Reports

Reports

Published

May 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Alex Hopkins, Anna Zahn, Clive Vella, Eleftheria Kousta, Hermes, Laurie Treffers, Maysa Ismael, Ned Ray, Oliver Imhof, Shihab Halep and Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Major Conflict Monitoring

Putin-Erdogan ceasefire brings Russia’s air campaign on Idlib to a temporary halt

As the COVID-19 pandemic morphed into the most widespread global public health crisis in a century, there were growing calls for an end to conflicts around the world in order to give public authorities the respite needed to manage the crisis. This, along with Turkey’s unprecedented intervention in Idlib at the end of February, prompted Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan to hold high-level talks in Moscow on March 5th. Six hours of negotiation concluded with a ceasefire agreement, which would take hold the next day.

As part of the deal, a security corridor 6km north and 6km south of Idlib’s key M4 motorway, which connects the government-held cities of Aleppo and Latakia, would be created and joint Turkish-Russian patrols along the M4 would take place. According to local sources, there were reports of Syrian Regime bombardment on the first day of the ceasefire on the towns of al-Ziyarah, Bara and Sarmin. However, from March 7th onwards, the ceasefire was largely maintained by both sides. As a result, Airwars researchers reported no civilian harm allegations attributed to Russian airstrikes after March 5th.

However before the ceasefire came into effect, Airwars tracked 10 locally reported civilian harm events  that were both solely and partially attributed to Russia. Of these strikes, seven targeted areas in Idlib governorate, while two took place in Aleppo and one strike hit an area in Hama.

Unsurprisingly, this represented a dramatic decline in alleged civilian harm incidents attributed to Russia duringFebruary. In total, across these 10 new incidents in March, between 32 and 48 civilians were allegedly killed by Russian strikes – in comparison to between 182 and 226 civilians who were reportedly killed the previous month. Among the latest victims were up to 12 children and 7 women. Up to 86 further non-combatants were reportedly wounded during the month by Russian military actions.

While the number of casualties was significantly lower, it is important to note that the number of civilian fatalities per incident was actually higher this month than in February. In March, on average up to 4.8 civilians were killed per incident – more than double the fatality rate per incident for February, which stood at 2.1. This suggests that a greater proportion of strikes took place in densely populated areas where the risk of civilian harm was high.

On March 1st four civilian harm incidents took place. Two occurred in Aleppo governorate (the towns of Kafar Natin and al-Sahara), one took place in the town of Qatoun in Hama, and one in Batneta in Idlib. All the other incidents during March took place in Idlib.

Two of the most devastating airstrikes occurred in al-Fou’a on March 2nd and in Idlib city. In al-Fou’a, local reports estimate that up to 11 civilians were killed and 15 more injured in an attack. The day after in al-Thalatheen Street in Idlib city, up to nine civilians were killed and 21 more were injured after Russian warplanes and Regime forces based in Saraqib allegedly targeted a building sheltering internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, three members of the Hamdou family were killed including two children named Rimas and Shahem.

However, the most deadly attack this month came on March 5th, on the day Presidents Putin and Erdogan held their talks in Moscow. This alleged Russian airstrike, which many local sources described as a “massacre” hit a shelter for displaced families in Ma’arat Masrin in the northern countryside of Idlib, killing up to 16 civilians and injuring another 32. As many as five children were among the dead, as well as seven women.

طائرات الاحتلال الروسي تقتل 16 مدنياً في "معرة مصرين" بريف #إدلبhttps://t.co/XihIwSITOg#سوريا #روسيا pic.twitter.com/qSwChrSJL3

— الائتلاف الوطني السوري (@SyrianCoalition) March 5, 2020

Turkey in Syria

The deal signed between Presidents Putin and Erdogan in Moscow on March 5th effectively saw the end of Turkish military actions in Idlib and northwest Syria. However, there were several reports of civilian harm incidents that were attributed to Turkish actions in other parts of Syria after March 5th. In fact, despite the ceasefire in Idlib and Turkey supposedly de-escalating its intervention in Syria, Aiwars reported a slight rise in alleged Turkish civilian harm incidents in the month of March – though with a lower death toll from these actions compared to February.

According to local reports, as many as 10 civilian harm incidents allegedly resulted from Turkish-led actions, resulting in 4 civilian deaths and injuring up to 27 others. In comparison, February saw nine civilian harm incidents, resulting in six civilian deaths and the injuring of up to 22 others. Furthermore, children appeared to bear the brunt of these recent attacks, as three of the four civilian deaths reported were below the age of 17.

Three days before the ceasefire deal was signed, on March 2nd pro-Regime sources claimed that Turkish-led shelling on the town of Jourin in Hama had resulted in the deaths of a woman and a child, and the injuring of seven other civilians. This incident resulted in the most civilian casualties out of all Turkish incidents alleged this month.

7 civilians were injured in a terrorist attack with a rocket shell on Jourin town in the far northwest cs of #Hama. The terrorist organizations, backed by the Turkish, fired a rocket shell on #Jourin town that fell on a consolation house & injured seven civilians. pic.twitter.com/sLtuapeNOB

— 🇸🇾 NadieHarbieh 🇸🇾 (@HarbiehNadie) March 2, 2020

According to Airwars data, alleged Turkish-led attacks on civilians spiked in the last week of March. Half of the incidents recorded took place during that week. On March 23rd, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that an elderly man was injured in an artillery attack allegedly carried out by Turkish backed forces on the village of Um al-Hawaash in northern Aleppo. Two days later, Turkish-backed Faylaq al-Majd forces allegedly stormed the village of Sukariya in Tal Abyad district, injuring four people, including a child. On that same day, a child was killed and two others were injured in an alleged Turkish landmine explosion in the village of Zaytouna in Tal Abyad countryside. The following day, March 26th, Turkish forces stationed near Azaz reportedly fired rockets towards Tal Rifaat, injuring two civilians displaced from Afrin.

Image via ANF of a child who was injured following alleged Turkish shelling on the village of Sheikh Issa in Shehba, Aleppo.

Kurdish counterfire in Syria

Airwars researchers tracked four alleged civilian harm incidents linked to Kurdish counterfire actions in Syria in March – the name number of incidents reported in February. However, significantly more civilian deaths were reported. As many as seven civilians were allegedly killed from Kurdish actions compared to only one death tracked the previous month. Additionally, between 12 and 25 civilians were reportedly injured in these attacks.

The most deadly incident took place on March 18th in the city of Afrin. According to Al Modon news, YPG forces allegedly launched five mortars on various areas in the centre of Afrin. Two shells fell near the Dersem Hospital in Al-Failat Street, and two more near the Al Shifa’ Hospital near Mazout Street, witha shell also landing on Mazout Street. These attacks resulted in five civilian deaths, including two children, and injured up to 17 others. The Syrian Human Rights Committee published the names of the two children killed – Abdullah Al-Sayyid (10 years old) and Khaled Al-Daba’an (12 years old).

Image via Jesser Press showing the aftermath of the attack on Afrin city on March 18th.

The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

March was yet another relatively quiet month for the US-led coalition in Syria, with no allegations of civilian harm attributed to the International Coalition. The Coalition declared a total of 28 strikes in Syria and Iraq in the month of March. In Iraq, 20 strikes were conducted against ISIS targets, killing 10 militants, CJTFOIR asserted. Meanwhile in Syria, the Coalition launched eight strikes against ISIS targets.

However, March did see a renewal of claims of unilateral actions by the United States. There were reports of at least four airstrikes in eastern Syria, all of which hit areas in Al Bukamal in the Deir Ezzor Governorate. The first set of strikes of the month took place on March 11th on the villages of Al-Suwayyah, Al-Heri, and the Green Belt near the city of Al Bukamal. These airstrikes reportedly targeted sites belonging to Iran-backed Iraqi armed groups such as Harakat al-Nujaba, the Sayed Al-Shuhada Brigades, and the Haydarioun Brigade. The next day saw another set of airstrikes against the same targets in Al Bukamal. One week later, on March 19th, there were reports that the US hit targets belonging to Iranian-backed groups in Albu-Kamal. Finally, on March 24th, US airstrikes once again allegedly targeted Hezbollah positions in the Albu-Kamal area. It should be cautioned that Israel has continued to conduct its own strikes in Syria against Iranian- and regime-linked targets, and the US has not confirmed any unilateral actions, despite local claims.

