US Program Update - July 17, 2017

As part of our expanded online presence and making our work more accessible, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) will be posting occasional updates to our various programs. Our US program is helmed by Senior Advisor, Daniel R. Mahanty. We hope you find it useful as a snapshot of our work around the world to protect civilians trapped in conflict.

OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE

Airwars reported that June was the second deadliest month for civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Coalition’s campaign in August 2014. Coalition forces likely killed between 529 and 744 civilians in Iraq and Syria – a 52 percent increase from May. For six straight months, casualty incidents attributed to the Coalition have surpassed those carried out by Russian forces.

Syria: An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 civilians remain in the city of Raqqa with shortages of food, water, medicine, electricity, and other essentials. Coalition airstrikes and shelling on the ground have left most civilians trapped inside, paralyzed by fear of the relentless air and artillery attacks. The UN reported a rapid increase in the number of people fleeing Raqqa in recent weeks; civilians are coming out of the city traumatized, weak, and thirsty. Those who have been able to escape have been forced to pay enormous amounts of money to smugglers, often leaving elderly and sick relatives behind. Last week, SDF forces entered Raqqa’s Old City, where more than 2,000 Islamic State fighters are holed up among tens of thousands of civilians.

Airwars estimates between 415 and 582 Syrian civilians, including at least 54 children, were killed by Coalition forces in June, making it the deadliest month for civilians since the Coalition began its campaign in August 2014. A massive increase in the number of munitions released by the Coalition, as well as a record number of air and artillery strikes mark a sharp intensification of the Raqqa campaign. CJTF-OIR commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, said on Tuesday that that Coalition airstrikes and overhead surveillance support for SDF forces in Raqqa may increase now that the Islamic State has largely been defeated in Mosul. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported an escalation of Coalition airstrikes in al-Mayadeen, documenting at least 244 civilian deaths since the start of the Coalition’s bombing in late May.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights said that the Coalition has grown “more ruthless and destructive” of vital civilian facilities, carrying out 75 attacks on civilian facilities since January, including 17 in June.

SEE: CIVIC: Recommendations to the Anti-ISIS Coalition on Operations in Syria

Iraq: Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared ‘total victory’ over the Islamic State in Mosul on Monday, though the UN warned that there is no end in sight to the humanitarian crisis in the city. Close to 700,000 civilians remain displaced, and the UN said it could take several months before many are able to return home due to a lack of basic services, the presence of unexploded ordinance and explosive devices, and remaining insecurity. Airwars reported that nearly 80 percent of west Mosul has been completely destroyed; of west Mosul’s 54 residential neighborhoods, 15 have been severely damaged, and at least 23 have been moderately damaged. Though Mosul has been liberated, clashes continue between U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and holdout Islamic State fighters; at least 100 civilians are still trapped by the fighting.

A new report by Amnesty International documenting the “civilian catastrophe” in west Mosul sheds light on the scale of death, injury, and suffering of civilians trapped in the battle. The report found that the U.S.-led Coalition and Iraqi forces may have caused as many as 5,805 civilian deaths and that the Coalition’s reliance on imprecise, explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated west Mosul violated international humanitarian law. Amnesty said that the Coalition’s failure to take necessary precautions resulted in needless loss of civilian life and that hundreds, if not thousands, of civilian deaths could have been avoided in west Mosul had the Iraqi forces and Coalition prioritized their protection, as required under international humanitarian law. CJTF-OIR commander, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, rejected Amnesty’s charges that Coalition bombings were imprecise, unlawful, or excessively targeted civilians, insisting that Coalition and Iraqi forces have gone to extraordinary measures to protect civilian lives in “the most precise campaign in the history of warfare.” There are several likely reasons for the vast discrepancy between the Coalition’s and monitoring groups’ estimates of civilian casualties, including a challenging environment for conducting proper in-depth assessments, different determinations of who a “civilian” is, and limited access or use of information. Yet, the Coalition should do a better job of explaining how it meets its civilian protection obligations and by being more proactive in seeking outside information when conducting assessments.

