Reports

Reports

Published

August 2016

Written by

Alex Hopkins

In July the Coalition campaign to liberate the northern Syrian town of Manbij in Aleppo built towards a fierce conclusion. Daesh continued to lose ground, but the effect on civilian casualties was significant. We tracked the greatest number of alleged deaths and incidents in any given month since the war began two years ago – despite just one likely event in Iraq. Probable deaths from Coalition airstrikes were at similar levels to those reported for Russia during the Spring.

Russian airstrikes also continued to pulverize opposition-held areas in northern and western Syria – with hundreds of non-combatants reported killed. A total of 120 alleged incidents of concern were reported for July alone.

Coalition military developments

Overall, a total of 9,458 airstrikes had cumulatively been carried out in Iraq and 4,751 in Syria to the end of July 2016.

The 13 allies between them dropped 2,411 bombs and missiles against Daesh in July, a 24% per cent decrease in the number of munitions released compared with June.

The US remained the dominant Coalition partner in both Iraq and Syria. Indeed strikes conducted by the UK fell in July, with the RAF carrying out 58 strikes in Iraq (a decrease of 19% on June) and five in Syria (a decrease of 44%.)

The UK’s strikes in Syria were all around Manbij and the so-called Mar’a line. In all but one of these five strikes the RAF used armed drones (Reapers). However, overall reported use of Reapers fell by 60% from June.

After the UK, France remained the next most active Coalition partner. However its activities also declined in Iraq, with 31 strikes declared in July (a fall of 23%). France conducted just two strikes in Syria – both near Raqqa.

Belgium has rejoined the air war – this time in both Iraq and Syria – after taking over from the Netherlands. On July 5th, France reported a joint raid with Belgium in Mosul. But Brussels itself – the least transparent of all Coalition partners – has yet to declare any airstrikes itself since the campaign resumed.

Significant drop: Airwars graph showing the number of UK airstrikes conducted by Reapers, Tornados and Typhoons across June and July 2016

For the first time in 18 months Coalition airstrikes in Syria outweighed those conducted in Iraq. There were 332 strikes in Iraq (a drop of 31% from June) and 352 in Syria (a decrease of 6% from June).

The major Coalition campaign at Manbij – which began on May 21st to liberate the ISIL-occupied town in northern Syria – reached a heavy pace. Some 282 strikes were reported in the vicinity (80% of all declared strikes in Syria).

On July 15th, the Syrian Arab Coalition (aka Syrian Democratic Forces) began moving towards the centre of Manbij, recapturing a “significant amount of the city” and enabling some civilians to escape.

However, the UN warned that the situation in Manbij was deteriorating further, with 30,000 to 40,000 combatants still caught up in the siege.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, efforts were focused on clearing the Daesh-controlled towns of Qayyarah and Sarqat, in preparation for the eventual battle of Mosul.

An RAAF F/A-18A Hornet prepares to depart on a mission to strike a ‘Daesh headquarters compound’ in Mosul, Iraq, from Australia’s main base in the Middle East (Australian MoD)

Coalition civilian casualties

July saw the highest tally of civilian casualty events so far reported in the war. Overall, there were 47 alleged civilian casualty incidents – an increase of 38% from June. A total of 311 to 509 non-combatant deaths were claimed in these events.

Airwars presently assesses 28 of these 47 events as fairly reported: that is with two or more credible sources, and Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. Between 208 and 387 civilians are presently assessed as likely having been killed in these incidents, compared with between 110 and 180 deaths in June.

A worsening situation: Syria

As already noted, July 2016 saw the highest number of alleged civilian fatalities and events since the air war began in August 2014. In Syria 40 incidents were reported – an increase of 83% from the 19 claimed events we tracked in June. Between 198 and 368 alleged fatalities are presently assessed as being likely by Airwars, most in the vicnity of Manbij.

One likely reason for this sharp rise is a reported loosening of the rules of engagement. The Coalition is now prepared to accept up to 10 non-combatant casualties in any one action, according to reports.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEHu2ZYIDPw

A Coalition airstrike on Manbij, July 11th 2016

On July 19th,in what may be the single greatest loss of life from a Coalition action in the first two years of its war against Daesh, between 78 and 203 civilians were reported killed in a catastrophic event at the village of Tokhar in which victims were shown being buried in mass graves.

Manbij Mother of the World was the first to report the event. It initially put the death toll at 25, which swiftly rose to 56 then 59 civilians, before finally settling at 203 killed.  The Airwars incident report presently names 78 victims.

The US’s northern Syria proxy the SDF said it had supplied the intelligence for the Tokhar strike, though had thought no civilians were present. The SDF also accused local monitoring groups of fabricating civilian casualty claims in order to aid ISIL and discredit Kurdish forces.

In contrast, the US’s former proxy the Free Syrian Army condemned the Coalition for “the horrific massacres committed”. The Assad regime instead claimed French aircraft were responsible, though Paris has declared no strikes in the vicinity.

Bakkar al Ramadan – one of 78 named civilians so far identified by local groups as having died at al Tokhar in a US airstrike on July 19th 2016. Seven members of Mr al Ramadan’s family also reportedly died with him, including six children (via Manbij Tokhar)

For July 18th-19th, the Coalition admitted carrying out strikes on buildings and vehicles at Tokhar, but initially scorned ‘wild’ claims of 173 deaths.

However after an international outcry, the US announced on July 27th that it was launching an investigation. Based on current delays, the results are unlikely to be known until early 2017.

Following the incident at Tokhar Airwars tracked a brief drop in airstrikes around Manbij. However from July 22nd the Coalition campaign picked up pace once again.

The Pentagon also investigated an alleged incident on July 23rd at al Nawaja in which between 10 and 22 civilians were reported killed. Soon after it denied responsibility, concluding that “the JCTF did not conduct any strikes in that geographic location.”

Almost daily: As this Airwars chart demonstrates, while alleged civilian fatalities around Manbij peaked at Tokhar on July 19th, claims occured throughout the month

Another major incident of concern took place on July 28th when at least 28 civilians were killed in a likely Coalition airstrike on the village of al Ghandourra. According to the Syria Newsdesk, the noon strikes hit the main market and the elementary school in the town, which was occupied by so-called ISIL.

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Later that same day the Pentagon confirmed it was opening an investigation into the al Ghandourra incident – the first such immediate action in two years of war. A senior US military official told Airwars that the Coalition’s internal monitoring had already raised concerns – and that the decision to proceed almost immediately to an investigation represented a more pro-active approach to civilian casualty allegations.

Coalition incidents of concern: Iraq

There was a marked decrease in incidents of concern in Iraq for July. Seven events were reported, a 114% drop from the 15 cases we tracked in June.

Of these, Airwars presently assesses just one case as ‘fairly‘ reported:

According to a number of reports, on July 31st alleged night time or dawn Coalition strikes on homes in the vicinity of the Technical Institute and Faculty of Islamic Sciences at the University of Mosul resulted in “nearly 20” civilian fatalities. NRN reported that there were many casualties as a result of “brutal” strikes when nearby bystanders and cars were struck by fragments of destroyed buildings.

New officially confirmed deaths

On July 18th, CENTCOM conceded 14 additional civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, relating to six events between July 2015 and late April 2016. These new admissions bring the official confirmed tally for civilian dead to 55.

In addition to these confirmed fatalities, Airwars estimates that at least 1,507 to 2,301 civilians are likely to have been killed in Coalition strikes in Iraq and Syria since August 2014. This suggests the Coalition is under-reporting civilian deaths by 95 per cent or more.