In Iraq, the US launched airstrikes in the early hours of March 13th on five sites, where rockets and other weapons were stored by Kata’ib Hezbollah. These strikes came in retaliation against a rocket attack that killed two Americans and a British soldier and wounded 14 others at Camp Taji, an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad. That attack was allegedly carried out by a group known as Isabat al-Tha’ireen, believed allied to other Iran-backed groups in Iraq. According to Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the US military’s Central Command, one of the five sites attacked by the US in response was a weapons storage site at an airfield in Karbala. However, local reports asserted that the airstrikes hit an unfinished civilian airport, killing three Iraqi soldiers, two police officers and a civilian worker named Kerrar Sabbar.

Image via @AIaaAIaabadi of Karrar, a guard at the Karbala International Airport, who was reportedly sleeping in one of the airport’s halls at the time of the attack, and was killed.

Libya

Allegations of civilian harm in Libya remained stable compared to February. Between 17 and 19 civilians were reported killed, a slight decrease on the previous month’s 18 to 23 deaths The number of locally reported strikes increased however by 33% – up from 128 to 163.

The great majority of civilian harm incidents were attributed to the Libyan National Army (LNA). As Khalifa Haftar’s forces lost the ability to conduct drone strikes on Tripoli due to improved Turkish air defence it resorted mostly to artillery shelling, allegedly resulting in 16 to 18 civilian deaths. Altogether 58 LNA actions were recorded, nearly all of them artillery strikes.

In the worst locally reported incident of the month, four civilians, three of them children, were allegedly killed by an LNA artillery strike on Ain Zara on March 19th.

March saw the return of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones over Libya, helping the GNA (Government of National Accord) to regain some ground. Airwars recorded 20 GNA or Turkish strikes, allegedly leading to one civilian death and two injuries on March 28th.

A large number of strikes could not be attributed once again, most of them indiscriminate artillery shelling often hitting residential areas. Some 81 strikes were conducted by unknown belligerents and two more were contested between the GNA and LNA, reportedly resulting in two civilian injuries.

Image via Tk Yahroug Kl shy of Smoke rising over the Hadaba project area of Tripoli after shelling on March 25th 2020.

 

US counter terrorism campaigns

Somalia

In March Airwars monitored 15 claimed US actions in Somalia, one more than in February and all of which were airstrikes. AFRICOM officially declared 11 strikes in public press releases.

Between four and eight civilians were allegedly killed in three civilian harm events and two more civilians allegedly injured.

In the worst locally reported incident between four and six civilians were said to have been killed by an airstrike near Janaale on a minibus on March 10th.

The Intercept investigated the event and reported that 13-year-old Abdi Farhan Mahmoud and  70-year-old Abdirahman Ali Waadhoor were among the victims. The magazine spoke to Wadhoor’s son who said that his “father is a disabled man. He never had a problem with anyone.”

AFRICOM initially said it killed five Al Shabaab terrorists. It added however that it was currently reviewing information about alleged civilian harm.

In early March, Airwars also held constructive talks at the Pentagon in Washington DC with senior US defence officials, on its new Somalia monitoring project and civilian harm concerns.

Image via Somali Memo of a minibus allegedly destroyed by a US strike near Janaale on March 10th, 2020, which reportedly killed several civilians.

Yemen

According to CENTCOM, there were no US military strikes during March 2020 in Yemen. The last publicly declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province. Airwars researchers also tracked no local claims of US actions in Yemen during the month.

Pakistan

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

 

Advocacy

Military advocacy

During March, the US-led Coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria released two monthly civilian casualty reports – covering respectively up until January and February 2020. Of the 79 historical local Iraqi and Syrian allegations reviewed by the Coalition, only one was determined to be credible – a disappointing tally.

In total to March 31st 2020, the US and its allies had conceded at least 1,377 civilian deaths from their actions across Iraq and Syria since 2014.

The one case conceded by the Coalition in March was an Iraqi event which had previously been flagged by Airwars to CJTFOIR. On September 27th 2015, an unknown aircraft had struck the town of Duquq, killing at least seven civilians according to local reports. Almost five years on, the alliance finally accepted responsibility, noting that “Coalition aircraft conducted an airstrike against Daesh fighters. Regrettably, seven civilians were unintentionally killed as a result of the strike.”

Just prior to the global travel lockdown, Airwars also joined several other international NGOs and agencies in Washington DC, for roundtable talks with Acting US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Dr James Anderson, and other senior officials. The meeting was part of an ongoing Department of Defense policy review into civilian harm reduction, which is expected later in 2020.

Airwars was also a signatory to new civil society guidance for a model DoD policy on civilian harm, which included six policy papers directed at different aspects of casualty mitigation.

Airwars attended both multilateral and unilateral talks at the Pentagon in March (Creative Commons image via Wiyre Media)

European advocacy

On March 10th, our European advocacy officer attended the European Forum on Armed Drones meeting in Brussels, where we presented on our new Somalia database to some of our European partners.

Airwars’ deputy director also engaged in talks with EU officials on their Concept of Protection of Civilians in EU-led Military Operations and provided our expert knowledge on matters such as civilian harm, the protection of civilians, and civilian harm mitigation.

On March 15th, Airwars published a major investigation with international media partners on how key European allies are denying dozens of civilian deaths from their own actions in Syria and Iraq, despite the US-led Coalition finding these civilian harm claims to be credible. The nine-month-investigation with Belgian newspaper De Morgen, French newspaper Liberation, the BBC and RTL Netherlands revealed some shocking facts about how Belgium, France and the UK routinely deny civilian harm from their own military actions.

This past month we also published our analysis of newly declassified documents released by the Dutch Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs, and the Netherlands Public Prosecutor’s Office, which revealed a number of concerning facts about Dutch airstrikes on Hawijah and Mosul in 2015, in which dozens of civilians were killed.

The article further revealed that Airwars recently learned that at least one other ally within the US-led Coalition had refused to conduct the Hawijah strike based on the available intelligence. Our publication caused Dutch Members of Parliament to raise questions with the Minister of Defence. Throughout March, Airwars also continued to work alongside our Dutch partners to pursue accountability for Hawijah and Mosul victims, and to improve the Netherland government’s transparency and accountability policies.

UK advocacy

Airwars continued its advocacy work with the UK government in a bid to push for greater military accountability regarding civilian harm and working with partners towards that aim.

Airwars engaged with DFID on our extensive research database as well as our methodology for assessing civilian harm, whilst also discussing possible ways to expand engagement with the UK government on the protection of civilians in conflict.

Airwars also participated in a meeting with organisations such Save the Children, ICRC, UNA-UK Association, War Child, Protection Approaches and others in the Protection of Civilians Working group, to develop lines of engagement with the UK government on its own Protection of Civilian strategy. And the Security Alternative Policy Network’s accountability working group, of which Airwars is a part, held its first call in March, where members agreed on a series of action points and future steps.

At the end of March, Airwars additionally attended a virtual global conference organised by Crisis Action regarding the call for a global ceasefire by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. This morphed into a global campaign to push for a global ceasefire to allow countries better to confront COVID-19 global pandemic.

▲ Image via Syrian Civil Defence of volunteers working to disinfect displacement camps in northern Idlib, March 30th, 2020.

Published

April 2020

Written by

Mohammed al Jumaily

Assisted by

Alex Hopkins, Anna Zahn, Clive Vella, Eleftheria Kousta, Hermes, Laurie Treffers, Maysa Ismael, Ned Ray, Oliver Imhof, Shihab Halep and Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Major Conflict Monitoring

Russia bombardment intensifies as Syrian regime pushes deeper into Idlib

The month of February saw Russian airstrikes again ravage northwestern Syria, as the Syrian Regime continued its offensive in the governorates of Idlib and western Aleppo. For the first half of the month, Russia’s air campaign focused heavily on western Aleppo as regime forces attempted to capture the last remaining territory held by Syrian rebels in the province. The air campaign allowed Regime forces, on February 7th, to push through and take the strategic city of Saraqib, which had served as a bastion against the Assad Government since the early days of the Syrian Revolution. Meanwhile, heavy bombardment in western Aleppo allowed government forces to sweep through and take the last remaining rebel-held areas in Aleppo’s western periphery on February 16th, for the first time in over seven years.

In total, Airwars tracked 109 civilian harm events locally reported during the month of February that were both solely and partially attributed to Russia. Of these strikes, 52 targeted areas in Aleppo, while 57 took place in Idlib governorate.

This represented a nine per cent rise on the 100 events tracked in January 2020. In total, across these 109 new incidents, between 182 and 226 civilians were allegedly killed by Russian strikes – a notable increase from January, when between 145 and 213 civilians were allegedly killed. Among the victims were as many as 55 children and 32 women. Up to 404 further non-combatants were reportedly wounded during the month by Russian military actions.

