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 Special 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
CIVIC continued to follow news from Raqqa and Mosul this week.
Syria: As many as 100,000 civilians remain trapped in Raqqa as the air and ground offensive intensifies and exit routes are increasingly sealed off. The Islamic State continues to prevent civilians from fleeing, and those who attempt to escape risk being killed by landmines or in crossfire. The UN human rights chief said at least 173 civilians have been killed in air or ground strikes since 1 June, adding that the number may be much higher.
On Monday, a U.S. airstrike on an Islamic State prison near al-Mayadeen killed at least 42 civilian prisoners. Coalition airstrikes resulted in at least 231 civilian deaths in al-Mayadeen between 22 May and 28 June.
Since January, there has been an “unprecedented and sustained rise” in civilian deaths from U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Coalition airstrikes have killed nearly 700 civilians in Raqqa province since 1 March. The SOHR also documented 472 civilian deaths resulting from Coalition airstrikes in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor from 23 May to 23 June, the highest civilian death toll for a single month since the Coalition began its campaign in September 2014. The U.S. military’s silence on civilian deaths in Syria results in a lack of accountability for military operations.
A Pentagon investigation into the 16 March airstrike on a mosque near al-Jinah found that the strike complied with operational and legal requirements and resulted in one civilian casualty, though investigators did not visit the scene nor speak with anyone on the ground. The military claims it was targeting a meeting of al-Qaeda members, yet investigations by Human Rights Watch, Bellingcat, and Forensic Architecture found no evidence that al-Qaeda members were meeting in the mosque. Airwars participated in a press conference, which was not recorded or made available to the public, in which the Pentagon admitted to not speaking with any witnesses about the airstrike. Their investigations conclude that the strike hit the mosque as around 300 people had gathered for night prayer, killing at least 38 civilians.
July 12: USIP – In Afghanistan, U.S. Still Needs a Plan to Win the Peace; panel discussion on the necessity of a political strategy addressing domestic and regional factors fueling the war
TWEET OF THE WEEK
Reading through the @airwars transcript of the Pentagon's Al Jinah mosque investigation. Their investigation spoke to no-one on the ground. pic.twitter.com/jRrub87w86
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) June 27, 2017
Bureau of Investigative Journalism – since 2004 to date (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
- Civilians Killed: 739 – 1,407
- Children Killed: 240 – 308
- Total Killed: 6,435 – 9,309
- Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 3,341
Airwars – since Aug 2014 to date (Total Iraq and Syria)
- Minimum Civilians Killed: 4,118
- Coalition Strikes: 22,936
- Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 84,296
SEE: CIVIC: Recommendations to the Anti-ISIS Coalition on Operations in Syria
Iraq: Iraqi forces expect Mosul to fall in the coming days, though fighting in the Old City is very intense and “civilians are at extreme, almost unimaginable risk.” The UN’s humanitarian chief for Iraq said thousands of civilians are being used as human shields and hundreds are being shot, including children. Up to 350 Islamic State fighters remain in the Old City, entrenched among civilians and using booby traps, suicide bombers, and sniper fire to slow the advance of Iraqi troops. Over the weekend, Iraqi forces opened exit routes for hundreds of civilians to flee the Old City, though more than 50,000 remain trapped behind Islamic State lines with little food, water, or medicine.
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.
Armed Services Committees Complete NDAA Markup: After working late into the evening on Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee finished markups and approved their version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which will set the US defense budget for FY18. The House bill, like its Senate counterpart, spends in total nearly $700 billion, a 16% increase from the FY17 budget. The bill’s base budget of $621.5 billion outpaces even the President’s recommendation and significantly exceeds the defense budget cap of $549 billion set by sequestration. This massive military expansion was not mitigated in the markup process, and amendments recommending even small shipbuilding reductions were firmly rejected. Human rights advocates may, however, find some relief in an amendment introduced by Rep. O’Rourke (D-TX) mandating the production of a public report on civilian casualties caused by US strikes in and out of areas of active hostilities. Less is known about deliberations in the Senate, which are being held behind closed doors; multiple watchdog groups have expressed their concern about the lack of transparency in a letter to Senator McCain (R-AZ), who chairs the committee.
