«Aftermath of a devastating Coalition airstrike at Hawijah, Iraq on June 3 2015, which reportedly killed up to 70 civilians (picture via Iraqi Spring) ...»
Hundreds of civilian non-combatants credibly reported
killed in first year of Coalition airstrikes against Islamic State
Aftermath of a devastating Coalition airstrike at Hawijah, Iraq on June 3 2015, which reportedly
killed up to 70 civilians (picture via Iraqi Spring)
Cause For Concern: Civilians Killed in Coalition Strikes
This Report is the result of a six-month study begun in February 2015, with the aim of building as
clear a picture as possible of alleged civilian fatalities from Coalition airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria.
The project has been made possible thanks to generous funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, which enabled us to employ two highly-skilled experts. Research into civilian and ‘friendly fire’ deaths in Iraq has been conducted by our Baghdad-based researcher Latif Habib, while our London-based researcher Kinda Haddad has pursued claims of civilian deaths in Syria.
This Report is written by Airwars director Chris Woods with an additional feature by Kinda Haddad, and is intended to be read in conjunction with our full database of events. All data modelling and mapping is the work of Basile Simon, who also designs and maintains our ever-expanding website.
We are particularly indebted to those monitoring groups, journalists and ordinary citizens in Iraq and Syria whose own courageous work informs many of the incidents we cover. In particular we would like to thank the Syrian Network for Human Rights; the Violations Documentation Center; the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights; Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently; and Iraq Body Count, all of which have worked tirelessly to expose not just fatalities from Coalition strikes but also from the far greater carnage still unfolding in Iraq and Syria. We are also grateful to Antiwar.com for sharing their ongoing reports of Iraqi fatalities.
We are also grateful to the Coalition’s public relations team for their prompt responses to our many inquiries over the months, as well as to those individual participating militaries which regularly engage with us.
This Report is also available via our website under a Creative Commons licence, which allows for the copying and distribution of text sections so long as they are attributed to Airwars and are used for non-commercial purposes. All photographs remain the copyright of their Authors.
Cause For Concern: Civilians Killed in Coalition Strikes Contents Acknowledgements
Key Findings and Recommendations
CASE STUDY: February 2nd 2015: Shadadi, Al Hassakah governorate, Syria
Civilian casualties from Coalition strikes in Iraq
CASE STUDY: June 3rd 2015: Hawijah, Kirkuk province, Iraq
Civilian casualties from Coalition strikes in Syria
CASE STUDY: December 28th 2014: Al Bab, Aleppo governorate, Syria
‘Friendly fire’ incidents
CASE STUDY: December 25th 2014: Bayji, Salah-al-Din province, Iraq
The challenges of assessing civilian casualty claims
CASE STUDY: February 8th 2015: south of Mousl, Nineveh province, Iraq
Coalition transparency & accountability
Transparency by Coalition nation
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain
Cause For Concern: Civilians Killed in Coalition Strikes
Methodology Because of the extreme security situation in Iraq and Syria, our own researchers and others have been severely limited in their ability to conduct field investigations into alleged civilian and friendly forces deaths. With most areas bombed by the Coalition under Daesh occupation, access remains almost impossible. Civic society has also broken down, with most journalists driven out or killed. As a result casualty claims can emerge in a fragmentary manner, with verification a particular challenge.
Social media sites often take on the role of reporting events - though as researcher Kinda Haddad notes on page 19, such claims sometimes come with health warnings. Many credible claims of noncombatant deaths are also made by casualty monitoring NGOs based in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.
In parallel with this study which runs to June 30th 2015, Airwars has also assembled a publicly accessible database of more than 120 alleged incidents involving the reported deaths of hundreds of non-combatants and friendly forces in Coalition actions.
When flagging up potential non-combatant deaths or injuries from allied airstrikes, Airwars draws on a wide range of sources. These can include international and local news agencies, as well as more fragmentary social media sites including local residents' groups, Facebook pages (for examples martyrs' pages), YouTube videos of incidents, and tweets relating to specific events. On occasion we also include links to militant propaganda sources which we believe to be pertinent to a particular event. These are always clearly marked as such.
Confirmed: Where the coalition or an individual ally has accepted responsibility for the killing of non-combatants or allied forces in a particular incident.
Fair: Reasonable level of public reporting of an alleged incident from two or more generally credible sources (often with biographical, photographic or video evidence). Crucially, there are also confirmed coalition strikes in the near vicinity for that date. We believe these cases in particular require urgent investigation.
Poor: Single source claims. Even so, these may feature biographical or photographic detail from a reputable source, with coalition strikes also confirmed in the vicinity.
Contested Events: Where there are claims of both Coalition and Iraqi or Syrian aircraft having carried out strikes at a location.
Disproven: Those cases where our researchers or others can either demonstrate that those killed were combatants, or where an incident did not in fact result in any civilian casualties.
Cause For Concern: Civilians Killed in Coalition Strikes Key Findings and Recommendations Despite claims by the US-led Coalition that its airstrikes in Iraq and Syria are ‘the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare’, there are clear indications from the field that many hundreds of non-combatants have been killed by the 12 international allies in the first year of their air war against Islamic State/ Daesh.
