US Weekly Update - July 30, 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

Syria: Assistant Secretary General for the UN Security Council, Ursula Mueller, said that the situation for 20,000 to 50,000 remaining civilians in Raqqa is perilous, as there is no way for them to escape the city due to the presence of mines and unexploded ordnance, shelling, snipers, and airstrikes. Access to food, markets, water, and health services and facilities is extremely limited. Mueller reported that 200,000 civilians have fled Raqqa since April 1, including more than 30,000 this month. She warned that conditions for civilians displaced within Raqqa province are dire as well with temperatures reaching over 122 degrees farenheit, and concerns over their freedom of movement outside of displacement camps persist. SDF forces now control close to half of Raqqa city, though their advance has slowed due to the massive amounts of explosives laid by and increased suicide attacks from the Islamic State, as well as its continued use of civilians as human shields. Since the offensive in Raqqa began on June 6, the Coalition’s already heavy aerial bombardment has intensified. Airwars has tracked at least 140 civilian deaths resulting from Coalition airstrikes in the first three weeks of July, in addition to at least 340 civilians killed in airstrikes in June; the chief Syria researcher at Airwars, Kinda Haddad, said that there have been many incidents of entire families being killed in air and artillery strikes. The U.S.-led Coalition’s campaign in Raqqa “looks a lot less like a battle against the Islamic State and a lot more like a war on civilians."

A report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights detailing incidents in Raqqa governorate from November 2016, when the Raqqa campaign began, to late June 2017, found that Coalition forces and the SDF have not distinguished between civilians and fighters in many of their attacks and have not considered the principle of proportionality in the use of force. The report documented 731 civilians killed by the Coalition and 90 attacks on vital civilian facilities for which the Coalition is responsible. The SNHR called on the Coalition to acknowledge that some of its operations resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians; rather than denying the allegations, states should launch serious investigations and apologize to and compensate the victims.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that an escalation of Coalition airstrikes on Deir Ezzor province resulted in the deaths of 59 civilians in al-Mayadeen city, 61 civilians in other areas of the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, and 154 family members of Islamic State fighters, including 68 children, from May 22 to July 22. An airstrike on an Islamic State prison holding both civilians and prisoners of IS also resulted in 42 deaths.

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

Iraq: After nine months of urban warfare, Mosul is experiencing a “humanitarian crisis of monumental scale.” The UNHCR reported that although the number of people fleeing western Mosul has significantly decreased, an estimated 450 individuals arrived daily at camps east of Mosul last week; since the Mosul offensive began in October, an estimated 940,000 civilians fled Mosul, close to 840,000 of whom remain displaced. The majority of returnees are residents of east Mosul as the damage to civilian infrastructure there is less severe than in the west, where the destruction is “incomparable to anything else that has happened in Iraq so far.” Throughout the nine-month battle, thousands of children were separated from their parents; aid agencies estimate that more than 3,000 children are now separated from their parents, while over 800 are unaccompanied – without care or guardians. Many children were forced to fight or carry out violent acts during and were vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

 The security situation in the city remains volatile. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis reported that Iraqi forces now control all parts of Mosul, though continue to conduct detailed clearance operations in the Old City, searching for remaining Islamic State fighters and identifying explosive devices. Homemade bombs and explosives laid “on an industrial scale” by the Islamic State are causing hundreds of deaths and hampering stabilization efforts as individuals return to Mosul and other liberated areas of northern Iraq. Booby-trapped houses, schools, mosques, and streets all pose a major threat in west Mosul; extensive mining of villages and fields also stretches beyond Mosul to the Kurdish autonomous region. The UN Mines Action Service has documented 1,700 people killed by such explosives since clearing operations began last October. Charge d’affairs at the EU mission in Iraq, Charles Stuart, said the Islamic State’s targeting of civilians aims to hinder stabilization efforts to return people to their homes, rebuild infrastructure, and reinstate government rule; because the Islamic State’s strategy extends beyond military operations, exploiting the crisis in Mosul could allow it to thrive again.

Yazidi women who have been freed after three years of captivity and serial rape by Islamic State fighters in Mosul are “in severe shock and psychological upset.” The women are showing “extraordinary signs of psychological injury” and have been described as “very tired,” “unconscious,” and unable to wake up, sleeping for days on end. Since the Mosul operation began last October, an estimated 180 Yazidi women and girls, captured in 2014, have been freed.

SEE: Uncertainty Looms for Civilians in Mosul

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.

congresS

Defense Budget Bill Passes in House: The House approved the $789.6 billion Department of Defense Appropriations Act on Thursday, voting largely along partisan lines to pass the bill 235-192. This level of funding significantly exceeds the $549 defense budget cap set by the 2011 sequestration, and the Republican lawmakers that passed it will have to choose between repealing budget caps and trimming the budget, though some funds can be shifted into the unlimited Overseas Contingency Operations fund.

