reported non-combatant deaths likely caused by the Coalition in West Mosul during April. Even so civilians remained in danger – with 85% of all casualty events in Iraq during the month reported in the city. 

Overall across all categories – ‘fair’, ‘weak’ and ‘contested’ – between 743 and 917 civilians were claimed killed by the Coalition in Mosul throughout April. Yet determining responsibility for these deaths remains a challenge. Only 43 to 48 civilians are presently assessed as likely killed by the Coalition, across six casualty events  assessed as fairly reported – a 72% decrease on the minimum number of non-combatants likely killed during March.

There was also a 25% drop in the number of contested events compared to March, though it remained impossible to determine which belligerent was responsible for the killing of many civilians. Reports might either reference only general bombardments,or instead variously blame Iraqi and Coalition air and ground forces or ISIL. Across 33 contested events in Iraq for April, between 563 and 732 non-combatants died – an average of at least 15 dead civilians per incident.

“Iraqi and Coalition forces are working very closely together, and local media sources have even invented a new term ‘The Joint Forces’, to reflect this” explains Airwars’ Iraq-based researcher. “This makes it very difficult to distinguish between the two.”

A total of 179 airstrikes were declared in and around Mosul by the Coalition during April – a 17% rise on March. The number of targets bombed, however, fell by 41% to 1,016 targets. This may in part, explain the reduction in likely deaths. Additionally, it is possible that many civilians had already escaped the area – though according to the UN around 300,000 remained trapped in ISIL-occupied territory in the city.

Nevertheless as in Raqqa, families who were still trying to escape were repeatedly caught in the crossfire at Mosul. Survivors often spoke of coming under fire from ISIL as they tried to flee.

On April 5th, local media reported that 51 civilians were killed and 60 wounded due to airstrikes, artillery shelling and possible ISIL actions in the Makawi, Fateh, 17 July, Matahen and Zanjili neighbourhoods.

While all sources blamed airstrikes and artillery, Mosul 24 also said that ISIL had played a key part in the deaths, noting “the martyrdom of more than 15 families who were attempting to escape from areas of ISIL influence and control, as a result of a mutual bombardment by the Iraqi security forces and ISIL on the Zanjili neighborhood near the ice factory Alqazzaz. Tanks of the Iraqi Security Forces entered the area twice but withdrew after helping many families escape.” That report was typical of many reflecting the increasingly complex situation in the city.

1/ According to our CT Dept (CTD), on Monday and Tuesday #ISIS massacred 140 civilians fleeing to areas controlled by Iraqi forces. #Mosul

— KR Security Council (@KRSCPress) April 7, 2017

 KR Security Council tweeted that 140 civilians were killed by ISIS on April 3rd-4th

In the worst incident of the month – which was compared locally to the mass casualty event of March 17th – 18th in Al Jadida – multiple sources reported that 90 or more civilians died in the Al Thawra (Revolution) neighbourhood in Old Mosul on April 19th. Once more though it was unclear who the culprit or culprits were, with local Facebook group Sawlf Ateka alleging victims died after sniper attacks, “terrorist attacks, or because of the indiscriminate bombardment of mortars, artillery and airstrikes by the security forces.” Iraq Newspaper cited a senior official of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior’s Rapid Response Force, who spoke of the “total destruction of more than 30 houses… including houses belonging to the region’s dignitaries.”

Victims included Abdel Wahab Talal Hadidi and his father; local neourologist Dr. Mohamed Mahmoud El Sheikh and his father and son; and Ahmed Shiite Aida Abu Doaa, a local business director.

Abdel Wahab Talal Hadidi and his father allegedly died after an airstrike hit their neighbourhood in Old Mosul, on April 19th (via Sawl Ateka Facebook)

Four days later, on April 23rd, all local sources were in agreement that the Coalition was to blame for an incident in the Ba’aj neighbourhood which killed 12 civilians and wounded dozens more. Yaqein reported “intensive raids” on the district, while Al Jazeera quoted the ISIL press agency, blaming US aircraft for the strikes.

Yaqein was among other sources also blaming the Coalition for the death of seven family members – including five children – in the Hawi Al Kanissa neighbourhood just three days later on April 26th, reporting that “the military bombardment of the neighborhood has caused considerable material damage to the houses of citizens near the targeted house.”

But while all sources confirmed that the Coalition had conducted strikes on Hawi Al Kanissa, according to Al Rafidain the Iraqi government had also bombed West Mosul neighbourhoods that day. This was a month marked by confusion, making it increasingly difficult for ordinary Iraqis to understand who was destroying their homes and killing their loved ones.

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

April saw a significant leap in the number of incidents of concern allegedly involving Russian aircraft in Syria. Overall, our researchers tracked 155 events – a 36% increase on March’s claimed incidents.

As previously reported by Samuel Oakford, more non-combatants are now being killed in alleged Russian strikes than at any time since the fall of Aleppo in December 2016, once more placing civilians on the ground in grave danger following three months of relatively scaled back actions by Moscow.

Though it will be some time before Airwars can fully assess the incidents, between 294 and 368 non-combatants are alleged to have died in these 155 events. However those figures are unvetted and unfiltered, and should not be directly compared to the Coalition numbers in this report.

“We tracked a sharp rise in allegations against Russia in April compared to March as Moscow and the Assad regime increased pressure on the opposition in the lead up to concluding the Astana ceasefire talks,” explains Abdulwahab Tahhan of Airwars Syria team. “At least four hospitals, IDP camps, markets and residential buildings were struck during April. The alleged Russian strikes caused huge damage to buildings and reportedly killed some of the very few doctors left in Syria. Even though some of these hospitals were up to ten meters below ground, the missiles managed to go through the rocks and explode inside the hospital in some cases.”

A number of the allegations were mass casualty events in Idlib province, with between 21 and 37 civilians reported killed in Salqeen on April 4th and up to 20 killed in Orm al Joz on April 8th. There were at least six other alleged incidents in which up to ten people were killed.

From January to March 2017, an average of 43 more events were attributed to the Coalition in Iraq and Syria per month than to Russia just in Syria. This shifted dramatically in April, with alleged Coalition casualty events outweighing Russian incidents by just four. The message was clear: Russia’s campaign in Syria was again gathering momentum, and civilians were at risk.

Ola Mos’ab al Refa’e, killed in a ‘Syrian-Russian’ strike on Naseeb village, Daraa governorate, April 8th 2017 (via Syrian Network for Human Rights)

Airwars research team: Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Shihab Halep, Eline Westra, Christiaan Triebert, Oliver Imhof, Poppy Bowers, Beth Heron, Samuel Oakford and Chris Woods

▲ The house of Bashir Yusuf Sultan, Hamra Ghanem, where five family members died in a reported Coalition strike April 7th 2017 (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)


April 2017

Written by

Alex Hopkins

March was the deadliest month ever recorded by Airwars during the Coalition’s campaign in Iraq and Syria. This coincided with the greatest number of munitions dropped by the allies so far in the war. The high number of alleged incidents across both countries forced Airwars temporarily to pause its full vetting of Russian airstrikes in order to keep pace with the reported Coalition toll.

After a disastrous strike on March 17th claimed up to 230 lives in Mosul, media attention intensified – and the Coalition began reviewing its strike policies in the campaign there. However, civilians were also killed in record numbers across the border in the vicinity of Raqqa, Syria. Indeed it appears highly likely that the Coalition killed hundreds of civilians in Syria during March, with little press coverage. Neither the campaigns for Raqqa nor Mosul have finished – and Coalition proxies backed by US forces have yet to even begin fighting in Raqqa city itself.

For the third straight month the reported civilian toll of Russian airstrikes in Syria was surpassed by that of the Coalition in both Iraq and Syria. But this may change, as Moscow again ramps up its own air campaign – one that has already left thousands of civilians dead. 

Coalition military developments

As of March 31st 2017, 11,554 airstrikes had been carried out in Iraq and 7,831 in Syria since the start of the Coalition campaign against so-called Islamic State. During March, reported strike actions in Syria decreased by 21%, with 434 reported strikes. In Iraq, 268 strikes were declared – a marginal decrease of 1% over February. Yet as the record tolls of civilians killed and bombs dropped show, these strike numbers do not tell the whole tale.

The month actually saw the greatest number of munitions dropped during the war so far. The declared active members of the Coalition (the US, UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Australia – along with possibly Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) dropped a total of 3,878 munitions on ISIL targets in March, according to figures published by US Air Force Central Command. This was a 13% increase over the previous month. So far this year, 10,918 munitions have been dropped on Iraq and Syria, with January, February and March each setting new records for munitions dropped. This represents a 59% rise on the number of munitions released during January – March 2016, suggesting that President Donald Trump may be following through with his election promise to “bomb the shit out of ISIS”.

Munitions figures provided to Airwars by CENTCOM are higher than those provided above by AFCENT as they include HIMARS munitions and artillery. According to CENTCOM, the Coalition deployed approximately 8,500 munitions between Iraq and Syria during March, with a split of 6,000 in Iraq and 2,500 in Syria. Of these, over 5,500 were in support of operations to liberate Mosul and approximately 2,000 in support of operations to isolate Raqqa. Additionally, CENTCOM said that approximately 80 munitions were fired by Apache helicopters in support of operations in Mosul and Raqqa.

According to official figures provided to Airwars by CENTCOM, the US carried out 97% of all Coalition strikes in Syria during March. The remaining members of the alliance conducted just 13 strikes in Syria during the month – a drop of 28% on those carried out in February.  In effect, the US is carrying out a quasi-unilateral campaign against ISIS in Syria – alongside its completely unilateral campaign against al Qaeda targets.

Over the same period there was a small decrease of 5% in declared US strikes in Iraq, with 166 airstrikes reported. According to figures provided by both the UK and France, strikes by both allies increased significantly during March. In the same four week period from February 26th to March 27th, the UK reported 41 strikes (a 128% increase on February) and France 43 strikes (a 169% rise on February).

Given that official CENTCOM figures show that all of the US’s allies carried out 70 strikes in Iraq during March between them, and that we know that the UK uses the Coalition’s definition of ‘strike’, it appears that – as in October 2016 – France may be using a more generous definition of the term ‘strike’ than that used by the Coalition.

Footage of an RAF Tornado strike on an ‘ISIL headquarters’, five miles east of Raqqa, on March 18th 2017.

Advances in West Mosul and Raqqa

The Iraqi Security Forces, backed by Coalition and Iraqi airpower, pushed further into West Mosul during March, ousting ISIL from more of the city.

On March 15th, the 9th Iraqi Armored Division liberated the Badush subdistrict and surrounding areas. The US announced the deployment of 250 soldiers in preparation for the forthcoming attack on the the Old City, the densest-populated part of Mosul.

Following a major casualty event in Al Jadida/New Mosul on March 17th, elements of the West Mosul offensive were reportedly paused due to growing concerns for civilian casualties, and reports that ISIL was unlawfully using local residents as human shields.

Meanwhile in Syria, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accelerated their operation to isolate Raqqa, prior to a multi-pronged offensive to seize the Tabaqa Dam. In an attempt to cut the Aleppo-Ar Raqqa highway, the US made a dramatic air drop to transfer 500 SDF fighters to the southern bank of the Euphrates River. Yet these aggressive military moves carried a heavy price tag for civilians in both Iraq and Syria.

Coalition civilian casualties

March saw the highest number of civilian deaths likely caused by the Coalition so far in the 32-month war, as the Coalition-backed campaigns to oust ISIL from West Mosul and Raqqa continued to intensify.

Across both Iraq and Syria, Airwars researchers tracked a record 166 incidents of concern allegedly involving Coalition warplanes – a 67% increase from the 99 events tracked in February. A massive total of 1,782 to 3,471 civilian non-combatants were alleged killed in these March events – numbers not seen from foreign strikes since the worst of Russia’s brutal air campaign in 2016.

The unprecedented scale of the alleged death toll meant that for the third straight month, civilian casualty events reportedly carried out by the Coalition in both Iraq and Syria significantly outweighed those allegedly involving Russia just in Syria. However, according to Airwars’ most recent monitoring, Russian strikes have begun once more to reap a heavy toll and this dynamic could flip once more, especially if the Coalition is firing less often. The unilateral US strike on a regime airbase in the early hours of April 7th may also lead to a reduction of Coalition sorties to avoid confliction with Russian planes.

Of the 166 claimed civilian casualty events attributed to the Coalition, Airwars had assessed 63 of these as fairly reported. That classification reflects an incident as having two or more credible sources, and which took place in an area where Coalition airstrikes were declared in the near vicinity. Between 477 and 1,216 non-combatants are currently assessed as likely having died in these events – over four times the 110 likely non-combatant deaths estimated for February. These are not anonymous people: 359 victims are so far named, each tracked and recorded by local monitoring groups and listed by Airwars in its public database.