Human Rights Watch reported that Iraqi Security Forces have forcibly relocated at least 170 families with alleged Islamic State members to a “rehabilitation camp” and that local authorities are also demanding the eviction of families believed to be associated with the Islamic State. HRW said these abuses amount to collective punishment and are war crimes. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for all allegations of human rights violations by the ISF to be fully investigated and those responsible to be held accountable. Human Rights Watch also condemned videos circulating on social media showing Iraqi forces torturing and killing suspected Islamic State fighters in Mosul. A spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry said officials were aware of the videos and that an investigation has been launched, but the Iraqi researcher at HRW said that the reports of torture and murder have been met by silence from Baghdad, only heightening the sense of impunity among armed forces in Mosul. Human rights advocates have also raised concerns over the scale of the suspect databases used by different arms of the Iraqi security forces, arguing that civilians with no links to the Islamic State are being detained.

SEE: The Fall of the Caliphate in Mosul, an Iraqi Perspective

MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (July 7): In the month of May, CJTF-OIR carried over 38 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 61 new reports resulting from Coalition strikes in support of partner force operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

CJTF-OIR assesses that at least 603 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve. Airwars currently estimates that at least 4,544 civilians have been killed since the start of the operation.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

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NDAA Advances in the House: The White House released its response to the House Armed Services Committee’s NDAA draft on Wednesday, in which it objected to several key provisions. Notably, the administration issued a harsh rebuke to the committee’s decision to prohibit any Base Realignment or Closure (BRAC) in FY18. An amendment introduced by Rep. McClintock (R-CA) to lift the bill’s ban on BRAC was rejected on the House floor on Thursday in a failed attempt to preserve the administration’s goal of conducting a new round of base closures in 2021. The statement also lamented the bill’s failure to authorize the construction of short-term operational facilities in Iraq and Syria, a provision it claims will be crucial to “enable the pursuit of ISIS into the Euphrates River Valley and help improve the security of Iraq’s borders.”

The House Rules Committee has been hearing amendments to the NDAA this week, with 88 approved on Tuesday for debate on the House floor. Some pertinent amendments include:

Rep. Torres (D-CA): Require Report on Human Rights Violations by Military Sales Recipients

Status: Adopted                                                                                                                                             

This accountability measure introduced by Rep. Torres would require the Director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to determine whether any defense articles sold to foreign governments have been transferred to units forbidden from receiving military aid due to gross violations of human rights. This information would be released in a report 180 days after the passage of the NDAA, hopefully clarifying the role of United States military sales in human rights abuses abroad.

Rep. Engel (D-NY): Require Increased Nigerian Military Transparency and Civilian Protection

Status: Adopted

Rep. Engel’s amendment would require a presidential report that assesses the threat posed by terrorist groups like Boko Haram that target civilians along with an assessment of the Nigerian government’s efforts to improve its own transparency, chains of accountability, and civilian protection. While terrorist groups pose a major threat to civilians in Nigeria, the Nigerian government has repeatedly killed civilians because of incomplete target vetting and has failed to institute strong measures to punish soldiers for extrajudicial killings of noncombatants.

Rep. Lieu (D-CA): Require Report on Saudi Arabia’s No-Strike Adherence and Capacity to Avoid Civilians in Targeting

Status: Adopted

Rep. Lieu’s amendment requires a biannual report by the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State on the status of the conflict in Yemen. This report would include a description of Saudi Arabia’s adherence to the no-strike list, which prohibits bombing of vital humanitarian infrastructure like bridges and hospitals. Saudi Arabia has a history of ignoring no-strike rules and conducted strikes last August on a Doctors Without Borders hospital and a bridge used by the UN to transport food supplies. The amendment also requires an assessment of Saudi progress on improving targeting mechanisms; the Saudi government blames imprecise technology for many of the 9,000 civilian deaths in the last two years of the conflict.

Rep. Davidson (R-OH): Prohibit Use of Funds for Unclassified Operations in Yemen

Status: Adopted

This amendment prohibits any funding authorized to be appropriated by this act from being used in military operations in Yemen. Restrictions do not apply to operations conducted by intelligence-gathering bodies or any other classified operations. This would greatly limit the U.S.’s ability to conduct refueling of coalition jets as it conducts a bombing campaign in Yemen.

Rep. Nolan (D-MN): Prohibit Deployment of U.S. Ground Forces to Yemen

Status: Adopted

This amendment modifies NDAA Section 1277 on the security strategy for Yemen, adding a clause which asserts that “None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act are authorized to be made available to deploy members of the Armed Forces to Yemen.” While this would inhibit future expansions of U.S. military force into Yemen, it would not restrict refueling missions which do not take place over Yemen or the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia to be used in the conflict.