Longer-term hope for civilians caught up in US wars came on July 1st, when President Obama issued an executive order (alongside an assessment of those killed in covert US drone strikes) on steps to be taken to protect civilians in conflicts.

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

Allegations of civilian casualty events involving Russia in Syria decreased by 11% in July. However, they remain at alarming levels.

In July we tracked 120 events reportedly involving Russian aircraft, against 135 tracked in June.

Due to the volume of alleged Russian incidents, Airwars is still in the process of assessing events from January to the end of July.

Raw estimates claim that between 564 and 633 civilians died in these July alleged events alone – though it will be some time before Airwars is better able to assess these allegations.

Scene of devastation at Ariha, Syria July 13th 2016 after an alleged Russian strike killed at least 12 civilians (Photo via LCCSY)

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Additional research by Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Abdulwahab Tahhan, Ziad Freeman, Basile Simon, Christiaan Triebert and Chris Woods

▲ The US Navy issues a rare photo of hardware-packed deck of amphibious assault ship USS Boxer, supporting war against Daesh (via US Navy)

Published

July 2016

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Daesh lost significant ground in June, with the liberation of Fallujah in Iraq and the ongoing battle for Manbij in Syria. However, this led to a steep rise in alleged civilian casualties involving the Coalition in both countries – while in Syria, we saw a quadrupling of the number of civilian casualty events reportedly involving Russian aircraft.

Coalition military developments

Overall, a total of 9,132 airstrikes had been carried out in Iraq and 4,398 in Syria to the end of June 2016.

The 13 allies had between them cumulatively dropped 49,917 bombs and missiles against Daesh, with a 35 per cent rise in the number of munitions released compared with May.

Denmark restarted its air campaign, with the first strikes reported in Iraq on June 24th. Following a vote by parliament, Danish F-16’s will now also be carrying out airstrikes in Syria

On June 27th, Belgium reported it had taken over airstrikes from the Dutch, deploying six of its own F-16s to the Middle East. The Dutch had fought continually for 21-months and were the fourth most active partner in the Coalition after the US, the UK and France – despite their relatively small force.

Graph courtesy of Drone Wars UK

To June 28th, Britain’s MoD had reported 847 airstrikes in Iraq but only 48 in Syria. An analysis of official UK data by Drone Wars UK revealed:

    A huge increase of 85% in British airstrikes in Iraq and Syria was recorded between July and Dec 2015 (249 strikes) and January to June 2016 (464 strikes).
    There has been a significant increase in the use of British armed drones since April. June saw the greatest number of Reaper airstrikes in any one month since the RAF began fielding them in October 2007.
    The UK has used much larger weapons in recent months. On June 26th, the RAF airdropped Stormshadow cruise missiles for the first time against Daesh in Iraq. There has also been increased use of both the 1,000 lb Enhanced Paveway II and 2,000 lb Paveway III bombs.

UK Tornados used huge Stormshadow missiles for the first time against Daesh on June 26th, striking a large concrete bunker being used as a weapons facility in western Iraq.

Coalition actions in Iraq and Syria for June 2016

There were 482 Coalition airstrikes in Iraq in June – a small decrease (4%) from the 504 airstrikes carried out in May.

On June 26th it was announced that the city of Fallujah, which had fallen to Daesh in January 2014, had been liberated. Two days later Iraqi forces retook remaining pockets of Daesh resistance in the city’s western outskirts.

However, the United Nations warned of a potential humanitarian disaster, with up 30,000 civilians fleeing the city.

June saw the greatest number of Coalition actions yet reported in Syria during the 23-month war, with 375 airstrikes declared. This was an increase of 110% from May (178 strikes).

68% of these strikes were near Manbij, where a major offensive to retake the city began on May 21st by US proxies the Syrian Arab Coalition (or Syrian Democratic Forces), supported by Coalition airstrikes.

On June 30th, the Coalition reported it had carried out 44 airstrikes alone that week around Manbij, and that the Syrian Arab Coalition had gained a crucial foothold in the southern part of the city – though Daesh continued to use snipers, tunnels, booby traps and human shields, while maintaining control of vital grain silos and administrative buildings.

But in Deir Ezzor, there were set backs with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting on June 29th that the New Syria Army had been driven out of the governorate and had failed to recapture the key Iraqi border town of Al-Bukamal.

Australian armaments personnel assemble and load weapons, June 2016 (image via CJTF OIR)

Coalition civilian casualties

In both Iraq and Syria, there was a steep rise in casualty events allegedly involving Coalition aircraft in June. Overall, there were 34 alleged civilian casualty incidents – an increase of 79% from May, when 19 were reported. A total of 229 to 335 non-combatant deaths were claimed.

Airwars presently assesses 16 of these 34 events as fairly reported: that is with two or more credible sources, and Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. Between 110 and 180 civilians are presently assessed as likely having been killed in these incidents, compared with between 84 and 93 deaths in May.

Coalition incidents of concern: Syria

The greatest rise in alleged casualty events was seen in Syria, where 19 incidents were reported – an increase of 72% from the 11 claimsed events tracked in May.

June 2016 saw the highest number of alleged civilian deaths to date from Coalition actions in Syria. Between 58 and 75 alleged fatalities are presently assessed as being likely by Airwars, compared with between 38 and 41 deaths in May.

Of the 19 claimed incidents in Syria, 15 (78%) were around Manbij. We have graded nine of these as fairly reported, and estimate that between 48 and 64 civilians were killed in these incidents.

Major casualty incidents of concern attributed to Coalition aircraft around Manbij included:

On June 3rd, local groups named 22 victims including 13 to 15 children and six women killed in a ‘Coalition strike’ on the village of Ojkana, near Manbij. Both the Shaam News Network and the Syrian Press Center attributed the deaths to the US-led Coalition, while the Syrian Revolution Network named multiple victims across three families

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

On June 11th, ten civilians from the same family were reported killed in an alleged Coalition strike on the village of Al Hadhad, near Manbij, as fierce fighting continued to evict so-called Islamic State forces from the area. The dead family was named by Manbij Mother of All the World as that of Mahmoud al Ahmad al Khattaf.

ريف حلب #منبجاستشهاد 10 اشخاص من عائلة واحد نتيجة قصف طيران التحالف الدولي قرية الهدهد جميع الضحايا نازحين من قرية الخطاف

— Syrian Revolution Network شبكة الثورة السورية (@RevolutionSyria) June 11, 2016

A Tweet from Syrian Revolution reports the death of 10 people from the same family in Manbij on June 11th

On June 13th, a reported Coalition airstrike on the agricultural secondary school in Manbij – being used as a temporary prison by so called Islamic State – led to the deaths of between 8 and 20 civilian captives according to local reports. Al Araby al Jadid placed the death toll much higher at 30, with 50 injured – though this included Daesh fighters.

Coalition incidents of concern: Iraq

There was also a significant increase in incidents of concern in Iraq, where 15 events were reported, an 87% rise from the eight cases we tracked in May.

Between 52 and 104 civilian fatalities in Iraq  are presently assessed as likely by Airwars in June 2016, compared with between 46 and 52 likely deaths in May.

Major incidents of concern were reported around Mosul and Fallujah:

On June 1st, ten to 40 civilians were reported killed and 13 to 36 injured following alleged Coalition airstrikes in west Mosul. Mosul Eye offered a detailed description of affected neighbourhoods, while NRN said that Coalition aircraft targeted houses used by Daesh, killing terrorists but also civilians.

On June 8th, multiple civilians were reported killed and injured in alleged Coalition airstrikes on the July 17th district of Mosul. According to Mosul Eye, the strikes on a Wednesday night took place at prayer time near a mosque in the Almoghait area – particularly busy during Ramadan. There was a possibility of British involvement, with the UK reporting that “In northern Iraq, another Typhoon mission successfully attacked a Daesh-held building east of Mosul, whilst a Reaper used a GBU-12 bomb to demolish a building where another coalition surveillance aircraft had observed terrorists unloading supplies.”