There is significant debate concerning why civilians are at far greater risk on the battlefield. The Pentagon has denied that its rules of engagement have changed under Donald Trump’s presidency, which for the moment appears to be the case. As previously reported by Airwars’ Samuel Oakford, Iraqi officials have said that it is now easier to call in US and Coalition airstrikes – though this change reportedly dates back to December 2016. Coalition spokesman Colonel Joseph Scrocca has referred to any shifts in how airstrikes are called in, and who is authorized to do so, as “merely a procedural change”. While these changes may not match the military’s official definition of new “rules of engagement,” that is little solace for those affected by the new and looser guidelines.

Mosul: a near tripling of likely fatalities

The steep rise in civilian deaths witnessed in the last days of February continued into March, as civilians bore the brunt of the battle for West Mosul’s densely populated areas.

Overall, between 1,308 and 2,435 civilians were claimed killed by the Coalition in Mosul during March, across 68 separate civilian casualty events. Of these incidents, Airwars currently assesses 11 of them as likely carried out by the Coalition alone. Between 156 and 355 non-combatants likely died across these incidents – compared to 62 to 64 likely deaths in February. Additionally, at least 66 civilians were injured in these events. That low ratio of fairly assessed incidents reflects the confused situation on the ground in Mosul, where Iraqi security forces and ISIL are also responsible for many deaths. In some cases, all three may be linked to an individual incident.

March saw the highest proportion yet of events in Iraq graded as contested, with such events more than quadrupling against February. Across 44 such incidents, between 1,017 to 1,908 civilians were claimed killed.

“The rise in contested deaths shows the challenges we’ve faced in tracking incidents,” explains Airwars’ Iraq researcher. “Events could have been carried out by Iraqi forces or  the Coalition – and in most incidents there were reports saying that both were responsible.”

Official data for March shows a significant Coalition escalation in West Mosul: In total,  152 airstrikes were reported near Mosul – an 11% rise on February. Yet those strike numberes mask the ferocity of the assault. Some 1,723 targets were bombed throughout the month – a sharp increase of 44% on the 1,194 bombed in February. From the outset of March it was clear that civilians were paying a deadly price for this rampup in actions.

As with February, Airwars continued to monitor reports of the deaths of entire families. The number of women and children killed rose steeply: at least 108 children and 30 women were reported killed across ‘fair’ and ‘contested’ events, with hundreds more slain in contested actions.

On March 2nd for example, 14 civilians from three families were reportedly killed when an airstrike targeted a car bomb parked near residential homes in West Mosul’s Nabi Sheet neighbourhood, according to local sources. FaceIraq News named the victims as Nazim Abdul Rahman Chet‘s family; the family of Dawood, Suleiman; and the family of Yousef Mahmoud Salhan.

The aftermath of heavy shelling on Nabi Sheet, destroying the city’s main market for handicraft and killing up to 16 people on March 6th (via Mosul Ateka)

In addition to homes, Airwars monitored reported strikes that damaged or destroyed civilian infrastructure. On March 6th, Nabi Sheet was attacked again, with local sources reporting that 16 civilians died and dozens more were injured in violent clashes and airstrikes which left the area’s busy market in ruins. On the same day, local residents and security forces reported the deaths of up to 33 civilians when the Coalition struck Mosul’s train station. Sources said that the majority of the victims were former members of the Iraqi security services, army and police detained by ISIL, which was using the station as a prison.

The frequency and severity of events in Mosul increased as the month wore on. In the two weeks from March 6th to March 19th, our researchers tracked 26 separate civilian casualty events – with over 80% of these assessed as ‘contested’ – but all of them containing at least one credible report which pointed towards the US-led Coalition.

On March 17th-18th, in the greatest loss of life in any one casualty event of the war, upwards of 230 civilians died after a reported Coalition airstrike on the Al Jadida/New Mosul neighbourhood, sparking international outrage. Initial reports said that the Coalition struck a house near Al Rahma Al Ahli Hospital housing hundreds of displaced people. Mosul Insta put the death toll at 250. However, in a filmed visit to the scene, the head of the Iraq Provincial Council, Basma Basim, said that she feared as many as 500 had died – a figure also given by the Iraqi Observatory – though these higher allegations may reflect overall casualties in the neighbourhood, adding to the confusion surrounding the event.

There were in addition reports of ISF artillery fire and possible ISIL truck bombs in the near area. The Coalition confirmed it had carried out a strike “in the vicinity of alleged civilian casualties” and launched an investigation.  Airwars continues to track reports of those killed in this catastrophic incident. The dead include the twin brothers Ali and Rakan Thamer Abdulla, their father Haj Thamer Abdulla and 23 other family members; the family of the wife of Karim Jassim Al Salim; Hisham Hazem and Issam Hazem of the Sheikh family, the family of Khadr Kaddawi (12 people); the Basem al-Muhzam’s family (11 people); and the Sinjari family  (30 people). 

Twins Ali and Rakan Thamer Abdullah, two well known local bodybuilders who were slain in western Mosul. Image courtesy of Iraqoon Agency.

In the week of the Al Jadida incident – March 13th to 19th – the Coalition publicly declared 34 strikes in Mosul against 464 targets. On March 17th alone, the day of the event, it reported that 118 targets were bombed in four “strikes” in or near Mosul. In the days following the Al Jadida incident however, there was an almost immediate scaling back in the number of targets bombed in Mosul, according to official CENTCOM data reviewed by Airwars. From March 19th to March 31st, targets bombed fell by 59%. Over the same period there was a 75% reduction in claimed civilian fatalities.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["cOY2e"]={},window.datawrapper["cOY2e"].embedDeltas={"100":608,"200":400,"300":357,"400":326,"500":283,"600":283,"700":283,"800":283,"900":283,"1000":266},window.datawrapper["cOY2e"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-cOY2e"),window.datawrapper["cOY2e"]["cOY2e"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["cOY2e"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("cOY2e"==b)window.datawrapper["cOY2e"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

While the last weeks of March didn’t see further incidents on the huge scale of Al Jadida, West Mosul’s civilians remained at extreme risk. On March 26th – in one of  three major casualty events likely carried out by the Coalition that day – 19 members of the family of Hassan Younis Arzu al-Jarjar died in a strike on the Tawafa area of West Mosul , according to Iraqyoon, Yagein and Iraqi Spring Media.

Later that night, another 15 or more non-combatants perished in another alleged Coalition strike, this time near Al Batool hospital in Zanjili. Some sources said the victims were mostly children and elderly people.

The month ended on as grim a note as it had begun on, with six events reported on March 30th, likely killing a minimum of 35 non-combatants and wounding at least 27 more. In the third reported incident in the Zanjili neighbourhood in just five days, dozens of civilians died when an alleged Coalition raid and possibly mortars – of unclear origin – hit civilian homes according to multiple sources. A graphic video by Yaqein (sourced from ISIL’s media wing) offered distressing testimony in which a witness says to camera “Airstrikes are targeting us. It’s only a residential area, nothing is here…all the people are dead and nothing is left.”

Survivors search for victims following a reported Coalition strike on Zanjili, Mosul March 30th [image via ISIL video]

Raqqa: civilian deaths spiral higher

Though international attention paid to the civilian toll in Mosul grew after the March 17th strike, there was far less consideration of deaths in Syria – particularly around Raqqa where the month proved the deadliest by far of the Coalition’s campaign. In fact the majority – 57% – of all alleged civilian casualties incidents tracked by Airwars for the month were not in Iraq but in Syria.

Across 52 incidents incidents assessed as fair by Airwars, between 320 and 860 civilians were likely killed by the Coalition during March – almost seven times the minimum likely death toll during February. Moreover, unlike in Mosul there were barely any ‘contested’ events (only two) and only four contested events reportedly also involving Moscow. There appears little doubt the Coalition was responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths in Syria during the month.

“Since the beginning of the year the Coalition campaign in Syria has been getting more and more intense, peaking in March,” says Kinda Hadda, head of Airwars’ Syria team. “What was notable for the month was not only the frequency of the allegations but the high casualty figures for some of those.”
Of the 52 ‘fair’ incidents, 90% were in Raqqa governorate, where between 275 and 743 non-combatants were assessed as likely killed by Coalition aircraft. Of these, at least 52 were likely children and 45 women – over seven times the numbers killed the previous month. At least a further 255 were wounded in these events.
“Unlike in the opposition held areas, reporting from ISIL-held Raqqa province is very difficult and dangerous,” adds Haddad. “Therefore the reporting can be quite opaque and inconsistent, and casualties could potentially be a lot higher.”

This spike in fatalities in Syria is in some respects more troubling than the civilian death toll observed in West Mosul. To an extent, casualties were expected to rise in densely populated areas of Mosul – though based on the Coalition’s reaction, they were still caught off guard by how many perished. Yet in Raqqa, fatalities have been predominantly in villages and towns that surround the governorate’s capitol. These areas share little in common with the narrow and packed streets of West Mosul, and yet numerous and large-scale casualty events have become the norm.

Neither can the spiraling death toll be explained by an increase in strikes and targeting. Notably, both strikes and targets bombed in Raqqa fell in March. Across 243 strikes (a decrease of 11% on February), 366 targets were bombed (down 38% from February). These factors clearly suggest the US may have changed the way it is conducting strikes in Syria – with deadly risks for civilians on the ground.

Tabaqa in particular continued to come under attack. In March, 15 civilian casualty incidents were tracked for the city during the month, likely killing a minimum of 100 non-combatants. On March 1st, up to 12 civilians including four children died and 14 others were wounded when civilian homes near the church roundabout in the Al Thani neighbourhood were allegedly hit by the Coalition.

The aftermath of an alleged Coalition airstrike on the church roundabout in Al Tabaqa, March 1st (via RBSS)

As in West Mosul, displaced civilians repeatedly came under fire. On March 11th in Kasrat Al Faraj, east of Raqqa, up to 22 non-combatants including six children and seven women reportedly died when an alleged Coalition airstrike hit schools in the area. According to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, the Saqer Kureish school was among buildings struck in a midnight raid, while Syria News Desk reported that Coalition warplanes conducted four strikes which hit two schools hosting displaced people.

The worst reported incident in Syria during the month occured on March 21st in Al Mansoura. The former Al Badiya school – now reportedly full of displaced Syrians – was hit in a confirmed Coalition raid, killing at least 33 civilians and wounding up to 56 more according to locals. The death toll continued to climb, with the majority of sources stressing that most of the victims were women and children.

Coalition commander Lt General Townsend later denied that the strike had killed civilians – but local monitors disagreed, with some saying that up to 100 displaced families were on the premises The entire families of Khalif Al-Ayto; Kitan Al’amash and his family, Mohammed Jum’a Al-Hadid and his family;  Khaled Hasan al-Qadi and his family and the family of Saleh Mohammad al Jassem made up of 18 people were among those reported killed. Airwars has identified numerous local media reports from late February onwards stating that internally displaced civilians had been moved to the Al Mansoura area – suggesting a major intelligence failing by the US and its SDF allies.

The aftermath of a Coalition strike on a school in Al Mansoura, March 21st (via Mansoura in its Peoples’ Eyes)

In the days prior to an offensive to retake the Tabaqa Dam on March 22nd, Airwars tracked an increase in civilian casualty events in the area, with three incidents reported on March 20th alone. Those likely left at least 12 civilians dead. Between March 21st and 22nd there were another three incidents, in which a minimum of 72 non-combatants died.

On March 22nd, 36 named civilians died in an alleged Coalition airstrike on an automated bakery in Tabaqa’s Al Thani neighbourhood.  A local source told the Smart News Agency that there had been four raids “killing the owner of the bakery, the employees and dozens of civilians who were nearby.” Among those killed were six members of the Al-Qobos family, three from the Al Omar family and three from the Al Abed family. Some sources put the death toll as high as 52, including seven children and 10 women – with up to a further 55 wounded.

Udday Hasan Khalif, 10 years old, was killed in an alleged Coalition raid  on al Thani neighbourhood bakery in al Tabaqa, March 22nd

Before March ended, there would be more civilian casualty events reported in Al Mansoura. On March 29th, sources said that seven or eight civilian members of a family displaced from Maskanah died when an alleged Coalition airstrike hit their car. Six civilian homes were also reportedly destroyed. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently named some of the victims as Mohammed Al-Hasa, A’ziz Al-Hasan, Ibrahim Al-Ali, Mohammed Al-Hamid, Hasan Al-A’klah and Mahmood Al-Mohammed.

The following day – March 30th – the family of Abd al Aziz Barakat al Ahmad Al Faraj (including his wife and four children) were reportely killed when an alleged Coalition raid hit their home in Al Mansoura.