The tempo of strikes and civilian harm were at their most intense at the beginning of the month, as Syrian regime forces made their most significant advances of the campaign in Idlib and Aleppo. There were an average of 5.5 daily alleged civilian harm incidents in the first week of February. This intensity somewhat lowered as the month wore on to 3.6 daily civilian harm allegations in the last week of the month.

Civilian deaths in Aleppo and Idlib spiked between February 8th and 11th and again on February 25th and 26th, as locals reported a series of mass casualty incidents. In the two days of February 25th-26th alone, Airwars researchers monitored up to 42 civilian deaths and as many as 81 injuries.

The city of Idlib saw two of the most significant mass casualty incidents of the month. On February 6th, Russain warplanes allegedly targeted a van in the Sheikh Thulth neighbourhood killing at least ten people including an ambulance driver, and wounding three others. Just five days later, a deadly airstrike reportedly carried out by Russian warplanes hit the al-Sinaa neighbourhood in Idlib, killing as many as 16 civilians and injuring up to 33 more – the worst incident recorded in the month of February. According to SMART News Agency, among those who perished were seven children. Jala Street and the industrial zones in the al-Sinaa neighbourhood were reportedly reduced to rubble following the deadly attack.

Destruction in the Sinaa neighbourhood in Idlib city following alleged Russian airstrikes on February 11th, 2020 (via Edlib Media Center)

Children were also among the main victims of mass casualty attacks in western Aleppo province. In the village of Abin Samaan, up to 12 civilians were killed, including six children; and up to 20 others were wounded in a series of four airstrikes allegedly carried out by Russian warplanes on a residential area of the village. Abin Samaan had reportedly been a refuge to hundreds of displaced persons fleeing conflict in the province.

The indiscriminate aerial bombardment of Idlib and Aleppo also resulted in another catastrophic wave of displacement. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, by the end of February, at least 950,000 people were forced from their homes as a direct result of the offensive, which began in December.

Turkey in Syria

In February, Turkey took a more active role in the conflict in northwestern Syria, beginning with retaliation against the Syrian Regime’s attacks on Turkish soldiers, and artillery support for Syrian rebel counter-offensives against the Assad Government’s advances – actions which slowly escalated into a fully-fledged military operation in Idlib against Damascus.

By February 12th, Turkey had stationed 30,000 troops at the Syrian border, and sent 5,000 soldiers as reinforcements to Idlib as well as establishing new defensive positions around Idlib city, bringing the total number of troops in the governorate to 9,000. However, a joint Russian-Syrian airstrike on a Turkish Army convoy in Balyun, which killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers – the single deadliest attack on Turkish forces since the start of their involvement in the Syrian Civil War – proved to be a key turning point, and resulted in the beginning of Operation Spring Shield. On February 28th, the Turkish Ministry of Defence claimed that it had struck 200 Syrian Government targets and killed 309 allied forces throughout Greater Idlib, forcing Russia and the Syrian Government to agree to new ceasefire terms.

Meanwhile, Airwars reported a rise in civilian harm allegations from Turkish actions in Syria. According to local reports, as many as nine civilian harm incidents allegedly resulted from Turkish-led actions, resulting in six civilian deaths and the injuring up to 22 others. This was a significant rise from the one alleged death from Turkish actions reported in January 2020.

Coinciding with Turkey’s increased involvement in the conflict in Syria, six of the nine  Turkish-led civilian harm allegations took place in the last week of the month. On February 25th, local Kurdsh news outlets reported that the Turkish army and allied forces shelled the village of Aqiba, killing three civilians and injuring three others. All those killed were from the same family: Seroşet Mihemed Hesen (12 years old), Fatma Ali (46 years old) and Hesen Izet Mihemed (55 years old).

A few days later, on February 28th, Turkish forces stationed at the Sheikh Nasser base reportedly launched rocket attacks on various areas in the town of al-Arima, west of Manbij. The attack also targeted Regime forces, killing four soldiers and injuring at least five others.

Civilians killed in the Akibe village as a result of alleged Turkish shelling (via @Karl_hakon)

Kurdish counterfire in Syria

Airwars researchers tracked four alleged civilian harm incidents linked to Kurdish counterfire actions in Syria in February, twice the number of cases reported in January. However, despite this increase, there was only civilian death reported, compared to the five deaths tracked the previous month. Additionally, between 22 and 24 civilians were reportedly injured as a result of YPG actions.

Three of the four civilian harm incidents took place on February 4th and 5th. At least one civilian was reportedly killed and thirteen others, among them five children, were reportedly injured in alleged YPG artillery strikes on the Al Ittehad al Arabi school in Afrin city on February 4th, 2020. Shabha Press reported that the artillery attack caused material damages to the school, while an educational course was taking place. The Syrian Civil Defence in Aleppo published the names of five of the injured children – Mervan Ali (8 years old), Qutaiba al-Quwatli (5 years old), Ryan Pasha (14 years old), Muhammad Salih al-Muhammad (15 years old) and Ali Arour (2 years old).

On that same day, another civilian harm incident took place in the village of al-Mihsinli near the city of Jarablus in eastern Aleppo, where up to three civilians were injured. The next day saw another attack on Azaz, injuring four civilians, including a woman and three children.

جرحى وأضرار مادية جراء استهداف ميليشيا PYD لمدرسة "الشريعة" في مدينة #عفرين شمال #حلب براجمات الصواريخ. pic.twitter.com/2RbN7gyUnH

— وكالة شهبا برس (@ShahbaPress) February 4, 2020

Images of the damage caused by an alleged YPG rocket attack on a school in northern Aleppo, February 4th 2020

The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

On February 12th, the US-led Coalition was blamed for one civilian harm event in the Khirbet Amo area in the city of Qamishli, in Syria’s Hasaka province. According to local reports, the incident occurred after Coalition forces on patrol encountered a Syrian Regime checkpoint, whereupon dozens of locals began protesting the presence of US-led forces in the area. According to SANA, a pro-regime outlet, locals then began throwing stones at the patrol vehicles. According to reports by Shabha Press, some of the protesters were carrying light weapons This reportedly prompted Coalition forces to open fire, killing a civilian and wounding another.

The Coalition declared a total of 18 strikes in Syria and Iraq in the month of February. In Iraq, 10 strikes were conducted against ISIS targets, killing 16 militants, CJTFOIR asserted. Meanwhile in Syria, the Coalition launched eight strikes against ISIS targets. Airwars did not track any other unilateral strikes carried out by the US during the month.

According to AFCENT, 85 munitions were fired from the air over Iraq and Syria during the month. This represented a 25% increase from January, where only 68 munitions were released.

Official data from US Air Force Central Command showed 85 munitions were fired by Coalition aircraft during February 2020.

Libya

The number of civilian casualties from air and artillery rose slightly in Libya compared to January. Between 18 and 23 civilian deaths were reported, marking a 13% increase on the previous month. This was despite the number of reported strikes falling by 32%, from 189 to 128.

The Libyan National Army (LNA) allegedly conducted 46 of these actions, leading to between 8 and 13 civilian deaths. In the worst incident, between two and three civilians were reportedly killed by shelling on the Al Shok area of Tripoli on February 4th.

The Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkey conducted 15 air and artillery strikes in February, according to local sources. One of the attacks led to civilian casualties, when a Turkish drone allegedly killed five civilians from one family in Castelverde on February 27th.

As the majority of strikes in Libya were allegedly being conducted by artillery at this time – continuing a trend from late January – it has become increasingly difficult to determine responsibility. A further 61 strikes were conducted by unknown forces; and another six were contested between the GNA and LNA. Between them, these led to five reported civilian deaths.

February was again marked by blatant violations of the UN arms embargo by both the UAE and Turkey. The continued fighting also led to a temporary suspension of ceasefire talks between the GNA and LNA.

Civilian being treated after injury sustained from alleged LNA shelling on Tripoli on February 4th, 2020 (via Tk Yahroug Kl shy).

US counter terrorism campaigns

Somalia

On February 25th, Airwars published a major new resource for Somalia, tracking declared and alleged US counter terrorism actions in the country since 2007.

The nine month review identified significantly higher levels of locally reported civilian harm than previously thought, with up to 280 non combatants allegedly killed in US actions since 2007. Declared US actions and reported militant deaths were also sharply up.

    Overall, Airwars identified 288 declared and alleged US kinetic actions in Somalia from 2007 to February 2020 – with 61 alleged civilian harm events. With a wider focus on US ground operations plus important new FOIA  information, Airwars placed the number of declared US actions at more than 200 (40% up on previous estimates.) The likely fatality range from US actions was placed at 71 to 139 civilians killed since 2007 – with 284 non combatants locally alleged slain in total. Airwars also identified claims of as many as 2,320 al Shabaab and ISIS militants allegedly killed by US forces.

