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, which is helmed by Special Advisor, Daniel R. Mahanty, is the first one. We hope you find it useful as a snapshot of our work around the world to protect civilians trapped in conflict.
OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE
Raqqa: Around 160,000 civilians remain in the city of Raqqa, including 40,000 children. Last week, UN investigators said that intensified U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes in Raqqa have caused a “staggering loss of civilian life,” including at least 300 civilian deaths since March. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 117 civilian casualties from Coalition airstrikes in 12 days of fighting. Amnesty International found that the Coalition’s use of white phosphorous in Raqqa is unlawful and may amount to a war crime.
Mosul: Iraqi forces have encircled the Islamic State in Mosul’s Old City, where more than 100,000 civilians, including 50,000 children, remain trapped behind Islamic State lines. Civilians have been urged to evacuate by Iraqi forces, though the Islamic State targets those who try to flee in order to keep them as human shields. UNICEF reports that Islamic State fighters are deliberately targeting children to punish families and deter them from escaping. Humanitarian organizations have warned against the use of explosives with wide-area effects. The UN’s humanitarian chief said between 8,000 and 15,000 civilians are fleeing Mosul each day.
Since President Trump assumed office, the U.S.-led Coalition has been killing civilians in Iraq and Syria at “astounding rates.” Increased civilian casualties largely owe to the battle moving to Mosul and Raqqa. Yet the military has also relaxed oversight, investigation, and accountability on civilian casualties, even as bombings have intensified and more airstrikes have occurred in populated areas. Airwars reports that May was the second deadliest month for Iraqi and Syrian civilians since Coalition airstrikes began in August 2014.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (June 2): In the month of April, CJTF-OIR received 43 new reports of possible civilian casualties resulting from Coalition strikes in support of partnered force operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Senate Debates New AUMF: Debate over a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (or AUMF) began in earnest this week in a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on Tuesday. Committee members expressed broad bipartisan support for the Kaine-Flake AUMF proposal, which sets out to repeal the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs, establish stricter controls on which groups can be targeted by military force, and require a 5-year “sunset provision” for mandatory review. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) expressed concern that the proposal wasn’t narrow enough in preventing the use of force against civilians, a view that was mirrored by Human Rights First.
The hearing comes as the United States has engaged in hostilities against pro-Syrian regime forces at least three times in recent weeks. On Sunday, the U.S. shot down a Syrian fighter jet – a move which the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff insisted was covered by the 2001 AUMF.
Yet many argue that there is no legal framework for sustained combat against Syria. The use of military force against the Assad regime under the 2001 AUMF would depict the Syrian government as being “associated” with al-Qaeda, thus it cannot be appropriately applied. The United States should not slide into a war without a clear and defensible legal basis, under both domestic and international law.
House Subcommittee Issues NDAA Proposal: The House Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee released its portion of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday, revealing a bill that prioritizes funding for drone production and cyber warfare. This subcommittee’s proposal and others have been undergoing markup on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; marks so far have notably included an increase in Army troops beyond the Pentagon request and new shipbuilding efforts.
McCain Pushes for Afghanistan Strategy: Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has issued a rebuke to the administration on Monday over what he perceives as a lack of strategy in Afghanistan. His statement follows President Trump’s delegation of authority over troop presence in Afghanistan to Defense Secretary Mattis last week. McCain states, “Defense Secretary Mattis testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that we are not winning in Afghanistan. And yet, six months into the new administration, it still has not delivered a strategy. … If the administration fails to develop a strategy for success, Congress will need to play a greater role.” This call for an increased Congressional role in determining U.S. military strategy mirrors rhetoric used in recent hearings over a new AUMF.
Foreign Military Sales Hearing: The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade heard testimony last Thursday over the status of United States arms sales abroad. Representatives Lieu (D-CA) and Keating (D-MA) again raised concerns over Saudi use of arms against civilians in the conflict in Yemen. The witness, Ambassador Tina Kaidanow, sought to assuage fears, citing recent indications from the Saudi government that they are willing to improve target vetting and compliance with the laws of armed conflict.
On the Congressional Agenda:
- Monday, June 26 – 7:00pm – House Committee on Appropriations – Subcommittee Markup: FY 2018 Defense Appropriations Bill
- Wednesday, June 28 – 9:30am – Senate Committee on Armed Services – Markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018
- Wednesday, June 28 – 10:00am – House Committee on Foreign Affairs– Advancing U.S. Interests at the United Nations
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
Yemen: On Friday, a U.S. drone strike reportedly killed three AQAP militants in the Shabwa province of Yemen.
A report published last week by the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic and the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies says that the US government has acknowledged only 20% of its reported drone strikes. Its failure to provide information or legal rationales for the strikes makes it impossible to understand the full scope of the government’s drone program and its impact on civilians.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
Human Rights Watch reports that UAE-backed local security forces in Yemen have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and abused dozens of Yemenis in clandestine detention sites. An AP investigation found that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen. Though American interrogators were not involved in any actual abuses, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party violates the International Convention Against Torture.
June 27: USIP – After the ISIS Flag Falls: The Future of Mosul and Iraq; how to expand stabilization efforts to sustain the defeat of ISIS and bolster the security of Iraq
June 30: CSIS – South Sudan: When War and Famine Collide; panel discussion on the challenges in the region and policies the international community should pursue
TWEET OF THE WEEK
I’m lucky to have researched airpower issues for 20 yrs, and never heard more concerns about targeting processes from uniformed folks.
— Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko) June 19, 2017
Bureau of Investigative Journalism – from 2004 to date (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 739 – 1,407
Children Killed: 240 – 308
Total Killed: 6,382 – 9,240
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 2,935
Airwars – from 2014 to date (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 4,118
Coalition Strikes: 22,666
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 84,296