With the assault on Raqqa yet to begin and hundreds of civilians already dying monthly in Coalition actions, urgent action is required from the US and its allies to reduce the risk of harm to non-combatants .

استشهاد أنور "3 سنوات" عمار "6 سنة" وعلاء "3 أشهر"و ماريا الفرج "7 سنة" وأمهم وقطع ساقي أبيهم عبد العزيز بقصف للتحالف على المنصورة في الرقة

— موسى العمر (@MousaAlomar) March 30, 2017

The family of Abd al Aziz Barakat al Ahmad Al Faraj, killed in an alleged Coalition strike on their home in Mansoura, March 30th.

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

After two consecutive months of scaled-back actions in Syria, March saw a significant and lethal rise in the number of incidents of concern allegedly involving Russian warplanes. Overall there were 114 such events tracked by Airwars during March – an 80 per cent increase over February’s claimed incidents.

Though it will be some time before Airwars can fully assess the incidents, between 165 and 292 non-combatants are alleged to have died in these 114 events. However those figures are unvetted and unfiltered, and should not be directly compared to the Coalition numbers in this report.

“Russia’s focus seemed to be mainly on Idlib province, Hama and the Damascus eastern suburbs,” explains Kinda Haddad. “After a lull in January and February we saw a major increase in events in Syria. The end of the Astana peace talks in mid March could have been one of the factors in the spike.”

It remains to be seen whether Russian actions will continue to rise. At least for March, the death toll attributed to the Coalition for the month was at a level comparable to the most intense periods of Moscow’s brutal air campaign in Syria during 2016.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["knBdQ"]={},window.datawrapper["knBdQ"].embedDeltas={"100":999,"200":753,"300":677,"400":643,"500":617,"600":600,"700":600,"800":583,"900":583,"1000":583},window.datawrapper["knBdQ"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-knBdQ"),window.datawrapper["knBdQ"]["knBdQ"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["knBdQ"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("knBdQ"==b)window.datawrapper["knBdQ"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

▲ The aftermath of one of several alleged Coalition strikes on multiple locations in Al Tabaqa, March 19th (via RBSS)


March 2017

Written by

Alex Hopkins

For the second month, alleged Coalition civilian casualty events in Iraq and Syria exceeded those for Russia in Syria. Overall, Airwars has tracked 88 alleged Coalition incidents for the month – with 534 to 700 claimed non-combatant fatalities. However likely fatalities dropped by more than half from January’s record death toll – mainly as a result of single-source accounts around Mosul and Raqqa. Even so, non-combatants remained at extraordinary risk.

Following the January liberation of East Mosul by Iraqi Security Forces, the operation to oust so-called Islamic State (ISIL) from the west of the city began on February 19th. In Syria meanwhile, Coalition ground proxies the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) continued their push to encircle Raqqa. After three months of fighting, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels also retook the key ISIL stronghold of Al Bab in Aleppo governorate.

The Russia-Turkey brokered ceasefire and peace talks continued to have a significant impact on civilian casualties reportedly perpetrated by Russia in Syria. We tracked  a similar number of alleged incidents (60) as in January. Despite this relative decline, significant civilian fatalities are still being repoirted from Moscow’s actions.

Coalition military developments

As of February 28th 2017, 11,286 airstrikes had been carried out in Iraq and 7,397 in Syria since the start of the Coalition campaign. During February, reported actions in Syria were at their highest levels ever with a total of 547 reported strikes – an increase of 2% compared to the previous month. In Iraq, 272 strikes were declared – an increase of 16% over January.

The declared active members of the Coalition (the US, UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Australia – along with possibly Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) dropped a total of 3,440 munitions on ISIL targets in February, according to figures published by US Air Force Central Command. This was a 4% decrease over the previous month. In total, 72,771 munitions have so far been released in Coalition airstrikes on Iraq and Syria.

According to official figures provided to Airwars by CENTCOM, in the period from January 30th to February 26th, the US carried out 530 strikes in Syria, or 97% of all Coalition strikes in that country. The remaining members of the alliance conducted just 18 strikes in Syria during the month.

Over the same period there was an increase of 25% in declared US strikes in Iraq, with 174 reported. There was also a smaller increase of 8% in strikes carried out by non-US allies in Iraq, with 68 strikes reported (28% of the total.)

A Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Super Hornetis refuels during a mission against ISIL on February 22nd 2017 (USAF/ Staff Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks)

Operation to retake West Mosul begins

The operation to liberate West Mosul from ISIL officially began on February 19th, with the UN estimating that up to 750,000 residents remained trapped. Iraqi forces initially advanced into the southwest of Mosul. On February 23rd, they recaptured the city’s airport from ISIL.

The terrorist group continued to be pushed back into the city as Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and the Federal police progressed northward. Breakthroughs were made in the western outskirts of the city as Iraqi forces advanced on Badush Prison. However, they met with increased resistance from ISIL as they moved into more densely-packed urban areas. 

Meanwhile Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued their efforts – supported by heavy Coalition strikes – to encircle Raqqa. As we detail below, significant civilian fatalities continue to be reported from these operations.

On February 23rd, following more than three months of fighting, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels recaptured central Al Bab from ISIL. However as previously reported by Airwars, this key win came at a significant cost to civilians, with more than 300 non-combatants likely killed between December 2016 and February 2017, according to figures provided to Airwars by the UN’s human rights office. Local monitors including the Syrian Observatory have placed the civilian toll from Turkish actions at over 500 killed.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["ykgnf"]={},window.datawrapper["ykgnf"].embedDeltas={"100":1080,"200":845,"300":789,"400":748,"500":748,"600":733,"700":707,"800":707,"900":707,"1000":707},window.datawrapper["ykgnf"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-ykgnf"),window.datawrapper["ykgnf"]["ykgnf"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["ykgnf"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("ykgnf"==b)window.datawrapper["ykgnf"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Coalition civilian casualties

In February, the minimum estimated number of civilian fatalities likely caused by the Coalition dropped by more than half from January’s record toll – though with both the Mosul and Raqqa campaigns ongoing, deaths remained at an alarming level.

Across Iraq and Syria, Airwars tracked 88 incidents of concern allegedly involving Coalition aircraft – a small decrease from the record number of 99 claimed incidents tracked during January. A total of 534 to 700 civilians were allegedly killed in these February casualty events.

Moreover the continued slowdown of Russia’s strikes in Syria meant that for the second month in a row, alleged civilian casualty incidents attributed to the US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria outweighed those reportedly carried out by Moscow in Syria.

Of these 88 events attributed to the Coalition, Airwars has assessed 23 of them as fairly reported – meaning that an incident has two or more credible sources, and with Coalition airstrikes also declared in the near vicinity. Between 110 and 118 non-combatants are currently assessed as likely having died in these events – down from 265 likely non-combatant deaths the previous month.

This significant drop in the number of fairly reported deaths coincided with a sharp rise in the number of events Airwars assessed as being poorly reported. These are incidents which have only one source, frequently offering little detail. Overall, 39% of all incidents across Iraq and Syria were poorly reported events in February. This is the greatest number of such incidents we’ve seen since the start of the war, and may reflect the chaotic late stages of the conflict against ISIL.

Furthermore, as in January a large proportion of incidents (33%) – accounting for at least 320 deaths – were contested. Conflicting reports often blamed the Coalition and other parties, including the Assad regime, Iraqi forces, ISIL, Russia and Turkey – testament to the complexity of the conflicts in both countries.

Raqqa: the noose tightens

Non-combatant fatalities likely caused by the Coalition in Syria  in February fell by 42% from the previous month. Overall, we tracked 15 incidents assessed as ‘fair’. Across these events between 48 and 54 non-combatants were likely killed by Coalition aircraft – compared to between 65 and 142 such deaths in January.

The lower proportion of deaths graded as ‘fair’, however, was affected by a record number of poorly reported incidents across the country. Some 46% of all alleged events in Syria – killing at least 70 civilians – consisted of single-source reports.

“Continuing the trend we saw in January, allegations of civilian casualties resulting from Coalition actions have been much higher than expected” says Kinda Haddad, head of the Airwars Syria team. “However, as these alleged events take place in ISIL-controlled territory where there is often an information blackout, a large proportion of these allegations are poorly reported or single source.

“The month also saw a higher than usual number of contested events for both Russia and Turkey – and it is becoming harder and harder to distinguish between the various belligerents,” saysHaddad.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["i8SBd"]={},window.datawrapper["i8SBd"].embedDeltas={"100":641,"200":440,"300":373,"400":332,"500":306,"600":291,"700":291,"800":291,"900":291,"1000":265},window.datawrapper["i8SBd"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-i8SBd"),window.datawrapper["i8SBd"]["i8SBd"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["i8SBd"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("i8SBd"==b)window.datawrapper["i8SBd"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Of the 15 casualty incidents so far believed to have likely carried out by the Coalition in Syria, 80% of them were around Raqqa, where civilians remain in extreme danger. Airwars has assessed the death toll from these events at between 45 and 51 non-combatants, with at least 37 more wounded. At least 64 more civilians allegedly died in a further 26 poorly reported events in Raqqa governorate.

“Again in Raqqa there has been a certain level of confusion between the Coalition, Russia and the Assad regime,” explains Kinda Haddad, “But this was much less than the confusion between Russia and the regime in the opposition held areas.”

Airwars recorded a significant increase in incidents of concern in Raqqa during the month. Between February 20th and 28th alone, we tracked 21 separate alleged events in the governorate.

On February 21st for example, we tracked five incidents which likely killed a minimum of 16 civilians (including three children) with at least eight others wounded. As in January, we saw the deaths of entire families – many of whom local sources were able to name.

Up to nine non-combatants including three children died in an alleged Coalition airstrike on the village of Al Sahamiya, Raqqa according to local media. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently named the victims as “Hamadi Saleh al Baladiya, his wife, his children, the mother of his wife, her two brothers and her sister.” The Syrian Network for Human Rights was among other sources blaming the Coalition – putting the death toll at a minimum of five, including three children and one woman.

On the same day (February 21st) a reported Coalition raid on Maadan town in the Raqqa countryside led to the death of eleven members of “the family of Satif Husssein al Suwairi,” according to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered and the Violations Documentation Center. 

Throughout February the town of Al Tabaqa was particularly badly hit. In total, our researchers tracked nine incidents in the town – 40% of all such incidents in Al Tabaqa throughout the 31-month war. Of these nine incidents, five were assessed as likely being carried out by the Coalition. A minimum of 13 civilians died with 13 more wounded.

On February 25th for example, we received multiple reports of three events in Al Tabaqa – two of which we assessed as being likely caused by Coalition jets.

According to Micro Syria, “Coalition warplanes targeted a car park in Tabaqa and according to a source in the national hospital in the town, a civilian was killed and five others wounded – some of them critically.” Shaam News also reported a “likely” Coalition strike on the parking area of the hospital.

Destruction in al Tabaqa on February 4th 2017, following a reported Coalition raid (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered)

Mosul: steep rise in deaths in final days of month

The liberation of East Mosul in January led to a significant – though temporary – decrease in non-combatant deaths across Iraq in February as Iraqi Security Forces regrouped and readied themselves for the forthcoming assault on West Mosul. 

Overall, we presently assess eight civilian casualty events for Iraq in February as having likely carried out by the Coalition – a 62% decrease on the 21 claims tracked in January. Between 62 and 64 non-combatants were likely killed in these incidents and up to 88 injured – compared to the record death toll of 189 to 227 seen the previous month. As reported elsewhere by Airwars, this lull preceded significant civilian casualties in early March, with hundreds of non-combatants reported killed as the battle to liberate West Mosul intensified.

As in Syria however, the month saw a high proportion of contested incidents in Iraq – with eleven reported events allegedly killing at least 218 civilians. Reports on these events often conflicted, with sources blaming Iraqi government forces and/or ISIL – along with the Coalition. It was frequently impossible to determine who was responsible, even when there was little doubt that civilians had died.

“Iraqi forces stopped their operations after they liberated the left side of Mosul,” explains Airwars’ Iraqi researcher. “They had to reorganize themselves for five weeks which meant that there were few Coalition airstrikes supporting them from the fourth week of January until February 19th – the beginning of the offensive to liberate the right side of the city. This led to a reduction in incidents which we assessed as likely carried out by the Coalition.”

But in the weeks leading up to the official start of the operation to liberate West Mosul, there were still major incidents of concern. On February 14th, in the al-Matahin neighbourhood of Mosul, up to 16 civilians died in an alleged Coalition strike on the ‘Aeklat’ flour mill on the right hand side of the city according to local sources.