For February 2020 only, Airwars tracked 14 claimed US actions in Somalia, all of which were publicly declared by US Africa Command. Among these were four locally alleged civilian harm events, which between them were said to have killed two civilians and injured seven others.

In the worst incident, a young disabled woman locally named as Nurto Kusow Omar Abukar died and three of her relatives were injured, after a US strike allegedly hit the town of Jilib in Middle Juba on February 2nd.

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during February 2020 in Yemen. The last publicly declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province. Airwars researchers reported no US actions in Yemen during the month.

Pakistan

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

Advocacy

European advocacy

Airwars deputy director Dmytro Chupryna presented in Poland at the 13th Europe-Ukraine Forum, titled ‘New Possibilities, New Threats’, on February 2nd-4th. Dmytro was on the discussion panel ‘Strength lays in numbers’, which aimed to explore security dilemmas in Central and Eastern Europe. The conversation focused on how a data-focused approach can help change military narratives in understanding civilian harm and broader protection of civilians, defence and security-related issues.

On February 6th, Airwars also published an interview by our Dutch conflict researcher and advocacy officer Laurie Treffers, with the authors of Missie F-16. The book interviewed pilots who were active as part of the US-led Coalition against ISIS and deals – surprisingly frankly – with pilot concern about civilian harm. The interview illustrated the likelihood that greater transparency could also significantly improve the experience of pilots once they return from the battlefield.

UK advocacy

In February, Airwars director, Chris Woods participated in the conference ‘Conflict Reporting in the 21st Century’, organised by Action of Armed Violence (AOAV) and Birkbeck, University of London. This brought together leading conflict reporters, academics, photojournalists, film makers and investigators to discuss the main challenges and issues facing contemporary conflict reporting. Chris presented at the session ‘Civilians in modern war’ explaining the concept of all source monitoring and the vital work of Airwars into civilian harm from military actions.

Airwars Deputy Director, Dmytro Chupryna, at the Forum (Via Foundation Institute for Eastern Studies)

▲ Civil defence volunteers look for survivors under the rubble, following a suspected Russian strike in southern Idlib on February 25th 2020 (via White Helmets)

Published

March 2020

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Assisted by

Anna Zahn, Eleftheria Kousta, Hermes, Laurie Treffers, Maysa Ismael, Mohammed al Jumaily, Oliver Imhof, Shihab Halep and Vasiliki Touhouliotis

Major conflict monitoring

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria: civilians in Aleppo governorate pounded

During January, Russia continued to bombard Idlib in support of the Assad government’s ongoing offensive. From the third week of the month, Russia’s air campaign also focused significantly on rebel-held areas of western Aleppo – resulting in further civilian harm.

In total, Airwars tracked 100 civilian harm events locally reported during January to have been carried out by Moscow alone or in partnership with the Assad regime -54 of which were in Idlib and 46 events in Aleppo.

This represented a 15% rise on the 87 events tracked in December 2019. In total, across these 100 January events, between 145 and 213 civilians were locally alleged killed  – compared to between 132 and 170 such deaths during the previous month. Of these January numbers, as many as 77 were children and 31 women. Up to 548 further non-combatants were reportedly wounded during the month by Russian actions.

The tempo of strikes and civilian harm rose as the month wore on, as Syrian regime forces continued to advance in southern Idlib. Civilian harm events reported in Aleppo governorate spiked between January 16th and 24th . In the two days of January 20th to 21st alone, Airwars researchers monitored 20 incidents in Aleppo (20% of the entire month’s events). Of the 145 minimum claimed deaths during January, some 41% were in the province of Aleppo.

Once more, we saw reports of entire families killed. On January 21st, nine civilians including a family of six reportedly died in Russian or regime airstrikes on Kafr Ta’al village in the Western Aleppo countryside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the airstrikes targeted a farm near the village. Shahba Press said that six children and their parents were among those killed. One victim was identified as 22-year-old Mustafa Jdou’e.

On the same day, January 21st, ten civilians including up to six children died and as many as 42 more non-combatants were wounded in alleged Russian airstrikes on the town of Kafr Nuran. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that the bombing occurred around 4:35 PM local time. They published the names of nine dead civilians, including at least two children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that “residential buildings and gatherings of displaced people” were deliberately bombed. Among the victims were eight members of the Al-Hassan family; and three members of the Al-Qusair family.

A man crying on site after alleged Russian airstrikes in the town of Kafr Nuran, Aleppo governorate, on January 21st 2020 (via Macro Media Center)

As with previous months, January also saw major civilian harm incidents in Idlib. In the worse incident, between 10 and 19 civilians including at least four children and two women were reportedly killed and more than 20 non-combatants injured after alleged Russian or Syrian regime airstrikes on the town of Kafr Lata on January 29th. According to the Smart News Agency, “Russian warplanes launched a four-missile attack on civilian homes, a mosque and a road for the displaced in the village”.

Destroyed vehicle after alleged Russian or Syrian regime airstrikes on the town of Kafr Lata on January 29th 2020 (via Syrian Civil Defence Aleppo)

Turkey in Syria

In January, Airwars continued to monitor sporadic allegations of civilian harm from Turkish actions in Syria. Our current assessment is that one civilian likely died and two or three more were wounded across three events. This is a sharp fall from the 12 likely deaths tracked during December 2019.

On January 1st, one civilian, named as Ammar Alhaji, was reportedly shot dead by members of the al Majd Brigade of the Syrian National Army in Tal Abyad, Raqqa governorate. Euphrates Post said the victim was a taxi diver. According to Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, “the man was shot dead while he was trying to prevent fighters of Turkish-backed Al-Majd Legion from stealing his car.” Civilians took to the streets to protest in response to the alleged killing.

Protests in Tal Abyad following the death of Ammar Al-Haji, January 1st 2020 (via RBSS)

Up to three more civilians were likely wounded in two further events in Syria. On January 9th, one or two non-combatants were harmed when Turkish drones allegedly targeted an SDF Asayish (Kurdish Public Security Forces) checkpoint at the entrance of Ain Issa town, in Raqqa governorate.

Two days later, on January 11th, a woman, named as Zainab Mahmoud Hamada, was reportedly injured in Turkish artillery strikes on the village of Bashranda, Aleppo governorate, according to sources on the ground.

The woman Zainab Mahmoud Hamada back in her home after receiving medical help after being injured in a Turkish attack on the village of Bashranda, Aleppo governorate, on January 11th, 2020 (via Hawar News).

Kurdish counterfire in Syria

Likely deaths from Kurdish counterfire in Syria outweighed deaths from Turkish actions during January. Our researchers tracked two civilian harm events assessed as likely carried out by YPG forces, killing between three and five civilians and injuring 18 more.

Between two and four civilians including at least one child and one woman were killed and up to five more wounded in alleged YPG artillery strikes on the city of Afrin, Aleppo governorate on January 20th, local media reported. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the child Muhammad Mar’i and Mrs. Turfah Meqdeh died. Additionally, @abowaelo tweeted a photo of a baby in the hospital, stating that the mother of the child was killed during the shelling earlier that day and that doctors managed to save the child by a cesarean operation on the deceased mother.

Syrian Civil Defence volunteers carrying a wounded or killed person after alleged YPG artillery strikes on Afrin, Aleppo governorate, on January 20th 2020 (via Syrian Network for Human Rights).

On January 29th, again in Afrin, local sources reported that one child died ad 13 more civilians, all adult males, were injured in alleged YPG artillery strikes on residential areas of the city. The White Helmets named the boy as 13-year-old Ahmed Tammam Qatayerji. 

The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

In January, for the first time since anti-ISIS operations began in August 2014, there were no civilian harm events attributed to the US-led Coalition against so-called Islamic State.

The Coalition said it had conducted just one strike in Iraq and seven strikes in Syria during January. The Iraq strike consisted of “one illumination mission for force protection”. The highly controversial unilateral US strike that killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, Gen Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad International Airport on January 3rd, was not counted in the monthly tally.

According to AFCENT, just 68 munitions were fire from the air over Iraq and Syria during January – a 57% fall on December 2019, and the lowest number of munitions fired in any one month since the start of Coalition actions against ISIS in August 2014.

Airwars continued to track reports of alleged US unilateral strikes in Syria during January; there were three reported unilateral strikes on Iran-backed groups, but no associated claims of civilian harm.

Official data from US Air Force Central Command showed the lowest munitions fired of the entire war, during January 2020.