The bill now must go before the Senate, where its chances for survival are slim; repealing budget caps would require 60 votes in the Senate, and the Democratic minority seems far from relenting. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) solidified the Democratic opposition to the bill with a statement: “To my Republican friends in the Senate, I’d say persuade your colleagues in the House to abandon this dangerous, irresponsible path they’ve put us on, which can only lead to a government shutdown.”

Before the bill’s passage in the House, several key amendments were considered. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) attempted to attach amendments repealing the 2001 AUMF and prohibiting any related funding; neither of these were considered by the Rules committee. Rep. Davidson (R-OH) introduced an amendment that would prohibit funds for military action in Yemen, which was rejected after debate. Davidson successfully passed a similar amendment to the House NDAA earlier this month.

NDAA Hits Gridlock in Senate: Following a brief hospitalization and brain cancer diagnosis, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has returned to the Senate and is urging his colleagues to move forward on NDAA. However, like the Defense budget bill, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is promising to block the NDAA until the Republicans abandon their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act through budget reconciliation, a process that reduced the number of votes needed from 60 to 51 (or 50 with the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote). The reconciliation process requires that the Senate reach unanimous consent before moving onto any bill while still debating healthcare; it “has prevented us from debating, from having hearings, from having some kind of bipartisan input,” says Schumer. The House version of the bill contains several crucial amendments targeting civilian rights abuses in Nigeria and Yemen and improved reporting on U.S.-caused civilian casualties, none of which can progress until the political turmoil in the Senate subsides.

On the Congressional Agenda:

Wednesday, August 2 – 2:00pm – Senate Foreign Relations Committee – The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective [Closed to Public]

DRONE WARFARE and TARGETED KILLINGS

Afghanistan: On July 23, residents of Haska Mena district in Nangarhar province reported that a U.S. strike hit a funeral ceremony, killing eight civilians. Local officials said that IS-K fighters had been firing from civilian homes close to the site of the ceremony. The governor’s spokesman said that joint air and ground operations were carried out in various areas of Haska Mena district, but forces came under fire in Mianji Baba, the alleged site of the strike. Twenty-five IS-K members, including three leaders, were killed and four civilian homes were reportedly hit during the operation. The U.S. military said that it was aware of the allegations and that an investigation is underway, confirming that U.S. forces had conducted strikes in the general area during the relevant time period. On July 26, several possible U.S. airstrikes killed at least eight IS-K fighters in Nangarhar province. A joint U.S. and Afghan military operation on July 27 in Paktika province killed two leaders of the al-Qaeda linked Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and led to the capture of a third leader. On July 28, a possible U.S. airstrike hit an IS-K “hideout” in Nangarhar province, reportedly killing eight IS-K fighters.

Operation Inherent Resolve: The Coalition reported the deaths of seven senior Islamic State propagandists and facilitators in Iraq and Syria.

SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES

Cameroon: After Amnesty International released a report last week documenting the torture of suspected Boko Haram fighters at a Cameroonian base used by American troops and private contractors, U.S. Africa Command has launched an investigation to determine if U.S. personnel were aware that torture was taking place at the base.

Iraq: Human Rights Watch reported that a U.S.-trained Iraqi army division executed several dozen prisoners in Mosul’s Old City. It called for the U.S. to suspend all assistance and support for the Iraqi 16th Division pending a full investigation and appropriate prosecutions by the Iraqi government, citing the Leahy Law, which prohibits the United States from providing military assistance to any unit of foreign security forces if there is credible evidence that the unit has committed gross violations of human rights and no effective measures are being taken to bring those responsible to justice.

Philippines: On Thursday, the U.S. transferred two single-engine surveillance planes to the Philippines as part of its $425 million Maritime Security Initiative to help Southeast Asian countries address regional security challenges, including Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. The planes will boost the Philippines’ ability to patrol its seas, as well as fight pro-Islamic State militants on the southern island of Mindanao.

Romania: Romanian Defense Minister Adrian Tutuianu confirmed the $3.9 billion deal to purchase Patriot missiles from the United States. The State Department approved the sale earlier this month, though Romania’s Parliament still needs to pass a law allowing the acquisition.

WHAT WE’RE READING:

Despite the reliance on drone strikes in U.S. counterterrorism policy, there is relatively little known about the political effects of this tactic. Jacqueline Hazelton finds that drone strikes have little ability to assure U.S. security at home and abroad in the context of two potential grand strategies; while drone strikes may produce short-term benefits, they do not create significant popular or state support for U.S. interests or do serious political damage to U.S. adversaries.