Iraqi Spring said the strikes occurred close to the Sham gate, while Ajel Al Mosul reported that the “airstrikes targeted a house near a flour mill, killing 14 civilians who has no links to Daesh.” In a later report Ajel Al Mosul named three child victims as Dalal Ayman Ahmed (five-years-old), Amina Ayman Ahmed (three-years-old) and 16-year-old Hussein Ali Khadr.

The UK reported carrying out a strike on an ISIL headquarters in north-western Mosul on February 14th, a day on which civilian casualties were reported in West Mosul.

Just a few days later on February 17th-18th – in a strike which the Coalition subsequently confirmed carrying out – up to 18 non-combatants died and 47 more were wounded in a raid on the Al Jumhuri medical complex in western Mosul, according to some local reports.

The Coalition stated it had struck an “ISIS command and control headquarters and propaganda facility in western Mosul”, but said there were no civilian casualties. However, both Iraqi Spring Media and Raedlay later reported the death of 47 non-combatants, while the Al Rafidain Channel posted a graphic video showing the aftermath of the strike, including footage of a dying child.

Islamic State propaganda claims 18 civilians died and 47 are injured in a confirmed Coalition strike on a hospital complex, February 17th 2017

In total, the Coalition reported 137 strikes in Mosul during February – a marginal increase of 5% over January. Yet the tempo of strikes increased dramatically after February 19th, with 39% of all strikes declared in thye city occurring during the last week of the month. The resulting impact on civilians was immediate. 

Between February 20th-21st in possibly the deadliest two days of the month, local media reported that 89 civilians including 32 children died and 134 others were wounded in Coalition strikes and artillery shelling over a 72 hour period in West Mosul. Adding those numbers to recent incidents on Mosul, Yaqein stated that “the death toll and number of wounded from military actions (government and international) on the right side of Mosul in Nineveh province, which started its operations around three days ago, rose to more than 220 civilians.”

Iraqi Spring Media published an image of an injured child on February 21st, reporting that in the last 72 hours some 89 civilians including 32 children had died, and 134 were injured, in airstrikes and artillery shelling in West Mosul.

Just three days later, on February 23rd – a day on which the Coalition publicly reported six strikes on 95 targets in the city – local press reported that four non-combatants died and up to 16 were wounded when the Coalition allegedly targeted a residential building in the Mosul al-Jadid (New Mosul) neighbourhood. While Iraqi Spring – which shared images depicting widespread destruction – referred to “Coalition” raids, other sources pointed to the US more specifically. Chillingly, Iraqi Spring Media apologised “for not showing all photos as they are too shocking”.

In the last three days of the month, Airwars saw an alarming increase in both reported casualty incidents and the death toll. Between February 25th and 28th, our researcher tracked five events across multiple neighbourhoods on the right side of Mosul, in which at least 85 non-combatants were claimed killed. While reports were conflicting – attributing deaths to both the Coalition and Iraqi government forces – one thing was clear: by the end of the month, as the momentum of the Coalition-backed campaign increased, the risks to civilians in West Mosul had multiplied.

A young girl allegedly killed or wounded in Coalition airstrikes on New Mosul neighbourhood (via Iraqi Spring Media Center)

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

As in January, the ongoing Syrian ceasefire continued to have a relatively positive impact on civilian casualties attributed to Moscow during February – though there were still reports of violations on both sides.

Overall, there were 60 claimed incidents of concern allegedly involving Russian warplanes during the month – a minor increase from the 57 such events tracked during January.

Though it will be some time before Airwars can fully assess the allegations, between 165 and 292 non-combatants are alleged to have died in these 60 events. However those figures are unvetted and unfiltered, and should not be directly compared to the Coalition numbers in this report.

“In the context of the ceasefire and the ongoing talks in Astana during February, Russian allegations continued to be relatively lower than expected as they were in January,” says Kinda Haddad. “A large proportion of the alleged incidents were also contested between the regime and Russia.”

For the second consecutive month, there were more incidents of concern reportedly carried out by the Coalition in Iraq and Syria, than by Russia in Syria.

As the US-led Mosul and Raqqa campaigns continue to accelerate while Russia’s own actions in Syria plateau, the gap between deaths attributed to Russian forces and those blamed on the Coalition is narrowing. With hundreds of civilians already claimed killed from Coalition strikes in Mosul just days into March, this emerging trend could well continue.

Abdullah al Hanfi, killed in an airstrike on Doumaon  February 25th. The Syrian Network for Human Rights blamed the regime, while other sources pointed to Russia. (via SN4HR)

Airwars research team: Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Eline Westra, Christiaan Triebert, Poppy Bowers, Samuel Oakford and Chris Woods

▲ A man picks up a piece of clothing following an alleged Coalition airstrike on Omar Al Mukhtar school in Al Tabaqa, February 16th (RBSS)


February 2017

Written by

Alex Hopkins

January was the deadliest month yet for civilians since the start of Coalition airstrikes, according to Airwars tracking.

In Iraq government forces made key advances, recapturing critical east Mosul from ISIL. These operations, however, came at significant cost to non-combatants trapped in the city. During January, claimed civilian deaths from Coalition actions more than doubled compared to December.

The situation in Syria was also bleak, with fatalities attributed to Coalition strikes in Raqqa remaining at alarming levels as the air campaign in support of SDF ground proxies escalated. Civilian deaths, however, were lower than researchers expected based on the number of strikes reported by the Coalition in Raqqa. This disparity could be be explained in part by the massive number of munitions fired on Mosul – 2,842 – compared with relatively fewer – 904 – in Raqqa. In addition, that data, provided by CENTCOM, is higher than figures for munitions released that is tracked by the US Air Force Central Commant (AFCENT). This indicates a significant number of weapons unleashed – in Mosul in particular – that go untracked by AFCENT, such as rocket propelled artillery and ground based artillery. 

Russia’s partial drawdown in Syria, following the December ceasefire, coincided with a steep decline in civilian deaths. The sharp acceleration in the Coalition’s Mosul and Raqqa campaigns meant that for the first time since Moscow’s intervention in Syria in September 2015, civilian deaths assessed as likely caused by Coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria outweighed those attributed to Moscow’s brutal air campaign in Syria. Though that pattern may be reversed, for the moment the Coalition is out-killing Russia. 

Coalition military developments

As of January 31st, 2017, 11,014 airstrikes had been carried out in Iraq and 6,850 in Syria since the start of the Coalition campaign. During January, reported actions in Syria were at their highest levels ever, with a total of 535 strikes – an increase of 68% compared to December 2016. In Iraq, 234 strikes were declared – a significant increase of 26% from the previous month.

January also saw the highest number of munitions released by the Coalition during the 30-month air war. The six declared active members of the Coalition (the US, UK, France, Belgium, Denmark and Australia) dropped a total of 3,606 munitions on ISIL targets in January, according to figures published by US Air Force Central Command. This was a 23% increase on the previous month. (These figures represent munitions dropped only by aircraft coordinated by the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC) and does not include all strikes.) 

According to official CENTCOM figures released to Airwars, in the period from January 2nd to January 30th, the US alone carried out 502 strikes in Syria, an increase of 68% from December. The remaining members of the Coalition conducted just 11 strikes in Syria, a marginal decrease from 14 such declared actions in December.

In the same period from January 2nd to January 30th, there was an increase of 25% in declared US strikes in Iraq, with 139 reported. Strikes carried out by non-US allies in Iraq increased by 21% to a reported 63 strikes.

During January, the UK reported 20 strikes in Iraq and just four in Syria. For the third straight month, France appeared to be the second-most active member of the Coalition, ahead of the UK. Paris reported 32 strikes in Iraq and eight in Syria.

Déterminée, la force #Chammal poursuit ses missions contre Daech.

— État-Major Armées (@EtatMajorFR) January 21, 2017

Footage of a French strike on an ISIL-occupied building housing artillery pieces, armoured suicide bombs, explosives and a command post, January 16th.

Liberation of east Mosul and advances in Raqqa

By January 8th, following a series of significant gains in the first week of 2017, Iraqi Security Forces had reached the Tigris River which divides Mosul. They continued to advance, pushing ISIL back and recapturing most districts of east Mosul by January 13th, including Mosul University. The Iraqi advance was slowed by ISIL’s deployment of numerous vehicle-born improvised explosive devices. Still, by January 11th the Al-Saddiq, Maliyah and 7 Nisan districts had all been liberated.

These gains continued to come at a significant humanitarian cost to civilians. The US-led Coalition reported 130 strikes in Mosul during January, a 33% increase on December 2016 as the final push built momentum.

The government of Iraq officially announced the liberation of east Mosul on January 24th amid reports that ISIL were using children as human shields against Coalition and ISF air and artillery strikes. The UN meanwhile reported that some 750,000 people were still trapped in the western half of Mosul.

Across the international border, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued to make advances on ISIL’s de facto capital of Raqqa in the second phase of “Operation Wrath of Euphrates.” January saw a massive rampup in Coalition airstrikes in Raqqa in support of ground forces, and to weaken ISIL positions. In total the alliance reported 335 strikes in Raqqa governorate during in the first month of 2017 – a 122% increase on December 2016.

By January 12th, the SDF advance had made crucial gains, reportedly liberating over 130 villages surrounding Raqqa from ISIL. This left them just 5km away from the crucial ISIL-controlled Tabaqa dam.


Coalition civilian casualties

The escalation of the Mosul and Raqqa campaigns in January led to the highest likely death toll from Coalition airstrikes in any single month assessed by Airwars.

As previously reported by Airwars, this record tally – coupled with a slowdown in Russian strikes – meant that for the first time since Russia began military action in Syria in September 2015, deaths from Coalition airstrikes surpassed Moscow’s ferocious air campaign.

In Iraq and Syria our researchers tracked 95 alleged casualty incidents during January – an increase of 126% from December. A total of 630 to 824 non-combatant deaths were claimed in these January  incidents.

Airwars currently assesses 47 of these events as fairly reported. This means an incident has two or more credible sources, and the Coalition also reported strikes in the near vicinity of an incident. Between 254 and 369 civilians are presently assessed as likely having been killed in these incidents, compared with a range of 134 and 187 such deaths in December. This represents a 90% rise in the minimum number of civilians likely killed from December.

Video of a RAF airstrike in Mosul, January 12th.

Mosul: a more than doubling in civilian likely deaths

The liberation of east Mosul came at significant cost to civilians on the ground, with at least 5,000 civilians estimated to have been killed by ISIL, Iraqi government forces and the US-led air alliance.

A record numbers of civilians were likely killed by Coalition strikes across Iraq in January. A total of 21 civilian casualty events were assessed by Airwars as likely having been carried out by Coalition warplanes. Between 189 and 227 non-combatants likely died in these incidents – more than double the death toll from December.

Of these 21 events, 19 occurred in Mosul, likely killing between 169 and 195 civilians. Additionally, we have assessed that a minimum of 166 non-combatants were injured in these incidents across Mosul.

Particularly alarming was a continuation of December 2016’s trend of rising numbers of children and women killed. Minimum likely child deaths quadrupled to at least 20 in January, while at least 16 women were likely killed. Once more, we monitored reports of entire families being wiped out as Coalition jets allegedly struck their homes.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["j52E1"]={},window.datawrapper["j52E1"].embedDeltas={"100":832,"200":686,"300":643,"400":626,"500":600,"600":600,"700":583,"800":583,"900":583,"1000":583},window.datawrapper["j52E1"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-j52E1"),window.datawrapper["j52E1"]["j52E1"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["j52E1"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("j52E1"==b)window.datawrapper["j52E1"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Airwars’ Iraqi researcher tracked what may have been the first mass casualty event of year on January 3rd, when as many as 22 civilians were reported killed and 29 injured in alleged Coalition airstrikes on the Domiz neighborhood in eastern Mosul. According to Iraqi Spring Media Centre – which blamed the Coalition – most of the victims were women and children. A relative posted on Facebook that their cousin Younis Hassan Abdullah al-Badrani died along with 10 family members. The Coalition publicly reported strikes “near” Mosul between January 2nd – 4th.

Younis Hassan Abdullah Al Badrani, killed in an alleged Coalition airstrike on the Domiz neighbourhood, Mosul, January 3rd (Facebook)

The ISF advance on the Tigris river led to particularly high numbers of reported civilian casualties during the week commencing January 6th. On January 8th, dozens of civilians were reported killed in eastern Mosul, deaths attributed to both Coalition airstrikes and heavy artillery fire. Frequently there were multiple, separate incidents involving civilians on the same day. On January 11th, during a day of intensive operations to retake east Mosul, Airwars tracked three separate casualty events in the city.

On the following day, January 12th, up to 30 non-combatants were likely killed and another 14 injured in alleged Coalition strikes in the New Mosul neighbourhood, on the right side of the city.  Once again, civilian homes were reportedly struck, and in a video posted by Prevision, a witness said that a residential compound, containing four houses was targeted. “Each one includes two floors which were completely destroyed  by Coalition crusade airstrikes,” claimed the witness. “We got out 14 bodies as yet, and there are 9 bodies still under rubble, and there are 4 women bodies and three children bodies in the house behind this compound…mostly kids and women.”