Airwars is concerned that the Coalition’s own monitoring systems miss many reports of noncombatant fatalities. To the end of June 2015, officials appear to have identified only one third of 118 alleged cases of concern.
For 57 of these incidents, Airwars believes there is sufficient publicly-available evidence to indicate Coalition responsibility for civilian and ‘friendly forces’ deaths. Between them these events account for 459-591 alleged civilian fatalities, and the reported deaths of 48-80 allied forces. Each of these claims warrants a prompt and impartial Coalition inquiry.
The Coalition’s admission of only two ‘likely’ non-combatant deaths to date – conceded some seven months after the event – indicates a worrying lack of urgency on the part of all Coalition members regarding civilian deaths.
Almost all claims of non-combatant deaths from alleged Coalition strikes emerge within 24 hours – with graphic images of reported victims often widely disseminated across media and social media. In this context, the present Coalition policy of downplaying or denying all claims of non-combatant fatalities makes little sense, and risks handing Islamic State and other forces a powerful propaganda tool.
Efforts to limit the risk to civilians on the ground continue to be hampered by an absence of effective transparency and accountability from almost all Coalition members. It is unacceptable that only one of twelve Coalition partners – Canada – has consistently stated in a timely fashion both where and when it carries out airstrikes.
The need for transparency is vital from all participating nations, since each is individually liable for any civilian deaths or injuries it causes. As CENTCOM notes: ‘If a claim of civilian casualties were found valid, that claim would be processed in accordance with the laws of the nation that conducted the strike.’ Casualty recording for Iraq is particularly weak. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq already reports more broadly on civilian fatalities from the conflict. In our view, there would also be merit in UNAMI also taking on the monitoring of Coalition-inflicted casualties for Iraq, as its sister mission UNAMA already does for Afghanistan.
Cause For Concern: Civilians Killed in Coalition Strikes Overview Despite claims of precision, civilians remain at significant risk from Coalition strikes in both Iraq and Syria Table 1: Total Casualty Claims for Iraq and Syria, August 8th 2014 to June 30th 2015
Between August 8th 2014 and June 30th 2015, the United States and its eleven Coalition allies had already carried out 4,924 airstrikes against Islamic State/ Daesh across both Iraq and Syria.1 Almost 17,000 munitions were released2, with CENTCOM estimating that more than 2,000 buildings had been destroyed alongside hundreds of enemy vehicles, checkpoints and fighting positions.3 Official estimates of the number of Daesh fighters killed in this period ranged from 10,000 to 13,000.4 According to coalition daily reports, to June 30th/July1st 2015 some 3,034 airstrikes were carried out in Iraq, and 1,890 in Syria.
16,931 weapons were released to June 2015, “Airpower Summaries”, AFCENT, at http://www.afcent.af.mil/AboutUs/AirpowerSummaries.aspx “Operation Inherent Resolve: Targeted Operations Against ISIL Terrorists,” US Department of Defense, at http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2014/0814_iraq/ For a summary of these claims see “Coalition airstrikes and casualties in Iraq and Syria: May 29th-June 5th 2015,” Chris Woods, Airwars, June 7 2015, at http://airwars.org/news/coalition-airstrikes-and-casualties-in-iraq-and-syria-may-29th-june-5th-2015/
Cause For Concern: Civilians Killed in Coalition Strikes
The Coalition claims non-combatants on the battlefield are rarely affected by these airstrikes. Lt General John Hesterman, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Airpower, told reporters in early June that ‘Our coalition airstrikes are the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare. We've been able to impact the enemy in a significant way and we do it in a way that minimizes civilian casualties, which our coalition nations rightly are very proud of.’5 In almost a year of intense bombings, the Coalition has publicly conceded only one incident – two girls ‘likely’ killed in a November 2014 strike in Syria. Six additional investigations are presently underway, while three more investigations have concluded – having found no ‘preponderance of evidence’ at present to support claims of civilian deaths, according to CENTCOM.6 There now exists a worrying gulf between public and Coalition positions. As our own researchers and others have found, every week from both Iraq and Syria a steady flow of casualty claims emerges.
The first such assertion was made just eight days into the bombing campaign, when news agencies claimed 11 civilians died at Mount Sinjar in Iraq - scene of heavy airstrikes as the Coalition sought to Rescuers search for survivors of a US airstrike on al Nusra Front at Kafar Daryan, Syria on September 23 2015 (via SN4HR) push back Daesh fighters.
In total, to June 30th some 118 incidents of concern had been flagged across Iraq and Syria by international and local news organisations, by monitoring groups and by social media sites, in which as many as 1,080 non-combatants have allegedly died. Some of these events are poorly reported.
Others are contested – or did not involve the deaths of civilians as initially claimed.
Even so, Airwars has identified 52 incidents of significant concern across both Iraq and Syria in which the level of public reporting appears reasonable, and where Coalition airstrikes are confirmed in the near vicinity for that date. Between 459 and 591 non-combatants are reported killed in these events.