Civilian Casualties

Civilian Casualties

Incident Code

CS1992

Incident date

May 3, 2023

Location

قورقانيا, Qurqaniya, Idlib, Syria

Geolocation

36.133082, 36.623254 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Exact location (other) level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

A 60 year old male civilian was killed by a declared US drone strike on the outskirts of Qurqaniya just before noon on May 3, 2023. At the time of the strike, US Central Command released a statement that they had targeted a senior Al Qaeda leader without any additional details. On May 2, 2024, the US military admitted that “a civilian, Mr. Lufti Hasan Masto (Masto), was struck and killed instead.”

The Syrian Civil Defense (@SyriaCivilDefe) tweeted that a civilian named Lutfi Hassan Masto (Abu Hassan), age 60, was killed by an unidentified drone while grazing sheep on the outskirts of Qurqaniya. The drone strike also resulted in the death of sheep.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) released a statement on May 3rd that “at 1142am local Syrian time on 3 May, US Central Command forces conducted a unilateral strike in Northwest Syria targeting a senior Al Qaeda leader. We will provide more information as operation details become available.”

However, the information provided by CENTCOM has been disputed by local sources. A tweet from Syrian journalist @pressrahhal stated that while “US Central Command claimed targeting a leader it said was prominent in the “Al-Qaeda” organization…the target is the martyr uncle “Lutfi Hassan Masto” at the age of 60, and he is a civilian who has no connection with any organization, neither now nor previously.”

Xeber24 News was the only source that referred to “the leader of one of the terrorist organizations” as being killed in the drone strike but did not clarify if it was the same person as the elderly man killed. However, multiple terrorism experts that spoke with the Washington Post pointed out that “it would be very unusual for al-Qaeda — particularly a senior leader — to operate in any meaningful way near the area, which is controlled by a rival group (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) that split from the organization years ago and now considers al-Qaeda an adversary.” Other terrorist analysts pointed out that there were no announcements or celebrations of martyrdom among any terrorist organizations. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a militant group that controls Idlib province, told The Post the victim was a civilian.

A Washington Post investigation into the victim identified him as “a father of 10 tending to his sheep when he was slain by an American missile” and “a former bricklayer who lived quietly in this town in northwest Syria” according to interviews with his brother, son and six others who knew him. Those that knew him described a kind, hard-working man whose “whole life was spent poor.”

Multiple local sources referred to the location of the strike as being on a poultry farm, specifically in the vicinity of “Abu Khalouf poultry farm.”

Aramme News attributed the strike to a MQ9 reconnaissance aircraft.

On May 9th, AP quoted Maj. John Moore, a CENTCOM spokesperson, who said Tuesday that U.S. forces “are in the process of confirming the identity of the individual killed in the strike….We are aware of the allegations of a civilian casualty and the outcome of the confirmation process will inform if further investigation is necessary and how it should proceed.” On May 18th, the Washington Post quoted two U.S. defense officials, one who said “We are no longer confident we killed a senior AQ official,” while the other official said  “though we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda.”

The victim’s brother, Mohamed Masto, told AP that reports that his brother was involved in al-Qaida were “absolute lies” and that his killing was “an injustice and an aggression…He had nothing to do with the revolution. … He had nothing to do with the Al-Nusra Front or with the Islamic State” or any of the other armed groups involved in Syria’s 12-year-old uprising-turned-civil-war, Masto said.

A neighbor named Fayad Jamil Raji told AP he had known Lufti Masto — or “Abu Hassan,” a nickname meaning “father of Hassan” — for many years. “The man was a civilian. He had a farm with poultry, cows and sheep,” he said.

According to the Washington Post, on the day of the strike, his son Hassan said that Masto had gathered with his family about 7:30 a.m that morning. “We had breakfast that morning like there was nothing wrong. We had breakfast and everything was fine, and then he went to herd his sheep,” the son recalled. Masto then took a break after a few hours outside near his home to have tea with his brother, and they parted ways around 11:30 a.m., and he returned to his animals as they grazed. An MQ-9 Predator drone soared overhead and struck him close to where he had just had tea with his brother 20 minutes ago. Neighbors pointed out that aircraft had been surveilling the area for nearly two weeks.