Reported Coalition strike on Mosul June 8th which allegedly caused ‘dozens’ of civilian casualties (via Iraqi Revolution)

And on June 15th, local sources reported that the Coalition struck the Hasi area of Fallujah, leading to the death of six families, two of whom were killed while trying to leave the city. Al Fallujah Online said 10 people died, including four women and three children, and that 13 others were wounded including five children and four women. Again there was the possibility of UK involvement in the reported event, with the MoD reporting that Typhoons carried out “successful attacks” over Fallujah.

Casualties in a medical facility following alleged Coalition strikes on Fallujah, June 15th (via Al FallujahNews)

Still unclear is how many civilians may have died in two massive Coalition and Iraq government air assaults on Daesh convoys escaping Fallujah on June 28th and June 30th. Many vehicles were destroyed, with the Coalition estimating that its own aircraft killed at least 348 enemy fighters. But there are credible reports the convoys also included the families of Daesh fighters. As USA Today reported of the second incident “About 50 people, including women and children, fled the vehicles. When the women and children were spotted, the coalition ceased its strikes.” At least one dead child was spotted by Bellingcat in an Iraqi government propaganda video relating to the strikes.

Russian military actions and civilian casualties

Following the Syrian cease fire and Russia’s announcement of a partial drawdown on March 15th, we saw an immediate 75% reduction in allegations of civilian casualty events involving Russia in Syria, and by April we were recording similar numbers of allegations against Russia and the Coalition (in Iraq and Syria).

However that trend reversed in late May, with reported Russian strikes and civilian casualty claims once more escalating. We tracked 36 incidents in May and 135 in June – a fourfold rise.

Airwars tracking of alleged Russian civilian casualty events showed a fourfold rise in June

Due to the volume of alleged Russian incidents, Airwars is still in the process of assessing events from January to the end of June.

Raw estimates claim that between 595 and 648 civilians died in these June events, while 153 to 191 people were claimed killed in May – though it will be some time before Airwars is better able to assess these allegations.

This increased Russian involvement in Syria means it is often challenging to determine which parties were responsible for attacks – with contested reports sometimes blaming Russia, the Assad regime and the Coalition.

 

Additional research by Kinda Haddad, Latif Habib, Basile Simon, Christiaan Triebert and Chris Woods

 

▲ A picture of a recent night time artillery engagement from Kara Soar base, supporting Iraqi troops (via US Army)

Published

June 2016

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Airwars monthly reports on international airstrikes and alleged civilian casualties across both Iraq and Syria will resume for June . Here we present our summary findings for December 2015 to May 2016.

Major Coalition military developments

From December 1st 2015 to the end of May 2016, there were 4,087 reported Coalition airstrikes against Daesh: a total of 3,010 in Iraq and 1,077 in Syria.

The 13 allies had between them cumulatively dropped 46,615 bombs and missiles against Daesh to the end of May 2016. Weapon releases were down 5% between December and May compared with the previous six months.

In other key developments:

    January 2016 was the most intense month of bombing in Iraq to date, with 540 airstrikes reported carried out by the Coalition.
    January also saw Daesh driven out of the city of Ramadi after a months-long offensive by Iraqi government forces. Nearly 800 non-combatants were reported killed in airstrikes, executions and clashes in and around the city during the campaign.
    On February 15th, Canada ceased kinetic operations in Iraq and Syria. Since their first sortie on October 30th 2014, Canada’s CF-188 Hornets had carried out 251 airstrikes (246 in Iraq and just 5 in Syria).
    Following terror attacks in Brussels on March 22nd, Belgium confirmed plans to mount renewed airstrikes on Daesh targets, in both Iraq and Syria. Airwars has since submitted a report to the Belgian parliament raising transparency concerns.
    An offensive by the Iraqi army and militias to retake areas around Mosul began in late March but was initially repelled. The battle, with heavy air support from the Coalition, is still underway.
    In May, bolstered by US airstrikes, the Iraqi Security Forces retook the small but key western desert town of Rutba from Daesh after a two-day battle.
    At the end of May, the Coalition began the push to retake Fallujah from ISIS – though the United Nations warned that 50,000 or more civilians were still trapped in the city.

US remains dominant partner

Airstrikes by the US in both Iraq and Syria continued significantly to outweigh those conducted by Coalition allies. As of May 30th, CENTCOM had reported a total of 5,859 US strikes in Iraq since August 2014 (68 per cent of all Coalition strikes there.) The UK was the next most active partner in Iraq, followed by France and the Netherlands.

There was also a marginal 1% drop in Coalition airstrikes in Iraq from December 2015 to May 2016 (3,010) compared with the previous six month period.

In Syria there were 1,056 Coalition airstrikes conducted from December 2015 to May 2016 (a 16% drop on the previous six months.) According to official data, only 79 of these strikes (7.5%) were by the US’s declared allies: France, the UK, Canada, Australia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

On 25 May, the UK reported its first airstrikes against Daesh in Syria in a month, with targets hit near Aleppo and Dayr ez Zawr. Since a December 2nd 2015 parliamentary vote on UK airstrikes in Syria, the RAF had only conducted 44 Syrian airstrikes to June 1st according to MoD data. Over the same period the UK conducted more than 250 airstrikes against Daesh in Iraq.

Coalition civilian casualties

Between December and May, in both Iraq and Syria there was a marked increase in the number of alleged casualty incidents and civilian deaths attributed to Coalition actions. While there were over three times as many alleged non-combatant deaths in Iraq as in Syria, both countries saw an alarming increase in the number of reported Coalition casualty events.

Across the six months, an overall total of 1,110 to 1,558 civilian non-combatant fatalities were alleged from 145 separate claimed Coalition incidents in both Iraq and Syria, according to Airwars tracking.

Confirmed deaths

The Coalition has so far confirmed only six civilian casualty events and one friendly fire incident for December to May, all from US military actions. These reportedly killed 10 civilians and 9 or more Iraq Army troops.

In a previously unknown casualty event, one civilian was confirmed killed during a US airstrike against a high value target in Raqqa, Syria on December 10th 2015.

A family of five was killed in a US airstrike on the Albothiab Island area of Ramadi, Iraq on December 12th.

At least nine Iraq Army soldiers including an officer were killed – and 32 or more injured – when Coalition aircraft providing close air support (CAS) accidentally struck a forward command post of Brigade Headquarters 55, in the Nuaimiya area south of Fallujah, Iraq on December 18th.

One civilian was killed during a US airstrike at Tishreen near Manbij, Syria on December 24th.

At least one civilian, a woman, was killed in a confrmed Coaltion airstrike on an ISIL-controlled bank in central Mosul, Iraq on January 11th. The attack was aimed at destroying millions of dollars of terror cash. CNN later reported the US had been prepared to accept up to 50 civilian casualties in the attack.

Civilian victim of a Coalition strike on January 11 2016, which targeted millions of dollars in a Daesh-controlled bank (via NRN News)

In a previously unknown casualty event, CENTCOM confirmed on April 22nd 2016 that one civilian was killed during a US airstrike at Al Ghazili near Ayn Isa, Syria on February 2nd.

And three weeks after an incident on April 5th, the US revealed that a strike on an ‘ISIL finance emir’ had  killed at least one civilian, a woman in Mosul, Iraq.