Man stands in front of destroyed homes in Mosul on January 12th. (Image courtesy of Iraqyoon)

Two days later on January 14th, more civilians homes were hit in alleged Coalition raids on the Al Arabi neighbourhood in northeast Mosul. According to, there were around “five strikes on three houses”. A police source put the death toll higher, at 12, including four children, with a further 18 non-combatants injured. Additionally, the outlet reported that eight cars were damaged. The Coalition publicly reported strikes in the vicinity between January 13th-15th, while several sources referred to the incident as a “mistake by the Coalition”.

Smoke bellows from civilian homes following an alleged Coalition airstrike on Al Arabi, January 14th. Sources said that the warplanes had struck the “wrong target” (via Network Baghdad.)

As the month wore on the number of incidents of concern increased. On January 30th, 11 civilians were reportedly killed in an alleged Coalition strike on Tanak in western Mosul. An initial key source was the ISIL media agency Al A’Amaq, which said that women and children were among those killed. Our researchers then tracked an update from Mosul Ateka on February 5th which reported the death of Mustafa Mayser Mahmoud from injuries sustained in the event, adding that his mother and father Mayser Mahmoud were also killed in the raid.

Raqqa on the brink

Civilian deaths likely caused by the Coalition in Syria rose by 8% in January. Across 26 incidents assessed as fair, we tracked between 65 and 142 fatalities.

As in Iraq, children and women were often caught up in the violence: 17 children and six women died across these incidents during the course of the month.

Of these 26 events, 65% were in Raqqa  governorate, likely killing between 40 and 59 civilians and injuring – sometimes critically – at least 48 more.

Despite the huge increase in the number of Coalition airstrikes in Raqqa, Airwars did not track a similar rise in civilian deaths that might have been expected based on established trends. Indeed, less civilians were assessed as likely killed in the governorate than the 54-82 deaths we tracked in December.

The discrepancy between death rates in Mosul and Raqqa could be explained in part by the total number of munitions delivered against ISIL targets: 904 in the vicinity of Raqqa as opposed to 2,842 in support of Mosul operations.  (These figures, provided by the Coalition, are higher than those provided by AFCENT. The include such weapons as artillery “and some ground based tactical artillery,” according to a Coalition spokesperson.)  This indicates that far fewer bombs were dropped per strike in Raqqa as compared to Mosul, where raids, possibly with more aircraft, delivered larger numbers of munitions. 

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["FlzRc"]={},window.datawrapper["FlzRc"].embedDeltas={"100":841,"200":712,"300":669,"400":643,"500":626,"600":600,"700":600,"800":600,"900":600,"1000":600},window.datawrapper["FlzRc"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-FlzRc"),window.datawrapper["FlzRc"]["FlzRc"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["FlzRc"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("FlzRc"==b)window.datawrapper["FlzRc"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

There were, however, still significant incidents of concern. On January 9th, four non-combatants including a woman reportedly died in an alleged Coalition strike on the ISIL-controlled village of Hattash in Raqqa. Both Smart News and the Syrian Mirror blamed the Coalition for the death of three or four non-combatants from the same family. Euphrates Post noted that “the international airline alliance has intensified its air raids on positions controlled by the organization [IS] in the northern, eastern and western countryside to coincide with the advance of the SDF in the west of the city.”

أربعة شهداء وعدة جرحى من المدنيين في غارات للتحالف الدولي على قرية هتاش بريف #الرقة.

— RaqqaPost الرقة بوست (@RaqqaPost) January 9, 2017

A tweet by Raqqa Post reports the death of four civilians from an alleged Coalition strike on Hattash on January 9th.

On the same day, in Harmala village northwest of Raqqa, Shaam News Network was among several sources to report that Coalition strikes killed another four civilians – and had wounded a further two. Thamer Al-Sahel, from the Al-Bo’asi tribe, was later named as one of the victims. Between January 8th-9th alone, the Coalition publicly declared 27 strikes near Raqqa.

The tempo of strikes increased throughout the month, with 22 strikes declared on January 22nd, a day on which we tracked one likely death at Tabaqa. The following week, this area would come under fire again: on January 26th, three civilians were reportedly killed in alleged Coalition strikes in the Hunaida area of Al Tabaqa countryside. According to Step News, Coalition jets had targeted an informal oil refinery; indeed, in its report for January 26th-27th, the Coalition confirmed destroying “oil refinement stills”.

Elsewhere in Syria, the situation was also grim with reports of significant number of fatalities in Deir Ezzor governorate. On January 7th, in another strike on an oil market – reportedly used by ISIL – Euphrates Post said that 14 civilians died when Coalition jets alleged carried out three raids.

On the same day in Al Sa’wa, Deir Ezzor, up to 40 non-combatants were reported killed when the Coalition allegedly struck a further oil refinery in what Step News said were “dozens of raids”, resulting in the death of oil traders and the destruction of more than sixty tankers.

Smoke bellows from Khusham following an alleged Coalition strike on an oil market, Jan 7th (via Ara news)

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

Following the December 15th Syrian ceasefire, Russia announced a partial drawdown of its forces in Syria on January 6th. A reduction in Russian strikes had a reasonable impact on civilian casualties: overall, there were 57 incidents of concern allegedly involving Russian warplanes during the month – a 19% decrease on the previous month.

Though it will be sometime before Airwars can fully assess the allegations, Airwars compiled reports alleging between 138 and 248 non-combatants died in these events, as opposed to 249-446 alleged killed in December 2016. (Those figures are unvetted and unfiltered, and should not be compared to the Coalition numbers in this report.)

In January, 67% more civilian casualty incidents were attributed to the Coalition in Iraq and Syria than to Russia in Syria. For the first time, US-led strikes appeared to be killing more non-combatants than Russia’s notoriously brutal air campaign. It is yet to be seen whether this role reversal will continue. With the Mosul and Raqqa campaigns continuing to ramp up and the possibility that president Trump may loosen the rules of US engagement, an already dire situation could yet become worse.

Rimas Mohammad Mirwah, aged three, killed in an airstrike on a bakery in Raqqa, Jan12/13th. Sources blamed both the Coalition and Russia (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)


Airwars research team: Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Eline Westra, Basile Simon, Christiaan Triebert, Samuel Oakford and Chris Woods

▲ Ammunition used to conduct a fire mission on a M109A6 Paladin howitzer at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Jan. 2, 2017 (US Army)


February 2017

Written by

Chris Woods

Recent improvements in the US military’s reporting of civilian casualties from Iraq and Syria remain in place, despite a transition of presidential power from Barack Obama to Donald Trump – with one senior US military official indicating to Airwars that it is ‘business as usual’ so far.

A total of 26 new civilian deaths from Iraqi and Syrian airstrikes have so far been admitted in 2017 by the Coalition, with details continuing to be published in regular monthly civilian casualty releases.

These latest confirmations bring to 199 the number of civilian deaths so far conceded in the 30-month international campaign against so-called Islamic State – all from US actions, according to officials. None of Washington’s twelve allies in the Coalition has so far admitted causing any civilian casualties – despite more than 3,800 airstrikes between them.

January 2017 report

The Coalition’s January 2017 report contains details of 24 alleged civilian casualty events dating back to September 2015. Five of these incidents – all of which took place in November 2016 – are confirmed as having killed 15 civilians between them.

The Coalition provides sparse details on the five new admitted cases in its January report – though the public record is often clearer. On November 21st, a dawn US airstrike on al Salhiyeh village in Syria killed up to ten civilians according to local sources. Raqqa is Being Slaughtered named the family as “Mustapha al Farwa [pictured below] and his wife, and two of his daughters and one of his sons Mohammed Mustapha al Farwa.” Also reported killed were Mohammad Al Ahmad al Hraiwal, and Abd al Rahman Al Abd al Karim al Zagheer (or Abboud Al Abd al Karim).

ISIL’s media wing said at the time that the target of the raid was a cotton factory in the village where three workers also died, while Ara News cited a local activist as saying that “the raids came after false information came to the Coalition that the factory is used for the manufacture of [ISIL] weapons.” Syria News Desk said there were six raids on the village in total – which also injured 13 civilians.

The US now admits responsibility though only confirms two deaths, noting that “During a strike on ISIL-held buildings it is assessed that two civilians were unintentionally killed.”

This disparity between the number of civilian fatalities admitted by the Coalition – and the number of deaths credibly reported by public sources – shows the limits of air-only monitoring. While the Coalition now admits 199 deaths from 71 events, the public record suggests at least 369 civilians died in these same incidents.

As Airwars noted in its recent transparency audit Limited Accountability, “any [military] assessments which focus overly on internal intelligence – particularly on air-only analysis – are likely to miss the majority of credibly reported civilian fatalities from airstrikes.” In short, the Coalition confirms only what its analysts are able to see from above.

Mustapha al Farwa – killed along with four family members in a confirmed US airstrike in Syria on November 21st 2016 (via Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently)

The four other cases admitted by the Coalition in its January 2017 report were identified only as a result of internal reporting by pilots and analysts – with Airwars unable to identify any public reports of civilian deaths at the time.

On November 6th 2016 for example, the US now says it killed seven civilians near Shahid-Yunis in Iraq, during an airstrike in support of the Mosul offensive. “During a strike on ISIL fighters in a moving vehicle it is assessed that seven civilians were unintentionally killed when the targeted vehicle came into close proximity to two stationary vehicles just prior to the munition’s impact.”

Despite an extensive search of local media and social media channels, Airwars has been unable to find any public reports of these seven deaths – a reflection of the ongoing challenges the Mosul campaign presents to casualty monitors.

New ‘friendly fire’ deaths conceded

In the January report, 13 additional claimed incidents are dismissed as ‘not credible’ by the Coalition, which adds the following clarification: “Non-credible means that at this time there is not sufficient information available to assess that, more likely than not, a Coalition strike resulted in civilian casualties.”

However, the Coalition has since admitted to Airwars that an unspecified number of friendly tribal forces were actually killed in one of these ‘non credible’ events.

On October 5th 2016, up to 21 tribal Sunni fighters of the Hashd al-Ashayeri militia – allied with the Iraq government – were reported killed in a Coalition action. Militia leader Sheikh Nazhan Sakher Al Lahib said at the time that his fighters died after they took refuge in a house in Haj Ali during a struggle with ISIL, at which point the Coalition accidentally bombed them.

An investigation was announced by Coalition commander General D.J. Anderson that same day, who noted: “We are aware of the alleged reports that Coalition forces mistakenly fired on Sunni tribal fighters.  As will all allegations received, we are looking into this to determine the facts that surround the case.“

In its January report the Coalition dismissed the incident as ‘Not Credible’ – noting that “After a review of available information and strike video it was assessed that no civilians were harmed in this strike.” In a followup note to Airwars, a senior Coalition official added: “Allegation was based on regional media reports of tribal fighters and possible civilians killed by strike. This is a CIVCAS report. There were no civilians killed in this strike.” Only when asked for further clarification did the official concede “It was assessed that tribal forces were killed in this strike.”

Russian allegations

At least three of the cases dismissed in January’s casualty report were the result of allegations by Russia against the Coalition.

Russian foreign ministry officials in Geneva issued a document in November 2016 alleging a number of such incidents – including a claimed Coalition attack on an MSF hospital in Syria’s Idlib province. “On 15 February 2016 the airstrike by the US-led coalition was delivered on the ‘Medecins sans frontierès’ hospital near the Maared al-Nuuman village. As a result of this attack 9 people were killed and 26 wounded,” Moscow claimed.

Not mentioned was the fact that Russia itself was accused by almost all local sources of having caried out the hospital attack – which killed as many as 26 civilians.

Shaam News Network said Russian warplanes conducted four consecutive strikes on the MSF hospital, and that the Health Directorate in Iblib had issued a statement which said the first attack was at 9am which severely damaged the building. “The planes came back and targeted the hospital again when  rescue teams had arrived to look for survivors.” According to the Health Directorate, eight of those killed were staff of the hospital. Al Jazeera put the death toll at 18, including nine doctors.

Dismissing any role in the hospital attack, the US and its allies drily note in their January 2017 report: “No Coalition strikes were conducted on that day in the geographic area of the reported civilian casualties.” Two other Russian allegations in and around Mosul in October were dismissed on similar grounds.

So many allegations were made by Russia at the time that the Coalition’s chief spokesman noted in a tweet: “@CJTFOIR found 10 Russian CIVCAS allegations against coaliton in the last 24 hrs. We will assess, but smells like a #firehoseoffalsehood.”