Libya

The number of reported civilian casualties and airstrikes in Libya slightly fell in January from the previous month. While in December Airwars recorded 189 strikes and between 25 and 29 civilian deaths, January saw 117 strikes, and 16 reported civilian fatalities.

Those decreases can be explained by a very shaky truce between the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) which started on January 12th. In the first days after the agreement, both parties mostly abided by the agreement. But on January 16th repeated violations by both parties began, with 39 air and artillery strikes reported until the end of the month. It is worth pointing out that the majority of these strikes were conducted by artillery, unlike during previous months where airpower had dominated.

During the truce, international backers reportedly violated the arms embargo on several occasions – despite promising to stop at the Berlin peace conference on January 18th. Turkey apparently equipped the GNA with better air defences, rendering it difficult for the LNA to strike by plane or drone around Tripoli.

Bcos of #Turkey, it is no longer easy for the #LNA coalition to utilize airstrikes. LNA tried on Jan 28—& the drone was downed.

W/in this new context, #GNA coalition today launched a land offensive into #LNA’s Qasr bin Ghashir presence.

How will the #LNA manage to thwart these?

— Jalel Harchaoui (@JMJalel_H) February 9, 2020

Overall, local sources reported 60 air and artillery strikes by the LNA or its ally the United Arab Emirates throughout January, reportedly killing 13 civilians. The GNA and Turkey allegedly conducted 15 strikes between them, reportedly resulting in one civilian death.

As many of the strikes reported in January were indiscriminate artillery shelling, attribution of responsibility was difficult. For 36 strikes during the month, no belligerent could be determined. Another four strikes were contested between the GNA and LNA; these reportedly killed three civilians.

Abdelhak Al-Maghrabi, allegedly killed by LNA shelling on Tripoli on January 25th, 2020 (via Hona Souq Al-Khmies)

US counter terrorism campaigns

Somalia

On February 25th, Airwars launched a major new online resource on Somalia providing the most comprehensive look yet at US counter terrorism actions in eastern Africa, and associated civilian harm claims.

Meanwhile AFRICOM informed Airwars that it had conducted six airstrikes in Somalia during January – all against al-Shabaab. It stated that no civilians were harmed in these strikes. However local communities reported differently.

In its first declared action in Somalia of 2020, AFRICOM said that a strike on January 3rd killed al-Shabaab terrorists near Bacaw.

A January 16th strike near Qunyo Barrow killed two terrorists, while three more al-Shabaab fighters died in a January 19th strike near Bangeeni, Lower Juba.

During several days of fighting in Middle Juba, US forces conducted an airstrike on January 26th which targeted and reportedly destroyed an al-Shabaab compound in the vicinity of Jamaame.

Additionally, on January 27th, US Africa Command declared on the same day that it had conducted an airstrike on al Shabaab in the vicinity of Jilib, which it said had killed one militant. However, it was later reported that a 20-year old farmer named Mohamed Moalim was killed in the strike, with the location given as Hoombooy.

Relatives of the victim told Somali Memo that he was killed a “drone strike while planting a sesame field.” They added that he was “killed near some trees” and that only a “few parts of his body” were found.

#US military accused of killing a 20-yr-old farmer identified as Sidi Moalin following a #drone strike inside a farm near #Jilib town in #Somalia's Middle Juba region.#AFRICOM confirms conducting the strike, claims it killed an #AlShabaab fighter. pic.twitter.com/1XWlDhBiBt

— Morad News (@MoradNews) January 29, 2020

The last strike of the month was on January 29th, on an al Shabaab compound in Jilib. One al-Shabaab terrorist was killed, according to AFRICOM.

In the early morning of 29 January, The Federal Government of Somalia in coordination with and supported by the US Government, conducted an airstrike inside the al-Shabaab-controlled city of Jilib.

One al-Shabaab occupied compound was destroyed in the strike. pic.twitter.com/2kQMQdFqDZ

— Ismael Mukhtaar Omar (@imukhtaar) January 29, 2020

In addition, the US was implicated in several other events during January – though none had associated civilian harm claims. On January 7th, US troops were said to have participated in a ground operation together with Somali forces in Lafta Anole. This reportedly led to 35 dead Al Shabaab fighters. Xinhua also reported an airstrike without specifying who conducted it.

Between one and three Al Shabaab militants were allegedly killed on January 16th in  Wanlaweyn, when government forces raided a house. It was unclear whether US forces took part in the attack.

And on January 22nd US airstrikes allegedly supported Somali forces near Hargessa Yarey in Middle Juba, killing several Al Shabaab members. On the same day US strikes allegedly targeted Saakow, reportedly killing several Al Shabab militants. However, in an email exchange with Airwars on February 4th 2020, an official stated said that AFRICOM did not conduct “any kinetic operations” on January 22nd.

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during January 2020 in Yemen. The last declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province.

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

Pakistan

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

Advocacy

European advocacy

After several wonderful years of Airwars’ Netherlands-based advocacy officer being embedded in the offices of PAX For Peace, our Dutch advocacy officer moved into the office of the Utrecht Centre of Global Challenges at Utrecht University at the beginning of January.

Our new partnership is similar to Airwars’ ongoing collaboration with Goldsmiths, University of London in the UK. We look forward to exchanging knowledge and experience with the Centre, which accommodates for example the Intimacies of Remote Warfare project. PAX will remain a crucial partner of Airwars in the Netherlands, and we look forward to future collaboration with their exceptional Protection of Civilians team in particular.

On January 28th, Airwars UK, Airwars Stichting, and our Dutch partners met with the Netherlands Ministry of Defence in The Hague, at the invitation of the Ministry. In the wake of the Hawijah scandal, the Ministry of Defence has shown some willingness to critically revise its transparency policies. We are hoping to launch a similar process in the Netherlands to Airwars’ engagement with the Pentagon’s current civilian harm reduction review. We therefore aim to share our knowledge, to help militaries improve their civilian harm monitoring and hopefully, in turn, reduce casualties on the battlefield.

UK advocacy

During January, Airwars took on a key role within SPA-N (the Security Policy Alternative Network). This important resource includes civil society organisations, activists, foundations, researchers and other experts working together to challenge securitised responses to crises and threats, and promotes alternative security policies and approaches that promote peace, human rights and development.

The group brings expertise from among others, the Open Society Foundation, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, the Conflict Analysis Research Centre, OSIWA, BUCOFORE, and the Oxford Research Group, in addition to Saferworld which began the initiative.

▲ The aftermath of an alleged Russian airstrike on Kafarjoum, Aleppo, Jan 20th (via White Helmets)

Published

December 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria: civilian harm events quadruple

November saw an alarming escalation in reported harm from Russia’s ongoing Idlib campaign, which once more left noncombatants trapped on the ground and in great peril. Overall, Airwars researchers tracked 77 locally claimed civilian harm events allegedly carried out by Moscow and/or the Assad regime in November – all but four of which were in Idlib. This was more than four times the 18 incidents tracked during October – and represented the greatest number of claimed Russian events in any one month since August 2019.

In total, across these 77 November events, between 108 and 124 civilians were locally alleged killed – compared to between 23 and 31 such deaths during the previous month. More alarmingly, of these November tolls as many as 35 children and 23 women were claimed killed – with as many as 298 civilians additionally wounded.

Once again, we saw frequent reports of entire families being killed in strikes on residential areas. On November 2nd, four members of one family including a woman and two children died and dozens more were wounded in alleged Russian airstrikes on the al Shamali neighborhood of Jabala village, in southern Idlib governorate, according to local sources. The fatalities were named as Faisal Al – Abdullah, Ahmad Mohammad Al-Abdullah, Hussein Al-Abdallah, and the wife of Ahmad Al-Abdallahadultfe.

The aftermath of an alleged Russian airstrike on Jabala town, November 2nd 2019 (via White Helmets)

On November 17th, six members of another family were reported killed in an alleged Russian airstrike on Al Mallaja village, Kafar Nubul, in Idlib governorate. ShahbaPress said that two children were among those killed, adding that 14 other civilians were wounded, though the Smart News Agency put the injured at three people. The fatalities were named as Ahmed Kamel Al Maqsous, Ahmed Kamel Al Maqsous (female), son of Ahmed and Amani Al Maqsous, Salma Kamal Al Maqsous (female), Nujoud Kamal Al Maqsous (female), and Amina Kamel Al Maqsous, also female.

SCD volunteers removing bodies of killed and injured civilians from rubble in the aftermath of an alleged Russian airstrike on Mallaja in Idlib on November 17th 2019 (via MMC).