Overall CENTCOM has informed Airwars that, to May 20th 2016, the Coalition had provisionally investigated 182 alleged casualty incidents in total, of which it deemed 30 cases to be credible. Five confirmed cases have yet to be publicly reported – with an average delay of six months between a civilian death occuring and public confirmation by the Coalition.

CENTCOM’s investigations tally also represents just 40% of the 436 known civilian casualty allegations tracked by Airwars to May 31st.

Some 41 civilian deaths in total have now been admitted by the Coalition  – all the result of US actions. Despite more than 3,000 airstrikes by the US’s twelve allies in Iraq and Syria, no other Coalition partner has so far admitted causing any civilian casualties.

Likely additional casualty events in Iraq 

Along with the five civilian fatality events admitted by the US, Airwars has recorded 71 further ‘Fair’ incidents for December to May – 39 in Iraq and 32 in Syria. We presently estimate an additional 487 to 785 civilians died in these likely Coalition actions.

An event is graded as fair where two or more credible sources have reported an incident, and where Coalition strikes are confirmed in the vicinity on that date.

If correct, Airwars data suggests the Coalition may be underreporting civilian deaths by more than 95 per cent.

It is our provisional view at Airwars that between 290 and 511 civilians died in 39 events in Iraq, in addition to the seven recent deaths there admitted by the US.

On January 18th, 11 civilians were reported killed and 6 others wounded after Coalition aircraft allegedly targeted cars in the Exhibitions area east of Mosul. The National Iraqi News Agency reported residents of the city’s exhibition area saying that casualties occurred when aircraft fired on vehicles, while Al Araby said it was unclear whether whether the bombing has inflicted casualties on Daesh.

On February 25th, at least 13 civilians from ‘ISIS families’ – including women and children – were alleged killed when their bus was reportedly bombed between Qayarrah and Shura south of Mosul as it was trying to cross the Iraqi-syrian border, according to local sources. Reports said the terrorist group had been evacuating family members from Mosul to Syria in anticipation of a government assault.

The greatest number of claimed civilian deaths for any one incident so far in the 22-month air war was reported in Mosul on March 19th. According to multiple reports at least 25 non-combatants died along with 40 or more Daesh fighters, in a major daytime Coalition air raid on Mosul University. A single source report claimed as many as 90 students were additionally killed in the attack, with 155 people seriously injured. CENTCOM later announced it was investigating the allegations.

One of a number of major Coalition airstrikes to target central Mosul on March 19th (via Daesh propaganda film)

Rise of incidents in Syria

Despite Coalition strikes decreasing in Syria compared to the previous six months, Airwars tracked an alarming rise in reported civilian fatalities.

From December 1st 2015 to May 31st 2016, there were 32 reported incidents of concern in Syria which we graded as ‘Fair.’ It is our provisional view at Airwars that between 197 and 274 civilians died in these events – a 38 per cent rise in likely civilian deaths above the previous six months.

These increased casualty figures may reflect less restrictive rules of engagement introduced by the Coalition – though officials have insisted these have not led to more civilian deaths.

Ali Sleiman Al Abdallah and his children, killed in a reported Coalition strike December 7th 2015 (via Hassakah Youth Union)

On December 7th 2015, in one of the worst mass casualty events credibly attributed to the Coalition as many as 47 civilians were reported killed and 17 injured in an alleged US Apache helicopter and fast jet attack on the village of al Khan near al Hawl. Locals were involved in an altercation with Islamic State militants according to the McClatchy news agency, with Coalition aircraft attacking a convoy of reinforcements as it entered the village.According to the Global Post, the airstrikes took place in the early hours of December 7th. CENTCOM later announced it was assessing the claims, though has yet to declare its findings. .

On January 7th-8th, eight children and three women were widely reported killed in what most sources claimed to be a Coalition airstrike on Khuzaymah, Al Raqqah governorate.  While Raqqah is Being Slaughtered and Radio Alkul did not attribute the attack, the Syrian Observatory blamed the Coalition.

Nine of the 13 reported incidents in Syria for February were clustered around the city of al Shadadi, recently captured by Kurdish forces with direct air support from the Coalition. A CENTCOM spokesman told Airwars that only two of these reported incidents were under investigation.

Proxy ground forces advanced on so-called Islamic State on a number of fronts in May, heavily supported by Coalition air power. The month also saw the highest number of alleged civilian deaths to date from Coalition actions. Forty out of 90 alleged fatalities are presently assessed as likely by Airwars.

On May 20th, up to ten civilians were reported killed in an alleged Coalition evening strike at Al Arshaf village on the outskirts of Ekhitrin town, in the northern Aleppo countryside.

And on 31st May – 1 June,  as many as 15 civilians including at least three children reportedly died in Coalition airstrikes in support of a major Kurdish ground offensive against Daesh near Manbij. Three sources alleged that the Coalition was responsible. When approached by the Independent, a Coalition spokesperson said they were ‘unaware’ of any civilian casualty allegations, despite widespread media coverage.

Al Ghadd TV reports on civilian fatalities  around Manbij, June 1st 2016

Major Russian military developments

Russia’s September 2015 intervention in Syria radically changed the situation for both civilians and combatants on the ground.

Russia’s initial focus was not as it claimed so-called Islamic State, but rebel groups in northern and western Syria. Backed by heavy Russian airpower, Assad regime forces were able to break out of their beseiged strongholds, and launch major offensives against rebel groups. Airwars mapping of likely civilian deaths from Russian airstrikes to December 31st shows most were far from ISIL’s strongholds.

Airwars mapping of likely civilian fatalities from Russian strikes to December 31st shows most actions were focused away from Islamic State-held areas

Russian airstrikes and civilian casualty allegations peaked in February 2016, with 166 claimed civilian casualty events that month attributed to Moscow. However, the announcement of a key Syrian ceasefire at the end of that month saw a major reduction in Russian activity. In addition, on March 14th Russia announced it would partially withdraw its forces from Syria.

Russia’s focus then shifted briefly to targeting Daesh in central and eastern Syria. On March 27th, Assad regime ground forces aided by Russian airpower recaptured the historic city of Palmyra, ending 10 months of occupation following a three week ground offensive. But Russia also continued to heavily target non-ISIL forces and civilian areas – particularly in and around Aleppo.

Russian Civilian Casualties

For December 1st 2015 to May 31st 2016, Airwars has tracked 630 alleged civilian casualty events in Syria attributed to international airpower. Of these, 59 claimed incidents were attributed to the Coalition (9%), while 571 events (91%) were attributed to Russia.

A total of 2,792 to 3,451 non-combatants were allegedly killed by Russia over six months in these 571 claimed events. This is likely to be a significant over-estimate. As Airwars reported in A Reckless Disregard for Human Lives, in the first three months of Russian airstrikes in Syria, only 60 per cent of alleged civilian fatalities were likely to have resulted from Moscow’s actions. Russia still continues to insist it has killed no civilians in its air campaign in Syria.

In total, 782 alleged civilian casualty events had been attributed to Russia from September 30th 2015 to May 31st 2016. Per month, this is approximately five times the number of alleged Coalition events claimed across Syria and Iraq. With so many Russia allegations, Airwars has so far only been able to publish strike and assessment data to December 31st 2015. Our assessment of January 2016 will publish shortly.

Among the worst incidents so far assessed, between 61 and 90 civilians were killed in airstrikes on Khusham on January 23rd – with at least 40 others injured. Almost all local sources blamed Russia for the attack on civilian neighbourhoods.

Tracking of such allegations in Syria can provide a helpful indicator of casualty trends and broader military activity. Civilian casualty allegations fell by more than 70 per cent in March for example, following the Syrian ceasefire and Russia’s partial drawdown.By April, Airwars was recording similar numbers of allegations against Russia and the Coalition (in Iraq and Syria.) However that trend reversed in late May, with reported Russian strikes and civilian casualty claims once more escalating.