In a civilian casualty assessment released on November 30th 2023, the US-led Coalition has indicated that the credibility of this civilian harm allegation is in the process of being assessed.

On May 2, 2024, the CENTCOM released the findings of their investigation that “the investigation determined U.S. forces misidentified the intended Al Qaeda target and that a civilian, Mr. Lufti Hasan Masto (Masto), was struck and killed instead. Many of the facts and other findings of the investigation involve classified information and cannot be shared publicly. What we can share is the investigation concluded the strike was conducted in compliance with the law of armed conflict as well as Department of Defense and CENTCOM policies. However, the investigation revealed several issues that could be improved. We are committed to learning from this incident and improving our targeting processes to mitigate potential civilian harm.”

The incident occured at 11:42:00 local time.

The victims were named as:

Lutfi Hassan Masto لطفي حسن مسطو
60 years old male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian infrastructure
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Confirmed
    A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for civilian harm.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (32) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (12) [ collapse]

  • Remnants of the missile from a US drone that killed a civilian in Qurqaniya, Syria on May 3, 2023. (Image posted by @anasanas84)
  • Sheep killed by a US drone that also killed a civilian in Qurqaniya, Syria on May 3, 2023. (Image posted by @anasanas84)
  • Remnants of the missile from a US drone that killed a civilian in Qurqaniya, Syria on May 3, 2023. (Image posted by @anasanas84)
  • Remnants of the missile from a US drone that killed a civilian in Qurqaniya, Syria on May 3, 2023. (Image posted by @anasanas84)
  • A raid by the armed coalition warplanes targeted a poultry farm near the town of Qorqanya, north of Idlib
  • White Helmet volunteers at the site of a declared US drone strike that killed a civilian in Qurqaniya, Syria on May 3, 2023. (Image posted by @SyriaCivilDefe)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    The civilian "Lutfi Hassan Masto" (60 years old) was killed by a missile strike from a drone that targeted him while he was working in herding sheep on the outskirts of the town of "Qorqanya", north of Idlib.
  • Image of Lutfi Hassan Masto, age 60, killed by a declared US drone strike in Qurqaniya, Syria on May 3, 2023. (Image posted by @khaleedalkhteb)
  • Mohammed Hassan Masto sits next to the grave of his brother Lutfi, who was killed on Wednesday, May 3, in a U.S. military strike, in the village of Qorqanya, a rural area in northern Idlib province, Syria, Sunday, May 7, 2023. Maj. John Moore, a CENTCOM spokesperson, said Tuesday, May 9, that U.S. forces are investigating reports that they killed a civilian in the recent strike in northwest Syria that meant to target a senior al-Qaida leader. (AP Photo/Omar Albam)
  • An undated image of Lotfi Hassan Misto, who was killed on May 3 by a U.S. drone strike in Syria. (Courtesy of the Misto family)
  • Location of strike: Satellite image © 2023 Maxar Technologies via Google Earth

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention the town of Qurqaniya (قورقانيا). Reporting from the Washington Post places the strike at the following exact coordinates: 36.133082, 36.623254.

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US Forces Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Civilian casualty statements

US Forces
  • May 2, 2024
  • Nov 30, 2023
  • May 03, 2023, near Qurqanya, Syria, via White Helmets report. 3334/CS1992/37S BA 86128 01283