However, the worst incident of the month followed on November 20th, when seven members of three families, including four children, reportedly died and 11 more civilians were wounded in alleged Russian airstrikes on Maarat al-Numan in Idlib. Citing the director of the civil defence in the town, Shaam News said there had been three Russian raids. According to Syria Live ua map, “a whole family – four children, a woman and a man displaced from Kafrnabouda town – were killed”. Seven victims from the Basas, Qtiesh, and Al Hammoud families were named as killed – four of whom were children. Sources published graphic images of the victims.

6 شهداء من المدنيين وعدد من الإصابات نتيجة استهداف الطيران الحربي الروسي مدينة معرة النعمان بريف ادلب الجنوبي بغارات جوية. pic.twitter.com/rYts1buv9n

— IDLIB PLUS (@IdlibPlus) November 20, 2019

Warning – contains graphic images: The aftermath of alleged Russian airstrikes on Maarat al-Numan, Nov 20th.

Turkey in Syria

Despite a declaration of a ceasefire against Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on October 23rd, strikes by both Turkish and Kurdish forces continued in November, though at a significantly lower rate.

Violations of the ceasefire – including executions of prisoners –  continued on both sides throughout the month, indicating a certain brutality to this campaign which we didn’t observe to this extent during the previous Afrin conflict in early 2018. On November 27th for example, Human Rights Watch claimed that the ‘safe zone’ established by Turkey to protect civilians was instead the scene of possible war crimes, including executions.

In total during November, Airwars researchers tracked 25 alleged civilian harm events reportedly involving Turkey in Syria. This represented an 80% fall on November’s 124 events. Airwars is still assessing these 25 incidents, though our provisional assessment indicates that 14 civilians likely died across six events graded as ‘Fair’ – compared to the minimum of 125 civilians who died in such incidents in October. Up to a further 39 non-combatants were likely wounded.

On November 9th for example, local media reported the death of two civilians and the injuring of five more in an alleged Turkish drone strike on non-combatants who were collecting cotton in Hishe/Kisha village, Ain Aissa, in Raqqa. Hanî Ehmed Al-Rawî (25) was reported among the killed in the attack and Elî Hemîd al-Khilal (45), Tariq al-Ehmed (30), Mihemed al-Ehmed (29) and Hemûd al-Ehmed (20) were among the injured.

The worst event of the month occurred on November 23rd in the village of Mala, Ain Aissa, Raqqa. Five civilians were reported killed and between three and 22 others including a child injured in alleged Turkish forces mortar, gun fire and drone strikes on the village. ANF added that three civilians were injured when a Free Burma Rangers health team has been attacked by Turkey.

#Breaking Ein Issa: Scenes of ambulance operations carried out by Free Burma's Rangers in Ein Issa city, as a result of Turkish forces and their affiliated opposition attack on the region#syria #SDF #US #Turkey pic.twitter.com/PYGvhAcSaM

— NORTH PRESS AGENCY – ENGLISH (@NPA_English) November 23, 2019

Airwars also tracked eight casualty incidents allegedly blamed on Kurdish counter fire during November. This was a sharp fall of 81% from the 42 claimed incidents in October. Our current estimate is that four or five civilians – of whom at least three were children – likely died in these events. As many as 41 more civilians were likely wounded.

On November 19th for example, three children died and ten other civilians were wounded in alleged YPG artillery fire on a school building being used as a shelter for IDPs in Jern Al Haj Salih in Tal Abyad, Raqqa governorate, local sources said.

Barış Pınarı Harekât bölgesine yönelik taciz/saldırılarına devam eden ve bombalı terör saldırıları düzenleyen terör örgütü PKK/YPG, bu kez de Tel Abyad’ın Curn köyüne attığı havanlarla okulu vurdu. 3 masum sivil yaşamını yitirirken, çocuklarla birlikte 8 sivil de yaralandı. pic.twitter.com/ifxV4LJiTR

— T.C. Millî Savunma Bakanlığı (@tcsavunma) November 19, 2019

Above: three children were reportedly killed in alleged Turkish fire in Tal Abyad, Raqqa, on November 19th.

The US-led Coalition in Iraq and Syria

Between one and three civilians were likely killed and up to six more wounded in one casualty incident assessed as fair by Airwars during November.

On November 22nd, Khalid Al Hamoud Al Hammadi was reported killed and his wife and five children wounded in an alleged Coalition airstrike on his house in the Latwa neighbourhood of Dhiban town, Deir Ezzor.

Local sources said that the Coalition carried out a raid with the SDF on suspected members of ISIS. According to Xeber 24, the operation “involved three US Apache helicopters, fighter planes and two reconnaissance planes, during which clashes took place between gunmen in the Al-Lattwa neighbourhood  and SDF fighters”.

All sources claimed that Khalid Al Hamoud Al Hammadi  was a civilian, though Jesr Press said that he also threw a bomb (grenade?) at members of the SDF ‘to defend himself.’ A strike was then reportedly called in on his home. The Euphrates Post said that two members of the SDF also died and five were wounded.

Poignantly, Jesr Press added that Khalid Al Hamoud Al Hammadi had been married just the previous day, stressing that he had no links with any armed groups.

The Coalition later issued a statement saying that it had conducted a “clearance mission in Deir ez-Zor province, Syria Nov. 22”. It added that the operation had “resulted in multiple ISIS fighters killed and wounded” and the capture of more than a dozen – though made no mention of civilian harm concerns.

Khaled Al Hamoud al-Hammadi Husse (via Jesr Press)

At time of publication of this report, the Coalition had not yet published strike data for November, though informed Airwars on December 16th that it would be published soon.

In total, throughout November, Airwars researchers independently tracked 11 reported airstrikes in Syria that were locally blamed on the Coalition. Of these 11 actions, seven reportedly targeting Iranian-backed groups. Airwars has asked CENTCOM whether the US is once again conducting unilateral strikes in Syria, but we had not yet received a response as we went to press. It is also possible that some or all of these unclaimed incidents were in fact Israeli actions.

Civilian harm was only reported in one of these 11 Syria events. On November 8th, a single source, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that three tents were reportedly bombed in alleged Coalition airstrikes in Khabira area in the northeastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. It is unclear how many people died in this event.

According to AFCENT, 153 munitions were dropped on Iraq and Syria from the air in November by the US-led Coalition. This represented a modest 8% fall on the 166 munitions  released in the previous month.

 

Libya

Compared to the previous month, Libya saw slightly lower levels of airstrikes and civilian harm in November. Between 23 and 31 civilians were locally alleged killed from 169 air and artillery strikes, while in October, 25 to 33 civilians were locally reported killed by 226 strikes.

The great majority of deaths resulted from strikes allegedly conducted by the Libyan National Army (LNA) or its ally the United Arab Emirates with 17 to 25 civilian fatalities blamed on their actions. Together, the two parties reportedly conducted 114 strikes, underlining their dominance in the air which led to General Khalifa Haftar declaring a no-fly zone over Tripoli in late November.

Six reported strikes by the Government of National Accord (GNA) led to one alleged civilian casualty on November 13th in Qasr Bin Gashir. The victim was named as Ahmed Abdel Razzaq Nouri Abu Sedira.

For 49 strikes the belligerent could not be determined or was contested between GNA and LNA. These lead to another civilian death.

In one of the worst incidents, seven to ten civilians were allegedly killed by an LNA or UAE strike on a biscuit factory in Tripoli on November 18th. The same belligerents were accused of conducting a strike on Umm Al Aranib on November 28th when between six and eleven civilians, many of them children, were reportedly killed.

Ahmed Abdel Razzaq Nouri Abu Sedira, killed in an alleged GNA artillery strike on Qasr Bin Gashir, Nov 13th (via heretripoli1)

US counter terrorism campaigns

Somalia

US Africa Command declared that it had conducted three airstrikes against al-Shabaab during November – up from one strike the previous month. The command says it currently assesses that no civilians were injured or killed in these strikes – though local reporting suggested otherwise.

The first declared US strike occurred on November 12th in the vicinity of Jilib, killing one alleged terrorist.

A second strike occurred on November 19th in the vicinity of Qunyo Barrow, killing another terrorist, according to AFRICOM. However the terror group al Shabaab insisted the victim was in fact a local civilian businessman it named as Ismail Issa Bhutan. Somalia News 24/7 quoted a witness who said that the man killed  “was a businessman who had a shop in the town, [and who] was killed in the attack.”