▲ A picture shows the aid team trying to remove the casualties from the incident location where seven civilians were reported killed and 23 injured in two alleged Coalition raids on May 24th,2016.

Published

December 2015

Written by

Basile Simon and Chris Woods

Major military developments

    November 2015 saw the greatest number of Coalition actions yet reported in the 16-month war, with 529 airstrikes in Iraq and 232 in Syria. Overall, a total of 5,638 air strikes had been carried out in Iraq, and 2,944 in Syria to the end of the month.

The 13 allies had between them cumulatively dropped 31,873 bombs and missiles against Daesh to month’s end, with a 20 per cent rise in the number of munitions released compared with October. In part, this spike was due to the Coalition individually targeting and destroying hundreds of individual ‘Daesh oil tankers’ in Syria.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXvrfmzH05M

    In the wake of the November 13th Paris terrorist atrocities, France stepped up its attacks on so-called Islamic State in Syria, and also sent back to the region the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.
    After more than 5,000 airstrikes in Iraq, the US-led Coalition finally conceded on November 20th that it had ‘likely’ killed civilians in Iraq – six months after a similar admission for Syria. Seven or more civilians reportedly died in an airstrike at Hatra on March 13th – including two women and three children.

As Airwars noted at the time, it remains unclear why the Coalition delayed admitting the deaths for so long. A declassified CENTCOM document shows investigators had already concluded by early May of this year that “the allegation of CIVCAS [at Hatra] was likely credible.”

    Russia continued its own major air campaign in Syria, with heavy bombers being used for the first time. Once again there were reports of a significant number of civilians killed in Kremlin strikes (see below.)

    Two major Coalition bombing campaigns took place in November in Iraq. In the north, the Coalition supported a joint operation by the Peshmerga, the PKK, and the People’s Protection Units to retake Sinjar and regain control of Highway 47, a major Daesh supply route between Raqqa and Mosul. Coalition aircraft carried out 155 air strikes in the vicinity.

Two Syrian cities immediately across the border from Sinjar were also heavily bombed by the Coalition: 70 and 55 strikes were carried out respectively around Al Hawl and Hasakah.

In the centre of Iraq, the city of Ramadi also saw heavy bombings. The capital of the Anbar province had fallen to Daesh in May 2015. The Iraqi army has since encircled the town, giving a ‘last warning’ to civilians to leave the city before an assault. Coalition aircraft conducted 149 airstrikes in the near vicinity.

French combat aircraft in the Middle East November 2015 (Ministère de la Défense)

Coalition civilian casualties

    There were 18 alleged civilian casualty incidents in November 2015 reportedly involving Coalition aircraft – 13 in Iraq and five in Syria. Total claimed fatalities were 129 to 152 non-combatants killed.

Airwars presently assesses nine of these events as fairly reported: that is two or more credible sources, and Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. Between 67 and 90 civilians were reported killed in these incidents (with an estimated 48-68 deaths in Iraq and 19-22 in Syria.)

Seven further events are currently poorly reported; one is contested; and one incident appears to have been fabicated by so-called Islamic State.

    A number of major casualty incidents were attributed to Coalition aircraft for the month. On November 10th, nine named civilians from two families were reported killed in an alleged Coalition dawn strike at the small Syrian village of al Bootha – close to the scene of fierce clashes between Kurdish ground forces and Daesh.

Missile fragment reportedly found at scene of a lethal Mosul airstrike, November 16 2015 (via NRN)

On November 16th between seven and 12 civilians were reported killed following an alleged Coalition strike on the directorate of agriculture in Mosul. A further 28 to 39 people were reported injured. The incident took place in the Al Faisaliah area, and according to reports most if not all of those killed had no links to Daesh. An ISIL propaganda video showed some victims in their vehicles, with others including children taken to a local hospital.

Again in Mosul, on November 19th up to 10 workers at a dairy factory were reported killed after a Daesh IED facility next door was destroyed in a Canadian airstrike. In a later statement to CBC News, Canadian Forces Major General Charles Lamarre said the strike had been reviewed and “did not reveal any information to suggest that civilians had been harmed or killed… The nearest structure to the strike was well outside of the explosive radius of the weapons used‎.” However, graphic footage released by Islamic State showed not only the apparent destroyed IED facility but also a badly damaged adjacent building, including dead and injured persons.

And on November 26th, local sources in Fallujah alleged that Coalition aircraft bombed a house with three families inside near Khalid Bin Al Waleed mosque, killing at least 12 and wounding six more – mostly children and women. The Baghdad Centre for Human Rights said that both Coalition and Iraq government aircraft had participated in the attack, while all other sources pointed only to the Coalition.

Aftermath of Canadian strike at Mosul November 19th which reportedly killed 10 civilians (via Nineveh Reporters Network)

    On November 25th, claims were made on social media that a ‘French airstrike’ had struck a primary school in Mosul, killing 28 children. However local activists and journalists strongly denied the claim, which appears to have been a crude propaganda attempt by Daesh. The Nineveh Reporters Network challenged the claimed attack, insisting that ‘there has been no Coalition strike in Mosul for the past three days.’ MNB also described the claim as Daesh propaganda, while an Iraqi official told Shafaaq there was “no truth as reported by some media about the killing of a number of pupils in an aerial bombardment of a primary school by French aircraft.”
    In Syria on November 18th, up to ten civilians were killed in an airstrike on a civilian fuel facility in the Brigade 17 area of the city. Most sources attributed the attack to the Coalition. However, the Russian Ministry of Defence has also reported destroying 500 fuel trucks in the Raqqa and Dayr az Zawr areas at the time, making attribution difficult.

Russian civilian casualties

    At Airwars we’ve now finished assessing Russian airstrikes in Syria to October 31st, and have as a result revised upwards our minimum estimate to 345-501 likely killed in the first 32 days of Russian strikes.

According to our Syria  researcher, based on field reports from monitoring groups and media and social media claims, there were 98 new civilian casualty incidents in Syria for November which allegedly involved the Russian Air Force. The total claimed casualty range for these new events was 394 to 414 killed.

However, due to the large number of ongoing alleged incidents involving Russia, we are still assessing these new events – and so are currently unable to make a provisional estimate of likely deaths. Other monitoring groups have published their own assessments, all of which indicate that many hundreds of civilians have now been killed in Syria by Russia:

– The Violations Documentation Centre estimates that in the two months to November 30th, Russia killed 835 non-combatants in Syria. This compares with 302 civilians the VDC believes have been killed by the US-led Coalition in Syria since September 2014.

– The Syrian Network for Human Rights reports that to December 1st, Russian strikes in Syria had killed 570 civilians, including 152 children and 60 women.

– And the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that to November 20th only, that “Russian airstrikes had killed 403 civilians, including 97 children under 18 and 69 adult women over 18 years of age.”