The Russian government accused the US-led Coalition of killing nine civilians in a strike on a hospital on February 15th 2016 (image via Russian Foreign Ministry)

February 2017 report

The Coalition’s February 2017 report  – which deals primarily with alleged events in December – contains brief details of 22 alleged incidents. Four cases are confirmed, with eight more cases dismissed as ‘non-credible’. A further ten cases – one dating back 16 months – remain under assessment.

Of the four admitted events, only one was previously known to Airwars researchers. On December 7th 2016, a strike on “a compound occupied by ISIL fighters” at al Msheirfa in Syria led to the deaths of two nearby families. The Coalition itself now admits that seven civilians were “unintentionally killed” in that attack.

Between 11 and 20 civilians in fact died according to local sources, including the families of Rajab Al-Ali Al-Hilal Al-Taweel and Ahmad Al-Rajab Al-Askan. ISIL’s media wing placed the toll higher still, reporting “20 killed in an American air raid targeting with four missiles civilian homes in the village.”

Local Syrian network al Jisr TV reported the deaths of 18 civilians at al Msheirfa at the time

The three other events conceded by the Coalition in February are known only because of internal reporting by pilots and analysts. During a December 9th 2016 strike on Mosul for example, the Coalition now states that “during a strike on ISIL construction equipment in the process of repairing cratered roads it is assessed that two civilians were unintentionally killed by the munition’s strike blast when they entered the target area just prior to the munition’s impact.”

Overall, of 71 civilian casualty events conceded by the Coalition from the beginning of the war to February 2017, more than half (37 cases) were identified only via such self-reporting by military personnel. While this does show that US pilots and analysts are coming forward and reporting problem events, it also makes clear that the Coalition’s civilian casualty monitoring remains heavily skewed against credible public reports. Hundreds of alleged casualty incidents have still to be properly assessed and investigated by the US-led alliance.

Airwars itself estimates that as of February 8th, the Coalition had likely killed between 2,350 and 3,455 civilians in Iraq and Syria – far above the alliance’s admitted tally of 199 deaths. This suggests that the Coalition is under-reporting more than 90 per cent of civilian deaths from its war against ISIL.

By way of example, the Coalition publicly lists only twelve claimed incidents for December 2016 – far fewer than the number of publicly alleged events for that month. As part of its ongoing advocacy work, Airwars alerted the Coalition to 39 alleged incidents for December, including reported casualty figures and approximate GPS locations. According to officials, 14 of these claimed events have since been deemed not credible. Five additional cases have now been sent for review, along with 11 cases already under assessment. And the Coalition has requested additional details relating to a further nine reported  events.

▲ A B-52 Stratofortress receives fuel from a KC-10 Extender over Iraq, July 16, 2016. Airmen from the 908th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron refueled F-15 Strike Eagles, Belgian Air Force F-18 Super Hornets, a B-52 Stratofortress and F-16 Fighting Falcons support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve. The U.S. and more than 60 coalition partners work together to eliminate the terrorist group ISIL and the threat they pose to Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr., Released)


January 2017

Written by

Alex Hopkins

ISIL consistently lost territory in Iraq and Syria during 2016, seeing its self-proclaimed caliphate shrink dramatically under continuous assault from multiple parties. Yet military gains by the US-led Coalition and its allies came at significant cost to civilians on the ground. The number of likely non-combatant deaths from Coalition airstrikes rose by 70 percent compared to 2015, to between 1,237 and 1,901 civilians estimated killed during the year. By the end of December, with the battle for Mosul and the offensive to reclaim Raqqa now underway, civilians were at their greatest risk yet.

Russia’s own Syria campaign to aid the regime of Bashar al Assad also left thousands of civilians dead, in the lead up to Aleppo’s complete capture from rebels in December. Even so, after more than 15 months of airstrikes Moscow has yet to admit a single civilian fatality from its own actions.

The 2016 Coalition campaign in figures

From January 1st 2016 to the end of December 2016, there were 7,779 reported Coalition airstrikes against ISIL. Of these strikes, 4,627 strikes (60%) were in Iraq and 3,152 in Syria.- a marginal increase of 0.6% on the 7,731 strikes reported for 2015.

The 13 allies had between them cumulatively dropped 30,743 bombs and missiles against ISIL in 2016. Weapon releases were up 7% on the total for the previous year – perhaps a better guide to the intensity of the air campaign.

The US remained the dominant partner, with airstrikes carried out by Washington significantly outweighing those conducted by Coalition allies. From January 1st to December 28th, CENTCOM had reported a total of 3,054 US strikes in Iraq – 67 per cent of all Coalition actions there. The UK was the next most active partner in Iraq, followed by France and the Netherlands.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["eoLWH"]={},window.datawrapper["eoLWH"].embedDeltas={"100":698,"200":566,"300":526,"400":500,"500":500,"600":500,"700":474,"800":474,"900":474,"1000":474},window.datawrapper["eoLWH"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-eoLWH"),window.datawrapper["eoLWH"]["eoLWH"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["eoLWH"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("eoLWH"==b)window.datawrapper["eoLWH"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

While in Iraq there was a 12% decrease in Coalition airstrikes on the previous year, there was a 27% increase in actions reported in Syria over 2015. For January 1st to December 28th, the US has reported 2,969 strikes in Syria, or 95% of all declared actions. Just 141 Syrian strikes were carried out by the US’s allies in 2016: France, the UK, Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and possibly Jordan.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["5g3YP"]={},window.datawrapper["5g3YP"].embedDeltas={"100":726,"200":566,"300":526,"400":500,"500":500,"600":486,"700":460,"800":460,"900":460,"1000":460},window.datawrapper["5g3YP"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-5g3YP"),window.datawrapper["5g3YP"]["5g3YP"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["5g3YP"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("5g3YP"==b)window.datawrapper["5g3YP"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Coalition transparency and confirmed deaths

The twelve months from January 1st to December 31st 2016 saw a dramatic jump in reported civilian deaths from Coalition airstrikes. A total of between 2,932 and 4,041 non-combatant fatalities are alleged for 2016, stemming from 445 separate claimed Coalition-caused incidents in both Iraq and Syria, according to Airwars tracking.

From 7,779 declared airstrikes during 2016, the Coalition has itself so far admitted to killing 141 non-combatants in 42 separate casualty events, of which 23 incidents were in Iraq and 19 in Syria.

This is three times the 47 civilians that the Coalition has officially admitted killed between August 2014 and December 2015. All admitted casualties to date are a result of what US and Coalition officials say were American airstrikes.

After reviewing those events admitted to by the Coalition in 2016, Airwars believes that the actual likely death toll from those 42 incidents is at least double the Coalition’s own figure. Based on public reporting, Airwars researchers estimate that between 285 and 530 civilians were in fact likely killed in 2016 incidents admitted to by the US, of which 109-189 deaths were in Iraq and 176-341 were in Syria.

For example, in an event confirmed on December 1st, the Coalition has admitted to inadvertently killing 15 civilians at Al Ghandourra village near Manbij, Syria on July 28th. It says that a vehicle was struck “after it slowed down in a populated area after the munition was released”. Yet credible reports monitored by Airwars put the death toll from that event much higher – at up to 41 non-combatants killed, of which up to 10 were children. According to reports, the noon strikes by US aircraft hit both the main market and an elementary school in the town.

There is clearly still much room for improvement in Coalition casualty reporting. That said the year saw important improvements in CENTCOM’s reporting of civilians deaths, for example by working with external casualty monitors and NGOs – as discussed in length in Airwars’ recent transparency audit. We also welcome the decision by the Coalition to move to regular monthly reporting on civilian casualties.

Despite conducting over 3,700 airstrikes between them to December 2016, none of the US’s twelve allies have yet admitted killing any civilians in Iraq or Syria. This is an improbable assessment given the intensity of the ongoing air war, and our understanding of casualty estimates from recent conflicts – with the risk that allies are using their membership of the Coalition to evade responsibility for their own actions.

A 70% rise in likely fatalities and a tripling of injuries

Alongside the 42 incidents so far admitted by the Coalition for 2016, Airwars has additionally identified a further 182 ‘Fair’ casualty incidents in which civilians died. An event is assessed as fair when it has two or more credible sources, and where Coalition strikes are confirmed to have taken place in the near vicinity.

Between 952 and 1,371 additional civilians were likely killed in these Fair incidents in 2016. Of these victims, between 254 and 290 were children and between 137 and 149 were women.

Overall, between 1,237 and 1,901 non-combatants were likely killed in 2016 events graded by us as either Fair or Confirmed – compared to between 722 and 997 civilians who likely died across such events in the previous year. This represents a 70 per cent increase in civilian deaths over 2015 – an indication of the increasingly urban nature of the Coalition’s air war against ISIL.

The year saw the most significant and intense Coalition campaigns yet – July’s Manbij offensive was followed by the advance on Raqqa four months later in Syria. In Iraq, the Anbar offensive of May and June anticipated the long-awaited battle for Mosul.

As advances were made into more densely populated areas, civilian deaths climbed steeply. Acknowledging this, Denmark released a frank statement – ‘The risk of civilian casualties‘ – saying that its aircraft may have to fly bombing missions where civilian casualties could not be avoided. The year also saw a near tripling in the number of non-combatants hurt in Coalition events, with between 1,688 and 1,969 civilians likely injured according to credible reports.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["LuI6k"]={},window.datawrapper["LuI6k"].embedDeltas={"100":940,"200":683,"300":563,"400":546,"500":503,"600":486,"700":486,"800":460,"900":443,"1000":443},window.datawrapper["LuI6k"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-LuI6k"),window.datawrapper["LuI6k"]["LuI6k"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["LuI6k"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("LuI6k"==b)window.datawrapper["LuI6k"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

Syria: a doubling in likely deaths

Syria’s civilians were under constant threat from Coalition air strikes throughout 2016, with 38% more casualty events reported in Syria than Iraq over the year. This may however reflect improved local reporting by Syrian monitors.

Overall, minimum likely civilian deaths in Syrian incidents graded by Airwars as Fair or Confirmed doubled in 2016. Across 136 incidents, between 654 and 1,058 civilians were claimed killed in total. Airwars estimates that a minimum of 818 civilians were likely injured in Fair and Confirmed events in Syria alone.

While reported fatalities were relatively low in January, there was a 56% jump in likely deaths in February, as the Coalition’s preferred ground proxies the Syrian Democratic Forces prepared to make the first significant gain of the year by seizing the town of Shadadi in Hassakah governorate from ISIL.

In a major incident on February 17th-18th,  between 15 and 40 civilians including the families of Ayed Zeib, Khalaf Al Hussein, Hamdan Khalfan al Ali and the Tahmaz family, likely died in alleged Coalition strikes on the ISIL-controlled villages of Al Hadadiya, Tayrkham and Al Haleel near Al Shadadi. According to a report by the Damascus Center, strikes hit “houses inhabited by unarmed civilians”. It added that 70 people were also injured.

Bigger spikes in Coalition civilian casualties were to follow – in June and July with the Manbij campaign; and in the assault on Raqqa province from November onwards.

“These spikes show that whenever there is a military push to remove ISIL from a city, civilians are at significantly increased risk of harm,” says Kinda Haddad, head of the Airwars Syria team. “It is inevitable because centers like Manbij and Raqqa are full of civilians – and ISIL is in these centers.

“ISIL aren’t fighting on a frontline where you can isolate them and attack them. Their headquarters are in the middle of the cities. These may be legitimate military targets, but they are positioned in crowded civilians centres, so the likelihood of civilian deaths – whether that be passers by or those living in the buildings – is high.”

Destruction at Kaljibrin following a reported Coalition strike, May 27th (via Syrian Network for Human Rights)

Manbij: high casualties

As the noose tightened around the key northern Syrian town of Manbij from May onwards, civilians faced an increasingly dire situation.

By early summer the Coalition had refocused much of its air power onto Syria – leading to a 110% increase in airstrikes in the country. The effect on civilians was immediate, with likely deaths near-quadrupling between May and June. Conversely, likely civilian deaths in Iraq durng the same period tumbled.

In a year which saw Airwars listing the names of 1,027 civilians reportedly killed by the Coalition, we saw the continuance of a disturbing trend – the deaths of entire families. For example, Airwars has published the names of 27 victims – including 18 children from the Sqar family – who died in alleged Coalition strikes on the village of Kaljabrin, Aleppo on May 27th, alongside a major assault by ISIL. The Coalition has yet to assess this incident, as far as we know.

Reported child victims of a Coalition strike near Manbij on June 3rd 2016 (via Manbij Mother of the World)

In another such event on June 3rd in Ojkana, Manbij, 22 civilians including 13 children died when the Coalition allegedly launched raids on ISIL positions. The Syrian Revolution Network named multiple deaths from the families of Saad Allah Al Hussein al Hilal, Bahjat al Hussein al Hilal and Fouad al Hussein al Hilal. This events is also not known to have been been assessed or investigated by the Coalition.