  • May 2, 2024 Release Number 20240502-01 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE TAMPA, Fla. – On May 3, 2023, the United States conducted a unilateral counterterrorism air strike in Northwest Syria targeting a senior Al Qaeda leader. Soon after the air strike, reports surfaced the strike may have resulted in a civilian casualty. Following initial reviews by subordinate elements, General Michael Erik Kurilla, Commander, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), directed Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF - OIR) to conduct a joint investigation on 6 June 2023 in accordance with Army Regulation 15- 6. The investigation, which concluded on November 15, 2023, was conducted by Investigating Officer, Brigadier General John P. Cogbill, U.S. Army, and supported by a team of ten senior service members and civilian employees not directly involved with the strike with extensive subject matter expertise in intelligence, law of armed conflict, operations, and targeting matters. The investigative team received both cognitive bias training and red team training. The team conducted site visits in the United States, Iraq, and Jordan, and interviewed more than forty witnesses. The investigative team also sought information from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The team reviewed classified and unclassified information held by DoD and other federal agencies. The investigation determined U.S. forces misidentified the intended Al Qaeda target and that a civilian, Mr. Lufti Hasan Masto (Masto), was struck and killed instead. Many of the facts and other findings of the investigation involve classified information and cannot be shared publicly. What we can share is the investigation concluded the strike was conducted in compliance with the law of armed conflict as well as Department of Defense and CENTCOM policies. However, the investigation revealed several issues that could be improved. We are committed to learning from this incident and improving our targeting processes to mitigate potential civilian harm. U.S. Central Command acknowledges and regrets the civilian harm that resulted from the airstrike. We take all reports of civilian harm caused by U.S. military operations seriously and continue to employ thorough and deliberate targeting and strike processes to minimize civilian harm. This process includes a thorough review and vetting of lawful targets prior to a strike and another review after each strike. CENTCOM is fully engaged in implementing the objectives in the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan (CHMR-AP) and the DoD Instruction (DoDI) 3000.17, titled “Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response.”

Original strike reports

US Forces

At 1142am local Syrian time on 3 May, US Central Command forces conducted a unilateral strike in Northwest Syria targeting a senior Al Qaeda leader. We will provide more information as operation details become available.
"This operation reaffirms CENTCOM's steadfast commitment to the region and the enduring defeat of ISIS and Al Qaeda," said General Michael "Erik" Krill, CENTCOM Commander.

Media
from belligerent (1) [ collapse]

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian infrastructure
    Agriculture
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1
  • (1 man)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Confirmed
    A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for civilian harm.
  • Known attacker
    US Forces
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda
  • Belligerents reported killed
    0–1

Sources (32) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMBi008

Incident date

January 30, 2023

Location

محطة الحايرة, Al Hayra petrol station, Mareb, Yemen

Geolocation

15.501673, 45.380729 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Exact location (other) level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

On January 30th 2023, an alleged United States drone strike was reported to have hit a car in Wadi Ubaidah in the Marib Governorate of Yemen. Three people were allegedly killed who were in the car at the time, who Al Mahara and other local sources reported were “members of Al-Qaeda”, including a prominent leader in Wadi Ubaidah. @BnMhwr tweeted that one militant inside the car was Hassan al-Hadhrami, “responsible for making IEDs and explosives in al-Qaeda.” No civilian casualties were mentioned by local sources at this time.

Al Khabar Al Yamani news channel reported that the attack happened when the car was waiting in line to get petrol, at the Al-Hayra petrol station. This source and other local sources also identified the missile as a R9X Hellfire. Task and Purpose pointed out that based on images showing that the target vehicle was shredded from the roof in rather than destroyed in an explosion, it is likely the AGM-114 R9X Hellfire missile was used.

A Yemeni government official told AFP on a condition of anonymity, that “three Al-Qaeda members were killed in a strike by a drone that is believed to be American.”

AP described the after-math of the strike as “onlookers gathered around a small, four-door car coated in dried mud, peering through its shattered windows and torn-away roof at three dead men inside.”

Despite most reports attributing this to the US, there was no immediate statement from US officials. Local sources speculated that this could mean that this attack was carried out by the Special Operations Unit (JSOC) or the CIA, according to Al Khabar Al Yamani. US Central Command told Stars & Stripes that there was “no operational reporting at the time of this incident in Yemen”.