BREAKING: Suspected #US drone strike reported in #AlShabaab-controlled town of Kunya-Barow in #Somalia's Lower Shabelle region. Witnesses say that a man who was a businessman and had a shop in the town was killed in the attack. #Somalia pic.twitter.com/4SVDYT9Ize

— somalia (@somalinews247) November 19, 2019

The third strike of the month occurred on November 30th, again in the vicinity of Jilib. AFRICOM gave no information on the number of alleged terrorists killed in this strike, stating that it was still assessing the results, but that no civilians were harmed.

According to local source Ilwareed, there were in fact two actions. While the first targeted a communications centre, a second “targeted the home of an al-Shabaab official named Abu Abdalla, located in the southern outskirts of Jilib district. Government forces confirmed the time when the officer’s house was bombed, and said the entire house and vehicles were destroyed.”

Mareeg said that four al Shabaab fighters died when the communications centre was hit, though its report suggests a ground attack had been responsible: “The center announced last week that it has been upgraded with modern equipment to improve its communication with al-Shabaab leaders. The center was almost completely destroyed after being targeted by several rocket propelled grenades, according to credible sources.” Mareeg also said that it appeared that the militant target of the second strike had escaped injury.

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during the month of November in Yemen. The last declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province.

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

Pakistan

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

Advocacy

UK advocacy

UK advocacy officer Maysa Ismael took part in an Action on Armed Violence workshop on ‘Gender and Explosive Weapons’  at Chatham House on November 26th.  The workshop discussed the gendered impact of explosive weapons on civilians and the lack of gender-segregated data when it comes to recording casualties.

Additionally, Maysa attended the launch of Oxford Research Group’s report on ‘Fusion Doctrine in Five Steps: Creating Routine Fusion in Africa’ on November 26th which also presented an opportunity to meet with advocacy and research partners.

European advocacy

On November 4th, the Dutch Ministry of Defence finally claimed public responsibility for an airstrike in Hawijah, Iraq, in June 2015, which led to the deaths of at least 70 civilians. The acknowledgement followed after Dutch media organisations NOS and NRC had published a major investigation asserting that the Netherlands had been responsible for the deadly attack on an ISIS IED factory.

On November 5th, Dutch newspaper NRC published an opinion piece by Airwars director Chris Woods, who wrote that the Hawijah case represented a shocking example of the lack of military and political transparency for civilian harm in the Netherlands; and noting that the Iraqi and Dutch peoples had been denied the basic  facts for more than four years.

Two debates were held by the Dutch parliament on the matter, on November 5th and November 27th. In the run-up to these, Airwars provided Members of Parliament with factual information. For example, we briefed MPs on how other Coalition countries, such as the United States, report on civilian casualty claims as a result of their own airstrikes. We also live tweeted the debates on Twitter in English.

Prime minister Rutte continues to state that "until today, it is unknown how many civilians died", while CENTCOM officials confirmed in December 2018 in an email to Dutch media @NRC and @NOS that 70 civilians had died. pic.twitter.com/AA1M8OSZXz

— Airwars (@airwars) November 27, 2019

In a letter from the current Dutch Minister of Defence published on November 27th, significant improvements for Dutch transparency were promised. For example, the Dutch MoD says it will now publish the date, location and weapons used in airstrikes during the first Dutch deployment period between 2014 and 2016; and to standardise weekly reporting of strikes in case of future missions. These were improvements that Airwars had been pushing for since the first appointment of a Netherlands-based advocacy officer by the organisation back in 2016.

The aftermath of the alleged strike in Hawijah (via Iraqi Revolution)

▲ The ruins of a civilian home following an alleged Russian strike on Mishmishan, Jisr al Shughour, Idlib, November 7th 2019 (via White Helmets)

Published

December 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Turkey in Syria: new front sees civilians in peril

Civilians trapped in northeastern Syria faced renewed danger in October, with the start  of ‘Operation Peace Spring’, conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) and its proxy the Syrian National Army (SNA), against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the YPG in northeastern Syria.

The operation, launched on October 9th, came following the chaotic United States decision to withdraw its own forces from northeastern Syria, where the US military had been supporting the SDF. The conflict began with Turkish forces launching air and artillery strikes on border towns such as Tal Abyad in Raqqa province and Ras al-Ain in Hasaka province.

The unilateral Turkish incursion was condemned by US Defence Secretary Dr Mark T Esper and led to dozens of civilian deaths within the first days of the campaign. By October 18th, an estimated 160,000 civilians had also been displaced by the fighting.

In total, Airwars researchers tracked 124 claimed civilian harm events linked to Turkey in northern Syria during October. The majority of events – 65% – were in Hassakah governorate, with 22% in Raqqa, followed by some 14% in Aleppo and a small number of cases in Idlib. The volume of allegations meant that at time of publication, Airwars had not managed to fully research all incidents. However, our current assessment is that between 125 and 165 civilians likely died in 72 events classed as fairly reported.

The violence was frequently bloody. In one of the most publicised events of the month, on October 12th, three civilians including a female politician, the Secretary General of the Future Syria Party, Hevrin Khalaf, were “executed” when the convoy they were travelling in was reportedly ambushed by “Turkish backed mercenary factions” on the road between Jazeera canton and Ain Issa, multiple sources said.

Hevrin Khalaf, 35, the General Secretary of the Future Syria Party, reportedly “execuedt” by Turkish-backed proxies on October 12th (via 35, the General Secretary of Syria Future Party)

The following day, October 13th, between six and 19 civilians – including at least four journalists from multiple countries – died and as many as 74 others were wounded in an alleged Turkish airstrike on a convoy, made up of around 400 civilian vehicles, heading from Jazeera to Ras Al Ain, local media said. Journalists from countries including Brazil, France, and the Ukraine were among the victims. Fatalities included Hawar agency journalist Saad Ahmad, Muhammad Hussein Resho, Fayz Mahmoud Baqi, and Eqîde Eli Osman.

Turkish bombardment on civilians on the road to serikaniye. pic.twitter.com/XnAa4oT3bR

— pyd rojava (@PYD_Rojava) October 13, 2019

GRAPHIC: Footage of the aftermath of an alleged Turkish airstrike on a civilian convoy on October 13th.

On October 18th, yet another “massacre” was reported as Turkish forces reportedly carried out strikes on Zirgan near Ras al Ain, in Hassakah governorate. Both @Raman_Hassi and @TurkeyUntold tweeted footage of the aftermath, in which at least 12 bodies were visible. According to the Kurdish Red Crescent which shared its data with Airwars, 17 civilians died, though their names are currently unknown.

Airwars also tracked 42 alleged civilian casualty events attributed to Kurdish forces counterfire during October. Of these, researchers currently assess 35 incidents as fairly reported. Twenty four events occurred in Syria, the majority in Aleppo governorate, while 11 were tracked across the border in Turkey.

Between 52 and 62 civilians were assessed as likely killed in these 35 events by Kurdish forces during October, with at least another 168 people wounded.

On October 11th for example, local media reported that up to eight civilians were killed and 35 were wounded in alleged SDF/YPG or PKK artillery strikes on the Turkish city of Nusaybin, Mardin province, as reported by several local sources. One civilian fatality was named as Mehmet Sirin Demir, the father of a prominent journalist.

@TRTKurdiTV journalist Gülay Demir‘s father Mehmet Sirin Demir was killed as the result of an attack of the terrorist organisation PKK/YPG on turkish town Nusaybin

8 civilians died and 35 were injured only today in the attack on Nusaybin pic.twitter.com/VSK5VvRJ0X

— EHA News (@eha_news) October 11, 2019

In the worst event attributed to Kurdish forces during the month, sources claimed that ‘the SDF’ executed seven civilians in Ras al Ain, in the northern countryside of al-Hasakah on October 20th, on charges of collaborating with ‘Operation Spring forces’.” The victims included three men from the same family. They were named as Mohamad Ali Al Khalaf, Ismail Ali Al Khalaf, and Abdallah Al Khalaf. According to Mohamad.alothman.1291, the victims were “shot several times in the head”.

Three civilians from the same family were allegedly executed by the SDF in Ras Al Ayn on October 20th, 2019 (via Raqqa RWB)

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria

During October, there was a sharp increase in civilian harm events in Syria reportedly carried out by Russia and the Assad regime. Overall, Airwars researchers tracked 18 locally reported casualty events – a 28% rise on the five incidents recorded during September. All but one of these incidents was in Idlib governorate.

Across these 18 incidents between 23 and 31 civilians were locally reported killed  – compared to just five civilians in the previous month. As many as 63 more civilians were claimed wounded.