Bustan el-Qasr in Aleppo province, following an alleged Russian airstrike on November 3rd which killed eight civilians (via Shaam News)

 

▲ One of 40 vehicles destroyed in an alleged Coalition strike at Mosul which killed up to 17 civilians (via NRN)

Published

November 2015

Written by

Chris Woods

Major developments

    The US-led Coalition ended October 2015 having carried out 5,107 airstrikes in Iraq and 2,712 in Syria so far in its 14-month air war against Daesh. Some 28,578 bombs and missiles had been dropped by 13 allies.
    There were 22 reported incidents of concern in October 2015 – ten in Syria and 13 in Iraq – in which the US-led Coalition is alleged to have killed between 83 and 102 civilians. Most events were either poorly reported or contested – a sign of the deteriorating security situation in the field for casualty recorders. Only three incidents in October are presently assessed by Airwars as having being fairly reported, which between them appear to have killed between 8 and 11 civilians.
    Russia reported carrying out 1,391 combat sorties to the end of October – its first full month of airstrikes – which it says “engaged 1,623 terrorist objects.”
    There were also 104 incidents of concern in Syria in which Russian aircraft allegedly killed between 528 and 730 non-combatants. We presently assess 44 of these incidents as fairly reported, which between them are likely to have killed between 255 and 375 civilians.
    Canada became the third nation to announce its withdrawal from the Coalition air campaign after Belgium and Denmark – though strikes are presently continuing under the new administration of Justin Trudeau.
    The US reported its first combat fatality of the war, following the death of Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Delta Force in an Iraqi ground raid.

Civilian casualties

    Reported civilian fatalities by the US-led Coalition were significantly down for October – in part because of a steep decline in airstrikes in Syria. Even so, there were 22 alleged incidents of concern involving multiple reported civilian deaths.

The Al Fadhi children (via Mosul Ateka)

In Kisik near Mosul on October 18th for example, at least five civilians died when missiles apparently struck a local taxi. Abdullah Fathi Al Fadhi was killed with his wife and at least two of their children (pictured.) Another child reportedly survived the attack. Taxi driver Ammar Anwar Mohammed Jamil (who held a Masters in computing and mathematics from Mosul University) also died as he was bringing the family back to Mosul from the Turkish border. The Coalition has confirmed carrying out an airstrike at Kisik that day.

    For more on Centcom’s November 20th admission that Coalition aircraft have ‘likely’ killed civilians in Iraq, see our report here
    A high number of reported incidents – 104 in total – allegedly involved the Russian Air Force in Syria for October according to Airwars researchers. Though still assessing these events, we can offer some preliminary findings.

– The number of Russian airstrikes which caused non-combatant deaths has to an extent been exaggerated. With all Syrian regime combat aircraft also Russian-made, some confusion appears inevitable. In addition, for some events it remains unclear whether fatalities were caused by Russian (or Syrian) aircraft, or by ground forces. And on at least two occasions, alleged civilian fatalities at Bukamal and Palmyra may have been caused by the US-led Coalition.

– Even so, credible allegations of civilian fatalities inflicted by the Russan Air Force are worryingly high. All regional casualty recorders report extensive non-combatant deaths – often in mass casualty incidents (see table below.) The majority of these deaths have occured in areas which are not under Daesh occupation. These include parts of Syria controlled by other extremist groups including Jaish al-Fatah and the al-Nusra Front, as well as by more moderate factions.

– Credible reports frequently indicate the deliberate targeting by Russia of civilian neighburhoods and infrastructure – with graphic evidence on a number of occasions of civil defence rescuers deliberately targeted in so-called ‘double tap’ strikes.

– Russia’s limited use of precision or ‘smart’ munitions is a key factor in higher civilian casualties.

– Airwars presently assesses 44 Russian incidents as having likely killed civilians in Syria to October 30th – which between them reportedly killed 255 to 375 non-combatants. This is roughly ten times the level of credible allegations against US-led Coalition operations in Syria.

    In one of the worst known incidents, an air raid shelter in the village of al Ghantu was reportedly hit in a Russian airstrike on October 15th, killing up to 48 people from one extended family. Among the dead were at least 23 children and nine women. Local cameramen filmed apparent Russian Air Force Su-24s bombing the town, despite the Kremlin making no reference to airstrikes in the governorate of Homs that day.

The moment a Russian missile hit al Ghantu, Oct 15th 2015

Estimates of civilians killed by Russian Air Force in Syria, September 30th- October 31st 2015

Monitoring group Estimated Russian-inflicted civilian fatalities
Airwars 255-375
Syrian Network for Human Rights 254
Violations Documentation Centre 329 or more
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 185*

* To October 28th

Coalition and Russian military actions

    Both the US-led Coalition and Russia continued to build up their air power in the region. Turkey opened up more bases for Coalition operations, while Russian Air Force fighters and bombers primarily operated from Hmeymim in Lattakia governorate – a stronghold of the Assad regime.
    A Kurdish Special Forces assault on a Daesh holding facility at Hawijah, Iraq led to the release of 70 civilian prisoners. However, Master Sergeant Joshua Wheeler of Delta Force was also killed in the raid – the first US combat fatality in its 14 month war against Islamic State. Responding to concerns that the war was expanding, CENTCOM issued a statement insisting: “It is important to realize that US military support to this Iraqi rescue operation is part of our overarching counter-terrorism efforts throughout the region and does not represent a change in our policy.  US forces are not in Iraq on a combat mission and do not have boots on the ground.“
    Canada’s Liberal Party returned to power in a surprise victory on October 19th 2015, with new premier Justin Trudeau vowing to end Ottawa’s year-long combat operations in Iraq and Syria. However, despite Trudeau’s government being sworn in on November 4th, Canadian airstrikes have so far continued.
    France carried out a second round of airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria on the night of October 8th, following a decision by President Hollande two weeks earlier to expand military operations against the terror movement. Two Rafales targeted a ‘Daesh suicide training centre.’

Rafale aircraft bombed Islamic State positions in Raqqah on the night of October 8th, as France stepped up operations against the terror group (Ministère de la Défense)

Published

October 2015

Written by

Basile Simon and Chris Woods

Major developments

    US-led Coalition strikes allegedly killed as many as 276 civilians in up to 25 problem events in Iraq and Syria in September 2015 In twelve of these events, there appears enough credible evidence  – coupled with confirmation of allied airstrikes in the vicinity – to suggest that a minimum of 86 civilians were killed by the Coalition in September Russia’s entry into the Syrian conflict on September 30th did not bode well. Between 42 and 50 non-combatants, including 11 children, were reported slain in the Kremlin’s first day of strikes An overall total of 7,200 strikes had been carried out by the US-led coalition to the end of the month, according to Airwars estimates. Some 4,605 strikes in Iraq accounted for almost 64% of this total, while 2,595 strikes had targeted Syria The air war again changed form in September – with France and Australia now targeting Daesh in Syria as well as in Iraq, while Denmark ended its airstrikes

A US Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle pops a flare while departing after refueling over the Middle East (USAF/ Staff Sgt. Sandra Welch)

Civilian casualties

    Airwars continues to be concerned at the number of credible reports of civilians being killed in Coalition strikes. We added 25 new incidents of concern for September 2015 to our evolving database. These new events allegedly killed at least 86 and as many as 157 civilians.

To the end of September 2015, Airwars had in total recorded 229 alleged civilian casualty incidents involving the Coalition dating back to August 2014. The overall alleged civilian fatality range was 621 to 1,859.

In the view of Airwars, 103 of these events are fairly reported and are of particular concern – with two or more sources and Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity.  Some 621 to 857 reported fatalities across Iraq and Syria were associated with these credible incidents.

In contrast, after 24,861 bombs and missiles dropped the Coalition has only conceded two ‘likely’ civilian deaths in Syria so far – and none in Iraq.

    With few reported Coalition strikes in Syria for the month, Iraq was the focus for most claims of civilian deaths.  On September 14th for example, an alleged Coalition strike hit the marketplace at Ar Rutbah, Iraq killing five non-combatants according to local media. No Coalition strikes were publicly reported in the vicinity. On the same day Daesh claimed that the Coalition accidentally struck an armed vehicle belonging to Shia militia at Bayji. There were no confirmed casualties.