On the Congressional Agenda:

DRONE WARFARE and TARGETED KILLINGS

Afghanistan: On July 7, a possible U.S. airstrike in Nangarhar province killed fourteen Islamic State fighters, and a second possible U.S. drone strike reportedly killed three fighters belonging to the Afridi group. On July 8, a U.S. airstrike killed seven fighters in Paktia province, though it is not clear to which group the alleged fighters belonged. A second strike on July 8 in Paktia province reportedly killed eight Taliban fighters, as well as eight local members of an anti-Taliban uprising; the Taliban also reported one civilian death. On July 9, a U.S. drone strike killed two Taliban fighters in Laghman province. On July 11, a U.S. strike killed five Taliban fighters in Kunduz province. A strike in Kunar province on July 11 killed at least nine Islamic State fighters, and another possible U.S. strike in Kunar province on July 11 killed up to eleven Islamic fighters; it is unclear if these are the same strike. The Pentagon confirmed the death of Abu Sayed, the Emir of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – Khorasan Province, in a U.S. strike in Kunar province on July 11.

Somalia: On July 13, Somali special forces accompanied by U.S. forces in two helicopters raided an al-Shabaab village in southern Somalia, killing several al-Shabaab fighters.

Yemen: On July 9, a possible U.S. drone strike hit suspected al Qaeda sites, including an arms depot and a training camp in Abyan province. On July 10, U.S. drone strikes in Shabwah province allegedly hit a car carrying al Qaeda fighters and a gathering of al Qaeda gunmen, though U.S. Central Command denied conducting any strikes in Shabwah during the relevant time period.

SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES

United Kingdom: The State Department approved the possible sale to Britain of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and accessories worth an estimated $1.035 billion. The principal contractor of the sale will be Oshkosh Corp unit Oshkosh Defense LLC.

A British court ruled on Monday that Britain’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia are legal, despite widespread concern among rights groups that the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen has caused mass civilian casualties and has violated international law. The chief executive of Oxfam GB said that the court’s decision “sets back arms control 25 years,” giving ministers free reign to sell arms to countries which have violated international humanitarian law.

Germany: Pentagon officials briefed German military officials on the F-35 fighter jet as Germany is looking to replace its Tornado fighter jets, though no procurement decisions have been taken.

Netherlands: The State Department approved the possible sale of 32 AN/AAR-57A(V)7 Common Missile Warning Systems and accessories worth an estimated $58.2 million to the Netherlands. The principal contractor will be BAE systems.

Romania: The State Department approved the potential sale of seven Patriot missile defense systems worth $3.9 billion to Romania. The prime contractors will be Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. Romanian President Iohannis said the possible sale was not intended to put strains on relations with Russia, but to strengthen the country’s defenses.

WHAT WE’RE READING:

The United Kingdom’s use of armed drones and its involvement in the U.S. drone program lack public transparency and oversight. There remains a lack of clarity as to the legal basis upon which the U.K. relies for its use of armed drones and a question of whether or not the U.K. is still asserting self-defense under international law for its drone program. The U.K. government has also failed to detail the nature and degree of its involvement in facilitating and supporting the use of armed drones by the United States, which is important because depending on the nature of its involvement, the U.K. may be liable for the U.S. government’s actions.

STATISTICS

Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)

Civilians Killed: 742 – 1,407
Children Killed: 240 – 308
Total Killed: 6,567 – 9,445
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 3,648

Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)

Minimum Civilians Killed: 4,544
Coalition Strikes: 23, 534
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 89,144

UPCOMING EVENTS

July 17: Wilson Center – Mosul After ISIS: Whither U.S. Policy in Iraq?; former U.S. policy advisors discuss security, reconstruction, and political reconciliation in Iraq

July 17: CFR – A Conversation With Mohammad Javad Zarif; Foreign Minister Zarif discusses current developments in the Middle East

July 19: Brookings – A 21st Century Truman Doctrine?: U.S. Foreign Policy with Senator Tim Kaine; Sen. Kaine discuss the need for a revitalized Truman Doctrine in a hyperconnected and geopolitically competitive era; themes drawn from Sen. Kaine’s recent article in Foreign Affairs