Entire families trapped on the ground remained in peril throughout the month as Russia and the regime stepped up their assault. On October 19th, a man and woman from the town of Binnish were killed and three of their children injured in an alleged Russian airstrike on a house in Taftanaz, Idlib, local media reported. Alarmingly, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the strikes “targeted a camp on agricultural land inhabited by displaced families”. The victims were named as Ahmad Kamrou Haj Qaddour, his wife Huda Al Shaar (both killed), and their three children, all of whom were wounded.

Photo of damage caused by an alleged Russian airstrike on the town of Taftanaz on October 19th, 2019 (via Edlib Media Center on Facebook).

In the worst incident of the month, seven or eight civilians died and at least 15 more were wounded in alleged Russian or regime artillery or rocket fire on Al Janoudia in Idlib on October 24th. According to @SyrianCoalition, regime rocket fire bombarded a vegetable market “packed with civilians and farmers”. However, @abuhuzaifa_ blamed “Russian militia shelling”. One of the victims, an adult male, named as Ammar Alikou, died of his injuries on October 27th, 2019, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Photo of the alleged Russian and/or Syrian regime artillery and rocket strikes on the town of Al Janodia, Idlib province, on October 24th 2019 (via @SyrianCoalition).

On October 31st, three or four civilians including a member of the civil defence and a child died, and up to 12 more were wounded, in an alleged Russian or regime airstrike on an ammunition depot on the outskirts of Darkoush, Idlib, according to local sources.

The White Helmets named one of the victims, a volunteer, as Ahmad Abdul Hamid Qubba, reporting that he died “while inspecting successive explosions” caused by Russian and regime forces. The White Helmets added that Ahmad had lost his mother, niece and cousin in a previous regime airstrike on Darkoush in 2015. Most poignantly, it said that he was “martyred just days before his wedding”. @IdlibPlus said that a child also died in a “huge explosion” at the depot, though it said that it was unclear what had caused the blast.

استشهاد الشاب أحمد قبة من أبطال الدفاع المدني السوري في إدلب أثناء تفقده الانفجارات المتتالية في بلدة دركوش صباح اليوم التي أحدثها قصف إرهابي من روسيا وقوات الأسد.رحمه الله تعالى وتقبله وعوضه الفردوس الأعلى وألهم أهله ومحبيه الصبر والسلوان. pic.twitter.com/HU2AiR5Jxw

— الائتلاف الوطني السوري (@SyrianCoalition) October 31, 2019

Translation: “A young hero of the Syrian Civil Defence (Ahmad Qibba) was killed in Idlib while inspecting successive explosions in the town of Darkoush this morning [Oct 31st] caused by terrorist shelling from Russia and Assad forces.”

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

Between five and nine civilians were likely killed and up to 11 more wounded in one casualty incident assessed as fair by Airwars during October.

On October 26th, US forces conducted a ground raid that lethally targeted ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in Barisha village in Idlib countryside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, US helicopters came from Turkish territory, carried out a landing in the area and clashed with militants near the targeted house of al-Baghdadi west of Barisha where many casualties were reported. Among the nine alleged civilian deaths were two or three women and up to three children. However al Baghdadi himself was said to have killed three of his own children when he detonated a suicide vest.

Local medical sources said that as a result of the operation, a house was completely destroyed and a number of tents were burned. Seven bodies were found in the area, among them a child and three women, in addition to five injuries.

Aerial photos of the house targeted by US forces #Baghdadi (via Idlib Plus)

Overall, between October 1st and 31st the Coalition reported 19 strikes in Iraq – a 32% fall on September’s 28 strikes.

The alliance once again reported no air or artillery strikes in Syria. However additional ground operations and unilateral US actions also continued. In total, throughout October, Airwars researchers tracked 12 locally reported strikes in Syria that were blamed on the Coalition, though there were no reports of civilian harm attributed to these actions.

All but 11 of these October strikes were in Deir Ezzor governorate. Nine actions reportedly targeted Assad regime forces and the remainder Iranian-backed armed groups and IRGC forces. Airwars has reached out to CENTCOM and asked if the US is conducting unilateral air actions in Syria, as the Coalition has not publicly reported a strike in the country since August. It is also possible that some of these reported ‘Coalition’ actions were instead carried out by Israel, which conducts its own unilateral actions against Iranian and associated forces in Syria.  

According to AFCENT, 166 munitions were dropped on Iraq and Syria from the air in October by the US-led Coalition. Despite the large fall in strikes, this actually represented a 21% rise on the 137 munitions released in the previous month.

.

Libya

Libya saw an increase in reported civilian harm despite a similar number of air and artillery strikes compared to previous months. Between 25 and 33 civilians were locally reported killed by 226 strikes. In September, between 14 and 15 civilian deaths had been alleged from 230 strikes.

Another 56 to 75 civilians were reportedly injured in October by air and artillery actions.

The majority of civilian deaths were allegedly caused by the Libyan National Army (LNA), reportedly killing between 17 and 23 people. In the worst event, up to five civilians were allegedly killed by LNA shelling on Qasr bin Gashir, a town in the Triploi district, on October 31st.

A worrying development was the increased targeting of civilian infrastructure by the LNA. On October 7th a doctor was allegedly killed by either an LNA or allied UAE airstrike on Qasr Bin Gashir. And on October 23rd and 24th Haftar’s forces allegedly struck three field hospitals, killing two and injuring five more health workers. In another incident on October 6th, an LNA airstrike hit the Equestrian Club in Janzur, allegedly injuring six people, most of them children.

Government of National Accord (GNA) strikes only led to one reportedly wounded civilian during the month – an indication of the LNA’s near-total air dominance. However, various civilian harm events were contested between the GNA and LNA due to indiscriminate shelling by artillery and rockets, which in turn led to between 3 and 4 civilian deaths.

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

US Africa Command declared that it had conducted just one airstrike in Somalia, on al-Shabaab, during October – a sharp fall on the six declared actions during the previous month. AFRICOM told Airwars that it currently assessed that no civilians had been killed or injured in this strike.

The attack occurred on October 25th against “ISIS terrorists in the Golis Mountain region”. AFRICOM said it assessed that three terrorists had been  killed.

U.S. airstrike targets ISIS-Somalia in support of the Federal Government of Somalia – https://t.co/mSj8dNYxWY pic.twitter.com/nYdzB4DdYP

— US AFRICOM (@USAfricaCommand) October 25, 2019

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during the month of October in Yemen. The last declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province.

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

Pakistan

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

Advocacy

European advocacy

After a strong advocacy year by previous incumbent Maike Awater, Laurie Treffers has now taken over as our Netherlands based acting conflict researcher and advocacy officer as of October 1st.

Laurie has been working as a geolocation volunteer with Airwars for over a year now, researching both Coalition and Russian airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. With her experience in journalism and communications, and an MA in Conflict Studies and Human Rights, Laurie says she is excited to be continuing our work at Airwars to push European states for more transparency and accountability for civilians harmed in conflict.

On October 18th, our European advocacy team sent a joint statement in partnership with Amnesty International, PAX for Peace, the Open State Foundation and academics from the Conflict Studies Department at Utrecht University, to the Dutch Minister of Defence. This called on the Ministry to release data on historical Dutch airstrikes in Syria and Iraq; to publish the Ministry’s own research into civilian casualties in that conflict; and to put improved processes of accountability and justice in place. On the same day that the joint statement was sent to the Minister, a major news story broke on Dutch involvement in a mass casualty civilian harm event at Hawijah, Iraq in 2015. See our associated article here.

On October 21st, our UK Advocacy Officer, Maysa Ismael, took part in a parliamentary discussion on ‘Exploring Avenues for Accountability for Victims in Yemen’ organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group.

▲ An alleged Turkish artillery strike hits Al Asadiye, Hasakah Governorate, Syria, on October 29th 2019 (via @y_ozgurpolitika)

Published

November 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— ديرالزور24 (@DeirEzzor24) September 19, 2019

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

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

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

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

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

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

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

Yemen

CENTCOM told Airwars that there were no US military strikes during the month of September in Yemen. The last declared CENTCOM action was on June 24th 2019 in Al Bayda province.

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

Pakistan

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

Advocacy

Military advocacy

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

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

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

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

Published

September 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya

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

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

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

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

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

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

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

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

Yemen

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

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

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

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

— Crispin Burke (@CrispinBurke) August 21, 2019

Pakistan

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

Advocacy

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

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

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

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

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

Published

August 2019

Written by

Alex Hopkins

Major conflict monitoring

Russia and the Assad regime in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

The US-led Coalition in Syria and Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

US counter-terrorism campaigns

Somalia

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

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

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

Yemen

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

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

Pakistan

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

Advocacy

UK advocacy

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

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

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

Military advocacy

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

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

 

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

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

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