The local time of the incident is unknown.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3

Sources (16) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (7) [ collapse]

  • On January 30th 2022 a reported US forces drone targeted a petrol station in Wadi Ubaidah, killing three Al Qaeda members (Image via @South24_net / Twitter)
  • Reportedly the strike was with a R9X Hellfire Missile (Image via @akhbar / Twitter)
  • Reportedly the strike was with a R9X Hellfire Missile (Image via @akhbar / Twitter)
  • "The sources said that Hassan al-Hadhrami, responsible for making IEDs and explosives in al-Qaeda, was killed in an air strike carried out by a US drone on his car near al-Hayrah station in the al-Samdah area of Wadi Ubaidah district" (Image via @BnMhwr / Twitter)
  • "According to local sources - quoted by the broadcaster Al Arabyia - the target was Hassan al Hadrami, an extremist specialized in making explosive belts and bombs. At his side were two accomplices." (Image via @e_yementoday / Twitter)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck in the vicinity of Al Hayra petrol station (محطة الحايرة), located in Wadi Ubaidah (وادي عبيدة) . According to research conducted by @VleckieHond, the exact coordinates for this strike are: 15.501673, 45.380729. Cross referencing source material, we can confirm the accuracy of this location.

US Forces Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US Forces
  • US Forces position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    No
  • Civilians reported killed
    Unknown
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Suspected attacker
    US Forces
  • Suspected target
    Al Qaeda
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3

Sources (16) [ collapse]

Incident Code

USYEMBi006

Incident date

February 6, 2022

Location

الكولة, Al Kawlah, Mareb, Yemen

Geolocation

15.54686, 45.41379 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Neighbourhood/area level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

On February 6th 2022, an alleged US drone strike was reported to have struck a car with Al-Qaeda members inside, possibly including a ” suspected leader.”  All passengers – reported as Al-Qaeda militants – in the car were reported to have been “killed and wounded”, and civilian casualties were also reported of those “who were near the operation.” Although multiple sources reported that “civilians” were harmed, it is not clear how many were killed and injured as a result of this drone strike, at this stage.

The drone strike targeted the car in the Al Kola area in Wadi Ubayda, in the Mareb governorate of north Yemen.

A tweet from @Islandcorner2 as well as Fromo2g News referenced “civilians who were near the operation” as being victims of the drone strike but did not mention how many.

According to local sources, three Al-Qaeda militants were killed in total. One source, Fromo2g reported that the militants belonged to “Hadi’s forces”, but this was the sole reference. Saras 24 indicated that the military group were “affiliated with Hadi’s forces.”

Local sources referenced that the car was “loaded with ammunition” and that the militants had guns. This caused the care to explode when it was struck by the drone.

Al Youm Al 7 reported that “the aerial bombardment, preceded by hours of flying, led to the burning of the car and the charring of the bodies of those on board” which meant that the identity of the targeted leader could not be understood. Apparently, Al-Qadea militants were deployed into the area after the raid and prevented entry and exit into the area.

According to Akhbar Al Aan news, a US drone was launched from a military base in Dijbouti.

The incident occured around dawn.

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1 – 2
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected targets
    Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3

Sources (20) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (1) [ collapse]

  • After an alleged US drone strike in Mareb, Al-Qaeda were reported to have blocked off the area, preventing exit and entry (Image via Saras 24)

Geolocation notes

Reports of the incident mention a vehicle being struck in the vicinity of Al Kawlah (الكولة) village, in the north east of Wadi Obeida (وادي عبيدة). Due to limited satellite imagery and information available to Airwars, we were unable to verify the location further. The generic coordinates for Al Kawlah are: 15.54686, 45.41379.

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Suspected belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Not yet assessed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Likely strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike, Drone Strike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    1 – 2
  • Civilians reported injured
    1–2
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Fair
    Reported by two or more credible sources, with likely or confirmed near actions by a belligerent.
  • Suspected attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Suspected targets
    Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
  • Belligerents reported killed
    3

Sources (20) [ collapse]

Incident Code

CS626

Incident date

March 27, 2017

Location

سرمدا, Sarmada, Idlib, Syria

Geolocation

36.18553, 36.72231 Note: The accuracy of this location is to Exact location (via Coalition) level. Continue to map

Airwars assessment

Up to three civilians were killed on the road between Sarmada and Kafr Daryan when their nearby motorcycle was hit in what appears to have been a unilateral US strike targeting members of Ahrar al Sham. The Coalition later admitted to the strike and reported that three civilians were killed and two were injured.