On September 18th at least 43 civilians were reported killed at Senyah in Iraq in a strike by unidentified aircraft. Tribal leaders called on the Baghdad government to “open an urgent investigation into the identity of the planes.”

Najeeb and Tuka al Rezzo (Photo used here courtesy of family)

On September 21st four members of a Mosul family – university professor Mohannad Al Rezzo; his 17-year old son Najeeb Mohannad Al Rezzo; Mr al Rezzo’s sister in law Miyada Rezzo and her 21-year old daughter Tuka all died in a reported Coalition strike which was initially ignored by international media. Yale professor Zareena Grewal later wrote of the deaths of her close relatives for the New York Times: “I desperately want the Islamic State to be defeated, but I wonder if our rage at it has made us blind to anyone we kill along the way, even those whose lives have been terrorized by the group.”

And on September 29th, a Coalition strike on a former Waqf [religious affairs] building in Mosul being used by Daesh also appears to have struck a nearby marketplace, killing between 11 and 29 non-combatants. Eyewitness Said Ali Mohammed, who works in the nearby market, told Gulf Online that he was inside his shop at the time, which is located just 500 meters from the Waqf building. He described the first explosion as “enormous… while we were preoccupied with tending to neighbors and some of the injured on the street, a second bombing targeted people who had rushed in to help the wounded.”

    Russia’s entry into the Syrian conflict on September 30th caused devastating civilian casualties at a number of locations. At least 15 civilians died at Zafaraniya. At least 17 more non-combatants were killed at Talbisheh, and 8 or more at Al Rastan. Eleven children were among the dead.

None of the towns targeted by Russia were occupied by Daesh despite the Kremlin’s insistence it had “performed high accuracy strikes against international terrorist organization ISIS.”

Aftermath of Russian strikes at Talbiseh, Sept 30th 2015

Military actions

    September 2015 was the most intense month of bombings in Iraq so far, with 525 strikes carried out by the Coalition – setting another consecutive record after August 2015. As with August, Mosul and Ramadi were heavily bombed (87 and 67 strikes respectively).

In Syria however, only 127 strikes were carried out – making September 2015 the second least intense month of bombings. The small city of Mar’a, north of Aleppo, was targeted by 28 strikes.

An Iraqi army soldier moves away from a 120 mm mortar he fires during training at Besmaya Range Complex, Iraq, (US Army/ Cpl. Nelson Rodriguez)

    The United States remained the primary power in the international Coalition, having carried out 89 per cent of all strikes in Syria in September, and 72 per cent of all airstrikes in Iraq.
    In addition to 18 or more new airstrikes in Iraq in September, France carried out its first attack on Daesh inside Syria. President Hollande has described France’s role in Syria as “acting in self defence“, rather than helping the Assad regime.
    Australia also began airstrikes in Syria. After three Hornets reportedly destroyed their targets in eastern Syria, then-defence minister Kevin Andrew spoke with ABC Australia: “We work within very strict rules of engagement, and those rules of engagement are to ensure as far as possible that we don’t have unwanted civilian casualties.“

    ‘No circumstances.’ UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (Chris Beckett)

    While the UK remained heavily committed in Iraq, the government had yet to win Parliamentary approval for strikes against Daesh in Syria. Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, referring to the current refugee crisis in Europe, said that this “problem” needed to be dealt “at source,” with Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly hoping to obtain Parliamentary authorisation for airstrikes.

However new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – historically anti-war – has said  he can think of “no circumstances” under which he would back any UK military intervention in Syria. A previous attempt to authorise airstrikes  (against the Assad regime) was defeated in Parliament 285-272, in August 2013.

    Denmark voluntarily and publicly revealed that one of its attacks “might have caused civilian casualties.” This set a new benchmark for transparency, wrote Airwars guest reporter Rasmus Raun Westh. A CENTCOM investigation later concluded the strike “most likely” did not kill civilians.

Denmark’s F-16s also ended their year long engagement after plane mechanics appealed to the public, warning of ongoing stress and overwork at their base in Kuwait, as well as cracks in the planes.

Danish aircrew load a 2,000lb bomb onto an F-16 for its last Iraq mission (Danish MoD/Ronny Rasmussen)

 

▲ A stunned survivor at the scene of an alleged Coalition strike on the Sunni Waqf building, September 27th 2015 (via NRN News)

Published

September 2015

Written by

Basile Simon and Chris Woods

Major Developments

    6.548 Coalition airstrikes had been carried out to the end of August 2015 according to an Airwars count. Of these, 62% targeted Daesh in Iraq (4,080 strikes) with 2,468 airstrikes in Syria In total, Coalition aircraft had dropped 22,478 bombs and missiles on Iraq and Syria to August 31st Airwars recorded 12 new alleged civilian casualty incidents attributed to the Coalition for August. At least 62 non-combatants reportedly died in these events A report by  Syrian casualty monitor SN4HR claimed that at least 225 civilians were killed by the Coalition in Syria alone to July 31st, 2015 Denmark set a new transparency benchmark, announcing within days that its aircraft may have been involved in a civilian casualty incident in Iraq in late August Turkey became the 13th nation officially to join the coalition, as Denmark announced its own operations would temporarily end on October 1st

Civilian Casualties

    We added 12 new incidents of concern for August 2015 to our evolving database, which to the end of the month had recorded 188 such events.  Between them these new incidents were alleged to have killed at least 62 civilians.

Two August incidents at Ar Rutbah in Iraq were denied by the Coalition, which insisted it had not carried out strikes on the town on the days in question. A further six cases are presently weakly reported.

Four events warrant particular attention. On August 11th US aircraft bombed the western Syrian border town of Atmeh. Nine named civilians – including seven children – died according to multiple eyewitness and survivor reports.

A single civilian was reported killed in a possible Coalition strike at Al Qaim in Iraq on August 18th, while on the following day a missile reportedly struck a public celebration in Mosul, killing as many as 18 people including local dentist Dr. Samir Ibrahim (pictured.)

The fourth incident was self-reported by the Danish military, and is currently being investigated by CENTCOM. This involved potential civilian casualties in the Irbil area of Iraq – most likely the villages of Kisik or Sultan Abdallah.

    In total, to the end of August 2015 Airwars had identified 187 alleged civilian casualty incidents involving Coalition aircraft, and 10 ‘friendly fire’ cases. These represented a total alleged civilian fatality range of 1,170 to 1,539.

In the view of Airwars, 86 of these events warrant particular concern – with two or more credible sources and Coalition strikes confirmed in the near vicinity. Some 539 to 734 reported fatalities across Iraq and Syria were associated with these incidents. To date, the Coalition has only conceded two ‘likely’ civilian deaths.

    The Syrian Network for Human Rights published a report on August 11th investigating 24 new problem incidents in Syria from February 2015. It documents the death of 125 individuals, including 55 children, 26 women, and three members of armed opposition groups.

The report deplores Daesh’s strategy of establishing strongholds in densely populated areas, but also concludes: “International Coalition forces violated the International Humanitarian Law by targeting ISIL forces in densely populated civilian areas.” It also urges “serious investigations” into the incidents it describes, and asks that “compensation should be given to those affected.”

Military Actions

    The Coalition carried out 522 airstrikes in Iraq in August 2015, topping the previous record of July 2015 (518 strikes). These attacks were mainly targeting the vicinity of Mosul and Ramadi (75 strikes each), and supporting the Peshmerga offensive in Tuz (62 strikes).

A total of 210 strikes were also carried out in Syria, mostly around Al Hasakah (90 strikes), Aleppo and Kobane (31 strikes each).

On average, 23.62 strikes were carried out each day in August, making this the second most intense month of Coalition strikes so far.