Manbij was eventually liberated on August 15th, but not before the campaign had led to the highest civilian death tolls yet seen in the two-year war.  The worst incident by far occurred on July 18th in the nearby village of Tokhar.

Local group Manbij Mother of All The World was the first to report the event, initially noting 25 or more fatalities. The group quickly raised the death toll to 56 then 59 civilians, eventually reporting that as many as 203 non-combatants had died. Other sources have placed the fatality range in the lows 100s.

The US later accepted responsibility for the event – saying that its warplanes had killed an estimated 24 civilians. This figure, however, was far below Airwars’ own tally. Based on credible reports, we estimate that between 78 and 203 civilians died in this catastrophic event, including up to 59 children and 27 women. A further 30 non-combatants were likely injured. We presently list the names of more than 90 of the victims – including 12 families.

The Coalition too accepts civilians paid a price at Manbij – so far admitting responsibility for five civilian casualty events occurring in or near the town between July 3rd and August 20th 2016. These Manbij events alone count for one third of all 141 deaths conceded by the Coalition across Iraq and Syria for the whole year.

Raqqa: another spike in civilian casualties

The capture of Manbij helped lead to a steep drop in reported civilian casualties from Coalition actions in Syria in August. However with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advance on Raqqa officially announced on November 7th, fatalities mounted once more. Even before Raqqa itself was assaulted, hundreds of civilians had credibly been reported killed in surrounding towns and villages as the Coalition and SDF pushed forward.

The Coalition declared 151 airstrikes in the vicinity of Raqqa in December – a 152% increase over November. Civilians were immediately at greater risk, with a minimum of 71 likely killed by the Coalition in Syria during the last month of 2016 – most in Raqqa governorate.

Once again, Airwars tracked the deaths of whole families. On December 9th, up to 32 non-combatants were likely killed – and 20 more injured – in alleged Coalition airstrikes on the village of Ma’yezila in northern Raqqa. According to Riba FM, the strike occurred near the Alh mosque. Raqqa News reported that “Al-Ma’yezila’s population is less than 300 and they all have the same grandfather. More than 28 martyrs were killed, around 10% were killed. This is genocide.” Among the victims named by Raqqa News Network were eight members of the Al-Afir family.

The year repeatedly saw civilians facing an impossible situation in Syria, concludes Kinda Haddad: “Whenever there was a big military push we saw civilians trying to escape, to leave their villages – but some can’t leave, and ISIL won’t allow them to leave Raqqa. And where do they go? They may manage to flee to a village near Raqqa, but wherever they find refuge is going to be another ISIS area, which will be a target sooner or later.”

Ismaeil Al-Ahmad Al-Shinan, his bother Mahmood and his child Abdur-Rahman – killed in a reported Coaltion strike on December 9th 2016 (via Raqqa News Network)

Iraq: likely deaths rise by 50%

ISIL suffered major defeats throughout 2016, losing control of Hit in April, Rutbah in May and Fallujah in June  – so preparing the way for the Battle of Mosul in October.

But these military gains came at a high cost to civilians. Overall, minimum likely deaths in Iraqi incidents graded as Fair or Confirmed increased by 48% in 2016 on the previous year. Across 88 incidents Airwars estimates between 583 and 843 civilians were likely killed by the Coalition in Iraq.

“The year’s major offensives, accompanied by huge air strikes by the Coalition and the Iraqi air force, have seen any area where ISIS are suspected to be present being targeted,” says Airwars’ researcher. “Markets, factories and banks have repeatedly been struck – all because intelligence said that members of ISIS were there. Yet often this intelligence proved to be inaccurate and left civilians dead.”

In April – a month in which President Obama announced an acceleration in the Coalition campaign – we saw a big spike in deaths, with a minimum of 91 civilians killed in events assessed as likely and confirmed. Children paid a high price, with at least 28 likely killed during the month. Of 22 claimed incidents in April, 68% were near Mosul.

Kamal Hatem, reportedly one of the victims of a Coalition strike near Mosul, May 25th 2016 (via Liberation Brigades)

Civilian infrastructure also continued to take significant damage. On May 25th, in an incident later confirmed by the Coalition, at least six non-combatants likely died and up to 25 were injured when a shopping mall in the Al Rashidiya region, north of Mosul was struck.

The US later admitted to causing casualties that day, noting that “near Mosul, Iraq, during a strike against an ISIL tactical unit, it is assessed that one civilian was killed.”

From July to September, Airwars tracked a sharp fall in likely deaths in Iraq – most likely a result of US airstrikes being redirected to Syria. However between September and October Iraq strikes had more than tripled, with the announcement of the battle for Mosul on October 17th.

By the end of November, during which Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) moved into the city’s more populated eastern districts, Airwars reported that significant numbers of civilians had already been credibly reported killed from Coalition airstrikes and artillery. In contrast with the assault on Aleppo by Syrian and Russian forces, almost no international media coverage was given to deaths from likely Coalition actions in Mosul.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["wQAqt"]={},window.datawrapper["wQAqt"].embedDeltas={"100":1029,"200":763,"300":660,"400":643,"500":600,"600":600,"700":600,"800":583,"900":557,"1000":557},window.datawrapper["wQAqt"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-wQAqt"),window.datawrapper["wQAqt"]["wQAqt"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["wQAqt"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("wQAqt"==b)window.datawrapper["wQAqt"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});

In December, Airwars tracked 16 alleged incidents in Iraq – of which 69% occurred in Mosul. Between 76 and 100 civilians likely died in these events, making this the worst month for fatalities in Iraq since April. Injuries were also at a record level, with a minimum of 242 civilians likely injured in Mosul.

Image reportedly of victim Ghani Mumtaz, killed in an alleged Coalition airstrikes on Mosul, Dec 11th Posted by @ali3omar

On December 11th an alleged Coalition raid on the Al-Falah neighborhood killed eight members of the same family. Several news outlets named the victims as Ammar Mumtaz Abdullah and his wife Lina and children Ahmed and Abdul Rahman; Mumtaz Mustafa Abdullah and the wife of his son Mohammed, and his daughter Ghani Mumtaz.

Several major mass casualty incidents occurred within the last days of the month. On December 29th, local sources reported the deaths of up to 41 civilians with 143 injured in the eastern districts of the city from alleged Coalition strikes in support of a renewed push against ISIL. On the same day – in an incident currently under investigation by the Coalition – up to 16 civilians reportedly died when the Coalition struck a van carrying ISIL fighters in what CENTCOM “later determined to be a hospital compound parking lot” in Mosul. Local sources said this was a children’s hospital.

The following day, December 30th, locals reported the death of 11 more civilians and the injuring of up to 80 more, when Coalition warplanes allegedly struck the vicinity of the Khalid ibn al-Walid Mosque in the Wadr Hajar area of Mosul.

“This is a civilian disaster,” says Airwars’ researcher, who has spent time on Mosul’s frontline observing how the battle has evolved.

“In October and November, military movements were well-organised and they were taking care of civilians. But now the ISF and Federal police inside Mosul is starting to move quickly – and when they encounter strong resistance from ISIL, they sometimes deal with it with heavy artillery and airstrikes. It’s about liberating the rest of the city at any price.”

Civilian casualties from Russian strikes

Airstrikes carried out by Moscow pummeled rebel-held areas of Syria throughout 2016, with many hundreds of civilians credibly reported killed.

Overall, there were 1,452 separate claimed civilian casualty events allegedly carried out by Russia during 2016. Between 6,228 and 8,172 civilians reportedly died in these events. Many of these incidents are likely to have been the result of actions by the Assad regime. Even so, civilian deaths from Russian strikes in 2016 far outpaced those from Coalition actions.

With so many allegations to assess, Airwars has a significant case backlog. We have however released our assessments for the first four months of 2016. These show that between January 1st and April 30th, an estimated 1,140 to 1,564 civilians were killed in 448 events assessed as likely having been carried out by Moscow. Of these, a minimum of 298 victims were children and at least 175 were women. Additionally, a minimum of 1,453 civilians were injured.

In January 2016 alone at least 713 non-combatants were killed, according to Airwars tracking. A subsequent ceasefire then led to a steep fall in likely deaths – though we still estimated that a minimum of 420 civilians died in February and March 2016.

Frequently, civilians died in mass casualty events. For example, on January 9th 2016  a minimum of 53 civilians died and more than 200 were injured in alleged Russian strikes on Maarat al Numan, Idlib according to numerous local sources. Activists said a courthouse and prison belonging to the Al-Nusra Front was targeted, resulting in major destruction and the deaths of all who were at the site or close by.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights initially blamed the Assad regime. But a later detailed report concluded that Russian warplanes were responsible, and that 67 people had died including three women.

Victims from airstrikes on Maarat al Numan, December 9th 2016, which the Syrian Network for Human Rights said were carried out by regime warplanes but which others blamed on Russia (via SN4HR)

A Syrian ceasefire which came into play on February 27th – followed by Moscow’s partial withdraw from Syria of its heavy bombers – had an immediate effect on likely fatalities, with a 67% drop in incidents between February and March.

By April, the intensity of Russia’s bombing campaign had further waned – showing that for a time both Russia and the Assad regime were capable of exercising a degree of restraint, which in turn diminished the risk to civilians.

Moreover, this major reduction in likely deaths from Russian strikes significantly narrowed the gap between fatalities attributed to Russian forces, and those blamed on the US-led Coalition. By April, events reportedly involving the Coalition in Iraq and Syria were just 20% less than those attributed to Russia in Syria.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["DQ4X9"]={},window.datawrapper["DQ4X9"].embedDeltas={"100":800,"200":603,"300":534,"400":517,"500":500,"600":474,"700":474,"800":474,"900":474,"1000":457},window.datawrapper["DQ4X9"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-DQ4X9"),window.datawrapper["DQ4X9"]["DQ4X9"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["DQ4X9"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("DQ4X9"==b)window.datawrapper["DQ4X9"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"});


“The allegations didn’t stop during the Spring ceasefire, but they dropped dramatically,” says Kinda Haddad of Airwars. “But Russia then came back with a vengeance, and the bombing has been relentless since June.” That month saw a 262% leap in alleged Russian casualty events, with claims reaching a peak of 215 incidents in November.

“In the last six moths, I have tracked hundreds of claimed Russian incidents against civilians. Most of them were deliberate, and targeted utilities such as hospitals, schools and markets,” says Airwars researcher Abdulwahab Tahhan. “Many civilians could not be identified due to the severe burns they suffered or because body parts were scattered everywhere. These allegations were recorded by activists and people still living and reporting from the ground. Unfortunately, many of theses incidents were not reported in mainstream media and when reported, the casualties were often just a number”

In early December, Bashar Assad’s forces seized Aleppo from the rebels. A ceasefire which came into effect on December 15th had a dramatic effect on fatalties – and overall Airwars tracked a 67% decrease in casualty events on November’s all-time high. Even so, raw estimates claimed that up to 446 civilians died in Russian actions during the month.

One of the ongoing challenges for Airwars researchers throughout 2016 has been determining which party has been bombing in Syria: Russia, the regime or the Coalition.

“With such intense fire also comes a very high level of confusion – especially between Russia and the regime,” explains Kinda Haddad. “For many incidents we have some sources blaming the regime and others Russia – and we can’t really tell who is responsible as they use similar planes and weaponry.”

The confusion was exacerbated in October when Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield – centered on ISIL and Kurdish forces allied to the US-led Coalition – advanced  into Syria, meaning that it is likely to become more difficult to identify which actors are killing civilians in the year ahead.

Civilians attempt to flee following a strike on a market in the town of Maarat al Numan in southern Idlib, December 4th 2016. Sources blamed both Russia and the regime. (via Shaam News Network)


Airwars research team: Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Eline Westra, Basile Simon, Christiaan Triebert, Samuel Oakford, F.F. Khalil, Shihab Halep, Ziad Freeman and Chris Woods

▲ Coalition airstrikes target central Mosul on March 19th 2016 (via Daesh propaganda)


December 2016

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Record and alarming numbers of civilian casualties were reported in November from both Russian and Coalition strikes – as major air campaigns in support of ground operations in Iraq and Syria continued.

The Coalition’s air campaign intensified in support of Iraqi ground forces seeking to recapture Mosul from so-called Islamic State (ISIL). This coincided with the beginning of a ground offensive in Syria by SDF proxies (supported by US-led airstrikes) to seize Raqqa – ISIL’s Syrian stronghold and capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate. Civilians were at significant risk from Coalition actions during November: we tracked the greatest number of claimed casualties so far in the war, with 73 events alleged for the month.