According to Baladi, “two civilians and four fighters were killed on Monday in a bombardment by an international coalition aircraft [sic] targeting the town of Sarmada in the countryside of Idlib.

The correspondent of My News (Ahmed Rahal) said that Coalition aircraft targeted a missile vehicle belonging to Tahrir Al Sham near the northern city of Sirmda, Idlib, causing the deaths of civilians, and four fighters, including a commander in the army of Fatah.

Step instead reported that “a US drone targeted a vehicle carrying members of the Tahrir Al Sham Organization, killing Abu Jaber al-Shami, three members of the Commission and two civilians riding a motorcycle near the incident.” The Syrian Network for Human Rights put the civilian death toll at three.

On March 10, 2022, in their CJTF-OIR Civilian Casualty Report, the Coalition assessed this incident as credible, stating that “Coalition aircraft conducted a strike on Al Qaida-Syria terrorists in a vehicle. Regrettably, three civilians were unintentionally killed and two others unintentionally wounded due to their proximity to
the strike.”

The local time of the incident is unknown.

The victims were named as:

Adult male possibly a combatant killed
Adult male killed
Adult male killed

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 3
  • (2–3 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Confirmed
    A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for civilian harm.
  • Known attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda

Sources (17) [ collapse]

Media
from sources (5) [ collapse]

  • The aftermath of a strike on the road between Sarmada and Kafr Daryan in which two or three nearby civilians were alleged killed, March 27th 2017. (via Baladi)
  • The aftermath of an alleged Coalition airstrike on Sarmada, 27th March 2017. (via Kanari313)
  • The aftermath of an alleged Coalition airstrike on Sarmada, 27th March 2017. (via Kanari313)
  • This media contains graphic content. Click to unblur.

    A civilian casualty in the aftermath of an alleged Coalition airstrike on Sarmada, 27th March 2017. (via Kanari313)
  • Abu Jaber Al-Hamwi, killed in an alleged Coalition airstrike on Sarmada, 27th March 2017. It is possible he was a combatant. (via Kanari313)

Geolocation notes

Prior to the Coalition releasing the MGRS for this incident, Airwars had geolocated it to 36.18553, 36.72231 to the nearest town.

US-led Coalition Assessment:

  • Known belligerent
    US-led Coalition
  • US-led Coalition position on incident
    Open incident
  • Civilian deaths conceded
    3
  • Civilian injuries conceded
    2
  • Stated location
    near Sarmada, Syria
    Nearest population center
  • Location accuracy
    1 m
  • MGRS coordinate
    37SBA9518306931
    Military Grid Reference System

Civilian casualty statements

US-led Coalition
  • Mar 10, 2022
  • Mar. 27, 2017, near Sarmada, Syria, via Airwars report. Coalition aircraft conducted a strike on Al Qaida-Syria terrorists in a vehicle. Regrettably, three civilians were unintentionally killed and two others unintentionally wounded due to their proximity to the strike. 2496/S548 37SBA9518306931

Original strike reports

US-led Coalition

Mar. 27, 2017, near Sarmada, Syria, via Airwars report. Coalition aircraft conducted a
strike on Al Qaida-Syria terrorists in a vehicle. Regrettably, three civilians were
unintentionally killed and two others unintentionally wounded due to their proximity to the strike. 2496/S548 37SBA9518306931

Summary

  • Strike status
    Declared strike
  • Strike type
    Airstrike
  • Civilian harm reported
    Yes
  • Civilians reported killed
    2 – 3
  • (2–3 men)
  • Cause of injury / death
    Heavy weapons and explosive munitions
  • Airwars civilian harm grading
    Confirmed
    A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for civilian harm.
  • Known attacker
    US-led Coalition
  • Known target
    Al Qaeda

Sources (17) [ collapse]