An F-16 takes off from Incirlik Air Base, Turkey August 12 2015 (USAF/ Snr Airman Krystal Ardrey)

    The United States remains the dominant partner in the Coalition’s war against Daesh. According to Coalition data supplied to Airwars, just 2 airstrikes were carried out by the US’s partners in Syria in August – with American aircraft carrying out 215 strikes (99 per cent.) In Iraq the US was responsible for 495 strikes, with its allies conducting a further 216 attacks (30 per cent.)

The UK was particularly active in Iraq in August, carrying out 36 new strikes – 24 by its Reaper drones. The Netherlands was the next most engagded with an estimated 100 bombs and missiles dropped during the month – roughly 33 airstrikes. Denmark dropped 81 bombs – approximately 24 strikes. France reported 23 new strikes, followed by Canada with 12 strikes, and Australia with an estimated 11 airstrikes.

    Following a gruesome attack on civilians in the border town of Suruc, Turkey opened its airbases to the US military last month, Turkish jets have carried out their first airstrikes as member of the coalition on August 29th. The Guardian, quoting Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency and the Dogan news agency, reports that these strikes may have taken place in Manbij and north of Aleppo. Defense Secretaty Ash Carter said: “We need them also—as a neighbor to this conflict zone, as a longtime NATO ally and a responsible member of the anti-ISIL coalition—to control the border, the long border they have with both Syria and Iraq, more than it has been controlled over the last year.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen announced that Denmark had decided to pull out of the Coalition and to send its jets home on October 1st. The four active and three reserve F-16s had already flown 476 missions and dropped 425 bombs, according to the Defence Ministry. According to Associated Press, Danish aircrews were being stretched too thinly by the extended campaign: “Last month, Danish plane mechanics warned against extending Denmark’s one-year mission with Operation Inherent Resolve, saying staff members were stressed and some of the planes had cracks.”

    Junaid Hussain (pictured) a 21-year-old from Birmingham, UK and number three on the Pentagon’s “kill list” of Daesh targets, was reportedly slain by a US drone strike. In addition, Al Baghdadi’s number two, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, was also reportedly killed – although it’s the third time the Coalition claims to have taken his life.

The British government also later admitted that it had carried out its first drone targeted killing away from the battlefield on August 21st, killing two UK citizens and a third alleged terror suspect when a car was struck by a Reaper near Ar Raqqa in Syria. The RAF attack, independent of Coalition operations, sparked intense national and international debate.

    The Coalition was very active around the Iraqi town of Tuz, supporting a Peshmerga offensive which regained 200 square kilometers of terrain and seven villages from Daesh, according to CJTF-OIR: “Coalition forces carried out 13 deliberate and 12 dynamic strikes over a three-day period in support of the Peshmerga operation.“
    Vital Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions passed the 1,000 mark in Iraq and Syria for the first time as the UK, France and Australia expanded their ISR operations into Syria. Tracking by Airwars shows that after more than a year of operations, ISR provision still lags far behind that in Afghanistan.

Published

July 2015

Written by

Chris Woods

ABOVE: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, takes questions during a ‘town hall’ session in Baghdad July 18th (US Army/ Spc. Tristan D. Bolden)

Additional reporting by Basile Simon, Kinda Haddad and Latif Habib

Major Developments

     In the two weeks since our last report, the Coalition has carried out 246 new airstrikes in Iraq, with a further 162 attacks on Islamic State in Syria Turkey begins offensive air operations against Daesh in Syria, bombing three positions near the border The UK reveals that its pilots have in fact carried out airstrikes in Syria – against the express wishes of parliament As the coalition air assault on Raqaa continues, credible claims of civilian deaths continue to mount. Mosul has also seen a number of fresh reports of civilian deaths

Civilian Casualties

     In the past two weeks, eight new events have been identified by monitoring groups and media sources – in which the coalition has reportedly killed up to 34 civilians. Five incidents were in Ar Raqaa in Syria, while an additional three took place in Mosul, Iraq
    As coalition airstrikes continued to batter the key Islamic State city of Ar Raqaa, local monitoring groups all registered a steep rise in alleged civilian deaths. Three separate incidents on July 11th led to claims that nine non-combatants died, including a civilian firefighting crew and four members of one family.

#Raqqa a women die with 3 of her children and her husband leg was cut Because Airstrikes by Coalition warplanes Yesterday #Syria #ISIS

— Abu Ibrahim Raqqawi (@raqqa_mcr) July 11, 2015

    Mosul was also heavily targeted by the coalition, with up to 22 new civilian deaths claimed.

In one incident, waiter Muhannad Hisham Alnemah died in an alleged coalition airstrike near the Al Afandi Restaurant in the main street of Hadbah neighborhood. An unspecified additional number of restaurant staff and customers were also reported killed and injured.

Muhannad Hisham, killed in an alleged coalition strike on Mosul July 17 2015 (via Mosul Ateka)

According to the Mosul Ateka site, Muhannad had looked out of the restaurant door during a coalition airstrike – and had seen a terrified young child in the street. He rescued the child, but was then struck in the head by shrapnel as he re-entered the building. He later died of his injuries in hospital.

Muhannad’s death occurred on the first day of Eid, the public holiday celebrating the end of the Ramadan fasting period.

 

    The monitoring group Syrian Network For Human Rights – a key source of Airwars data – published a new report detailing the number of people (both civilians and fighters) who have been reported killed in Syria’s civil war between January and June 2015.

In total, 11,090 new deaths were recorded. Of these, some 8,509 (77%) died at the hands of the Assad regime, while Islamic State accounted for 1,490 fatalities, or a further 15 per cent.

Worryingly, the coalition was reported by SN4HR to have killed more civilians in the first six months of 2015 than either Kurdish liberation forces or Al Qaeda affiliate the al Nusra Front.

Military Actions

    Turkey began airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria on July 24, with the New York Times reporting that “Three F-16 jets bombed two command centers and a meeting point for Islamic State fighters across the border from Kilis, in southern Turkey, without entering Syrian airspace.”

Turkey also announced that it would now allow the United States to use a key airbase at Incirlik for airstrikes against Daesh, 

According to reports, the decision by Turkey to fight alongside the international military coalition came after Daesh carried out a suicide bombing on the town of Suruc which killed 32 Turkish civilians. 

    Muhsin Al Fadhli (via al Watan)

    The Pentagon announced that US forces had killed the leader of the so-called Khorasan Group on July 8th. Muhsin Al Fadhli died in a US drone strike near the town of Sarmadan, according to a spokesman. He was described as head of an al-Nusra Front faction which the US says is planning terrorist acts against the West. Airstrikes against the group are reported separately from those against Islamic State, and appear to be unilateral US actions.

    The British government revealed that its pilots have also been carrying out airstrikes in Syria – despite a parliamentary vote explicitly banning such actions.

Responding to a Freedom of Information request from the legal charity Reprieve, the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced that British pilots had previously carried out strikes in Syria while embedded with US forces.

According to reports, Royal Navy pilots had flown FA-18 Super Hornets on Syrian bombing runs which were launched from the US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. It remains unclear whether embedded British drone crews have also carried out airstrikes in Syria.

    Britain also lowered its count of the number of airstrikes carried out in Iraq by almost 30% – with strike numbers to June 30th dropping from 308 to 226. According to the MoD, the move was to bring it in line with coalition counting methods.

An F/A-18 Super Hornet of the type flown by embedded British pilots launches from the USS Carl Vinson, May 2015 (US Navy/ Specialist 2nd Class John Philip Wagner Jr)

 

▲ Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, listens to a soldier’s question during a 'town hall' session with US personnel in Baghdad, July 18 2015 (US Army/ Spc. Tristan D. Bolden)