Genocide Prevention Bill Introduced in the House: Representative Ann Wagner (R-MO) introduced the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2017 last Thursday alongside lead cosponsor Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) and 26 other members. The bill seeks to define genocide and atrocity crimes as a “core national security interest” and address the root causes of violent conflict to prevent, among other things, the mass slaughter of civilians. It would establish a Mass Atrocities Task Force headed by the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights that would assess the state of US atrocity prevention efforts, provide recommendations for foreign relief strategies, and report biannually to Congress on the state of atrocity crimes around the world. This Task Force would be supplemented by a Complex Crises fund to provide non-lethal assistance abroad in times of humanitarian disaster.
Corker Blocks Gulf Arms Sales: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) announced a decision on Monday to block all foreign military sales to Gulf Cooperation Council members (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE) until there is “a better understanding of the path to resolve the current dispute” with Qatar. The decision, intended to help reunify the GCC as a regional counterbalance against ISIL and Iran, is also likely to interfere with the White House’s efforts to move forward on a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a measure which human rights groups fear will contribute to Saudi-led violence against civilians in Yemen. However, an aide of Senator Corker has stated that the decision will not interfere with non-lethal assistance such as training and any measures already brought before Congress, including the $510 million sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia confirmed earlier this month.
HFAC Subcommittee Chair Seeks to Chastise Pakistan: House Foreign Affairs Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Ted Poe (R-TX) has introduced a bill to strip Pakistan of its major non-NATO ally status. The bill debuted last Thursday as a response to Pakistan’s failure to confront or control the Taliban and Haqqani network, and would strip Pakistan of privileges including expedited arms sales. Many blame the campaign of extreme violence against civilians in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s reticence to confront these groups, and American punitive actions against Pakistan must be carefully measured if they hope to elicit aid in the fight against civilian violence without alienating our ally altogether. Pakistan’s embassy had already expressed concern about the Trump administration’s recent hardline approach, saying that “Singling out Pakistan and pinning the entire blame on Pakistan for the situation in Afghanistan is neither fair nor accurate, nor is it borne out by the ground realities.”
On the Congressional Agenda:
- Wednesday, July 12 – 10:00 am – Senate Committee on Foreign Relations – Managing Security Sector Assistance to Support Foreign Policy
Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley boasted about cuts to the UN’s peacekeeping budget. On Wednesday, UN states agreed to a $7.3 billion annual peacekeeping budget, cutting $600 million from current costs and slashing American contributions by 7.5 percent. The U.S. is also reviewing each of the UN peacekeeping missions as annual mandates come up for renewal by the Security Council in an attempt to cut costs.
Ambassador Haley’s remarks loom large as debates begin over two major UN Peacekeeping Missions. The Security Council is expected to vote soon on significant cuts to UNAMID, the joint African Union-UN mission in Darfur. A draft resolution calls for a two-stage drawdown over the next 12 months, cutting military personnel by 44 percent and police by nearly 30 percent. Human Rights Watch criticized the cuts as “misguided.” Senior director for Africa advocacy at HRW said the cuts reflect a false narrative about the war in Darfur ending, though government attacks on civilians and other abuses continue.
The Security Council is expected to vote today on renewing the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA). The vote comes as the two-year interim period laid out by Mali’s 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation comes to an end. MINUSMA’s core mandate is to help implement the peace agreement between the government and armed groups, though it has barely moved forward since 2015. The UN must review MINUSMA’s mandate, and provide it with adequate resources to carry it out.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
Syria: Coalition forces killed a key ISIS financial facilitator, Fawaz Muhammad Jubayr al-Rawi, in an airstrike in Abu Kamal, Syria on 16 June.
Afghanistan: The U.S. carried out nine strikes in Nangarhar province between 10 June and 22 June.
As the Trump Administration considers eliminating the “near certainty” standard outlined in the PPG, human rights groups have urged the United States to strengthen the existing standards for the use of force in counterterrorism operations. As more countries acquire and use armed drones, the U.S. must seek to set an example and demonstrate that its use of force practices adhere to its civilian protection obligations under international law.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
Ensuring safe zones are truly safe would remove many dangers of crossing a war zone in order to reach safety. Safe zones must adhere to international refugee law, international human rights law, and the international law of armed conflict in order to prevent civilians’ need to flee.