Meanwhile as the Assad regime began its final push to oust rebels from Aleppo, regime and Russian airstrikes maintained a ferocious momentum, leaving more than 1,000 non-combatants reported killed – the highest number of casualties attributed to Russia in any one month since it intervened in Syria.

Coalition military developments

Since the start of the Coalition campaign, 10,595 airstrikes had been carried out in Iraq and 5,997 in Syria through the end of November 2016 according to official data. During November, reported Coalition airstrikes in Syria (351) again outweighed those in Iraq (280).

The six declared active members of the Coalition (the US, UK, France, Belgium, Denmark and Australia) dropped a total of 2,709 munitions on ISIL targets in November – an 11% per cent decrease on the previous month. One civilian was likely killed for every 19 bombs and missiles dropped in November – compared with one civilian killed for every 25 munitions in October.

According to official CENTCOM figures released to Airwars, in the period from October 31st – November 27th, the US alone carried out 313 strikes in Syria, an increase of 38% over the previous month. The remaining members of the Coalition conducted just 19 strikes in Syria, a marginal increase from the 17 declared in October.

In Iraq during the same four week period, there was a small increase of 5% in declared US strikes, with 194 reported – while strikes carried out by non-US allies remained fairly static at a reported 81.

RAF Tornado GR4s use a Brimstone missile to destroy one of the few remaining tanks operated by ISIL, ten miles west of Mosul on November 29th.

For October, France had reported a record 95 strikes in Iraq. This led Airwars to suggest Paris may be using a more generous definition of the term ‘strike’ than the Coalition itself does in reports. November saw a 49% decrease in declared French strikes in Iraq with 48 actions reported – nearer the average number of monthly strikes (53) over the last 11 months. Actions in Syria remained at similar levels to October, with nine strikes declared.

Despite the decrease in reported strikes, for the second straight month France appeared to surpass the UK’s position as the second-most active member of the Coalition. The UK reported 44 strikes in Iraq and four in Syria.

Ahead of its scheduled withdrawal of F-16s in Iraq and Syria in mid-December, Denmark significantly scaled back its actions, reporting 31 weapon releases during November (approximately 7 strikes). That was a decrease of 62% on the previous month and the lowest number of precision bombs dropped since July.

A 20mm gun is removed from an F/A-18E Super Hornet, November 7th 2016 (US Navy)

Focus: significant advances in Mosul

By the beginning of November, Iraqi forces – supported by Coalition and Iraq government airstrikes – had finally pushed past Mosul’s city limits and into Gogjali, an industrial area in the eastern suburbs.

Iraqi forces held on to the territory they’d won as they prepared to move further into the city, while ISIL leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, urged the terrorist group to fight to the death.

But as the advance continued, the risk to civilians mounted as thousands attempted to flee. By November 21st, the UN estimated that the number of non-combatants displaced by the fighting – which saw many caught in the crossfire of bloody street battles – had risen to just under 70,000.

The Coalition declared 154 strikes in the vicinity of the city during November – an increase of 19% over October and more than half of all declared strikes in Iraq for the month. Early in November it was reported that the Pentagon would exercise ‘tactical restraint’ in airstrikes, for fear of killing civilians. This may go some way to explain the less dramatic increase in strikes. However there were also significant reports of Apache helicopter strikes in support of ISF at Mosul – which are not included in daily Coalition tallies.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["ykgnf"]={},window.datawrapper["ykgnf"].embedDeltas={"100":1024,"200":845,"300":789,"400":789,"500":748,"600":748,"700":748,"800":733,"900":733,"1000":733},window.datawrapper["ykgnf"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-ykgnf"),window.datawrapper["ykgnf"]["ykgnf"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["ykgnf"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("ykgnf"==b)window.datawrapper["ykgnf"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"}); Airwars analysis shows that in the first full month of the Mosul campaign, a quarter of all targets reportedly destroyed by the Coalition were ISIL mortar positions (25%). The terror group had heavily targeted liberated areas of the city with their mortars – leading to significant civilian and military casualties.

November also saw 68 ISIL-held buildings targeted. VIBEDs – or suicide vehicles – counted for 10% of targets destroyed.

"undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper&&(window.datawrapper={}),window.datawrapper["jjBHG"]={},window.datawrapper["jjBHG"].embedDeltas={"100":1208,"200":1104,"300":1052,"400":1026,"500":1026,"600":1026,"700":1000,"800":1000,"900":1000,"1000":1000},window.datawrapper["jjBHG"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-jjBHG"),window.datawrapper["jjBHG"]["jjBHG"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["jjBHG"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])"jjBHG"==b&&(window.datawrapper["jjBHG"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px")});

Syria: the Raqqa offensive begins

On November 7th, the Coalition confirmed that it was backing the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Defence Force (SDF)  with airstrikes and ‘advise and assist’ support in a campaign to liberate Raqqa from ISIL.

However, the US’s announcement that Kurdish YPG forces would participate in the fight for the city risked inflaming a complex situation with Turkey, whose Operation Euphrates Shield – aimed at both ISIL and Kurdish forces – pushed deeper into northern Syria.

As the month continued, the Coalition campaign gathered momentum, with particularly intense activity in the week commencing November 21st. Overall, the Coalition declared 60 strikes near Raqqa – a 100% increase over October. Reported civilian deaths from Coalition actions in the area also significantly increased.

A reported ISIL training campaign is destroyed near Raqqa in a Coalition strike on November 19th 2016

Coalition civilian casualties

The escalation of the battle for Mosul – and the beginning of the Raqqa offensive – had a significant toll on civilians during November, which we saw the greatest number of alleged civilian casualty events from Coalition airstrikes yet reported in the 28-month war.

In Iraq and Syria there were 73 alleged casualty incidents during November – an increase of 62% over October. A total of 348 to 405 non-combatant deaths were claimed in these incidents.

Airwars currently assesses 33 of these events as fairly reported. This means an incident has two or more credible sources, with Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. Between 142 and 186 civilians are presently assessed as likely having been killed in these incidents, compared with a range of 122 and 148 such deaths in October.This represents a 16% rise in likely civilian deaths over October.

The month was also notable for a record number of poorly reported incidents – that is, events which had only a single source,often providing little detail. Overall, there were 20 such events, accounting for 86 claimed deaths. In Mosul in particular reports were often fragmentary.

Mosul: risk to civilians increases

As Iraqi Security Forces moved into the more densely populated areas of Mosul, we saw an increase in claimed civilian casualty incidents in the area.

Despite the Coalition reportedly exercising caution with strikes, there were 22 incidents of concern reported near Mosul – an increase of 38% on the previous month. As many as 165 non-combatants were claimed killed in these incidents – compared with a maximum 117 deaths in October.

However Airwars currently assesses only five of these 22 events  as likely – killing 48 to 52 civilians – a decrease from the ten likely events which killed up to 83 non-combatants in October.

This reduction in the likely death toll was due to the increased number of poorly reported events in Iraq, with 11 such incidents around Mosul counting for 60 claimed deaths. Additionally, six events – killing 53 civilians – were also contested, with reports variously blaming the Coalition, the Iraqi Air Forces and ISIL.

Major incidents of concern likely involving the Coalition included an event on November 7th, when 14 civilians died strikes in Mosul according to local sources. IBN News said civilians were “mistakenly” hit in a Coalition raid in southeast Mosul. It also cited medical source, who said the dead included women and children.

Coalition raids also likely killed more than 20 civilians on November 18th, according to reports. ISIL-controlled Al A’amaq said seven people died and 14 were injured in a Coalition bombing of the Al Tanak neighborhood of Mosul. Other outlets released similar figures, but Iraq News Center put the civilian toll at 30 killed and wounded.

#قناة_الرافدين | مقتل وإصابة 21 مدني في قصف لطيران التحالف على حي التنك غربي الموصل وفقا لمصادر إعلامية

— قناة الرافدين (@rafidenchannel) November 19, 2016

Rafiden tweeted that 21 civilians were killed and wounded in an alleged Coalition strike west of Mosul on November 18th.
On November 26th, as many as 18 civilians died and 35 were injured in a Coalition strike, according to local sources. Multiple social media accounts put the death toll at 14, though Russian state media outlet Sputnik News cited reports that 18 people, including 14 women, were killed.

Syria: steep rise in fatalities around Raqqa

November saw the highest number of reported civilian deaths in Syria since the Manbij campaign in July. Overall, there were 44 claimed casualty incidents during the month, a 63% increase on October.

Of the 44 incidents, Airwars presently assesses 24 of these events as having been carried out by the Coalition. Between 67 and 106 civilians likely died in these incidents – a significant increase on the 50 to 65 likely deaths reported the previous month.

As in Iraq however, the month also saw a much higher number of poorly reported, single-sourced events in Syria than in October.

As the offensive to seize Raqqa from ISIL got underway, we saw a dramatic rise in reported deaths, with 47% of all claimed incidents for the month occurring in the governorate.

Airwars currently assesses  20 of these Raqqa incidents as having been carried out by the Coalition. Based on local reports they are assessed to have likely killing between 61 and 74 civilians, of which up to 13 were children and 7 women. Up to 111 additional civilians were reported injured in these events.

if("undefined"==typeof window.datawrapper)window.datawrapper={};window.datawrapper["Xdj42"]={},window.datawrapper["Xdj42"].embedDeltas={"100":931,"200":808,"300":767,"400":741,"500":741,"600":700,"700":700,"800":700,"900":700,"1000":700},window.datawrapper["Xdj42"].iframe=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-Xdj42"),window.datawrapper["Xdj42"]["Xdj42"].embedDeltas[Math.min(1e3,Math.max(100*Math.floor(window.datawrapper["Xdj42"].iframe.offsetWidth/100),100))]+"px",window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if("undefined"!=typeof["datawrapper-height"])for(var b in["datawrapper-height"])if("Xdj42"==b)window.datawrapper["Xdj42"]["datawrapper-height"][b]+"px"}); We tracked an immediate increase in deaths from the official start of the campaign: between November 6th and 13th alone, our researchers tracked reports of 11 events – and as the month continued, the death toll rose.

On November 19th,  between eight and 11 non-combatants died at Bia’as village in what both the Syrian Network and Syrian Observatory called a ‘massacre’. According to Shaam News Network, “clashes [between ISIL and SDF] have moved into the centre of Tal Al Samin where international coalition aircraft have launched dozens of air raids on positions controlled by IS.”

Just two days later on November 21st, a reported early morning Coalition airstrike on the village of al Salhiyeh killed at least nine civilians – most from the family of Mustapha al Farwa. ISIL’s media wing said the target of the raid was a cotton factory in the village, where three workers also died. Ara News cited a local activist as saying that “the raids came after false information came to the Coalition that the factory is used for the manufacture of weapons and belongs to Islamic State.” Syria News Desk said there were six raids in total – which also injured 13 civilians.

From November 21st to 27th, the air campaign maintained a fierce tempo, with the Coalition declaring 31 strikes near Raqqa (52% of all strikes in the governorate for the entire month). A minimum of 29 civilians were assessed as having likely died in this period alone.

#Raqqa#الرقة #توثيق | استشهاد الشاب "عبد الرحمن العبد الكريم الزغير " بقصف #التحالف_الدولي على قرية الصالحية الشاب من سكان قرية الاسدية .

— Saad Alenezi | سعد العنزي (@saad_alsabr) November 21, 2016

A tweet reporting the death of Abdul Rahman Abdul Karim Zoughair, one of 10 civilians killed in an alleged Coalition strike on al Salhiyeh, Raqqa, November 21st 2016

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

At the start of November a ten-hour truce by Russia offered civilians and rebels the opportunity to leave eastern Aleppo – with the Assad regime threatening those who remained with “annihilation.” A ferocious ground assault by Syrian and Iranian troops and irregular forces then began – backed by a major ramp-up in Russian airpower and Assad regime strikes. This marked the final push to oust rebels from the devastated city.

During the month, Airwars tracked the highest number of claimed civilian fatalities from Russian airstrikes to date, with 215 separate events allegedly involving Russian aircraft. Airwars raw estimates indicate that up to 1,005 civilians died in these incidents, though due to the volume of alleged Russian incidents, it will be some time before Aiwars can present a full analysis of the month.

October had ended with a brief lull in strikes on Aleppo, as the Assad regime and Russia turned towards Idlib. However, resources were piled back into Aleppo at the start of November.  Overall, some 67% of all alleged Russian casualty events for the month were in Aleppo governorate.

The aftermath of an alleged Russian airstrike on Balto, Aleppo, November 16th 2016 (via Step News)

Airwars research team: Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Eline Westra, Basile Simon, Yasser Haddad, Christiaan Triebert, Samuel Oakford and Chris Woods

▲ An F/A-18F Super Hornet flies over the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nov 10th (US Navy)