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 US Program Director, Daniel R. Mahanty. We hope you find it useful as a snapshot of our work around the world to protect civilians trapped in conflict.
US MILITARY OPERATIONS: IRAQ, SYRIA, AFGHANISTAN
As many as 4,000 victims of the Islamic State could be buried in a mass grave called Khasfa in Mosul, Florian Neuhof reports at The Daily Beast. Identifying the victims would allow their families to receive financial help and bring closure to those whose believe their family members may be languishing in Iraqi prisons, but the government has shown little inclination to do so.
The Coalition carried out fifteen strikes across Iraq and Syria between April 6 and 12.
US and Afghan forces have expanded air strikes against drug labs in western Afghanistan, but the risk of civilian casualties may be greater than the potential benefits of cutting off Taliban revenue flows.
Patricia Gossman, senior researcher on Afghanistan at Human Rights Watch, argues that US generals are repeating mistakes of the past by insisting that the new US military strategy – of increasing air power and sending more troops to train Afghan forces – has fundamentally improved the situation in Afghanistan. Gossman writes that American commanders would gain credibility with Afghan civilians if the US improved measures to reduce civilian casualties, ensured proper compensation and accountability when casualties do occur, and by ending alliances with police chiefs and militia forces that commit violations of human rights.
This week, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported 2,258 civilian casualties during the first quarter of 2018, figures comparable to the first quarters of 2017 and 2016. The number of civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces fell by 13 percent compared with the first quarter of 2017, though the number of casualties caused by suicide bombings or insurgent assaults was twice as high as during the first quarter of 2017 – even as thousands of US troops have arrived in Afghanistan to train Afghan forces.
The Pentagon released a quarterly report of the number of troops serving overseas this week, though did not provide numbers for Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan and stripped the numbers from previous reports from its website.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (March 28): In the month of February, CJTF-OIR carried over 485 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 121 new reports resulting from Coalition strikes (artillery or air) in support of partner force operations to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. During this period, the Coalition completed the assessment of 84: 78 were assessed to be non-credible, none were assessed to be duplicates of previous reports, and six were assessed to be credible, resulting in 14 unintentional civilian deaths. To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 855 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
“While America as a whole chooses to express its love for its military in gooey, substance-free displays, our military waits, perhaps hopelessly, for a coherent national policy that takes the country’s wars seriously.”
— Phil Klay (@PhilKlay) April 14, 2018
April 16: US Institute of Peace – Colombia Peace Forum: Elections and Peace Processes in Colombia
April 16: US Institute of Peace – Hidden Wounds: Trauma and Civilians in the Syrian Conflict
April 17: American Bar Association and Elliot School of International Affairs – When People Flee: Rule of Law and Forced Migration
April 17: Atlantic Council – The US-Ukraine Partnership
April 23: New America – ISIS in North Africa: Past and Future Trajectories
April 23: Council on Foreign Relations – Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on US-Iran Relations
April 24: Brookings Institution – The Battle for the New Libya
April 25: US Institute of Peace – Afghanistan in 2020: Is Peace Possible?
May 1: American Red Cross International Services – Far from the Media’s Spotlight: Global Humanitarian Crises Outside the Public Eye
May 18: Center for Strategic and International Studies – The Future of Force
May 22: Stimson Center & CIVIC with the Forum on the Arms Trade – Taking Aim: A Closer Look at the Global Arms Trade
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 737 – 1,551
Children Killed: 242 – 335
Total Killed: 7,361 – 10,677
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,737
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,238
Coalition Strikes: 29,223
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 106,835
Congress Reacts to Strikes in Syria: Following a horrific chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime – which is estimated to have affected at least 500 civilians – the U.S., U.K., and France have responded with air strikes aimed at inhibiting Syrian chemical weapons capacity.
Congress has been divided in its reaction. All parties agree that chemical weapons strikes are atrocities. However, a coalition of legislators that has broadly cooperated on the various AUMF reforms in the past year is already voicing complaints that this strike was not brought before Congress. This group, composed largely of Democrats and libertarian Republicans, would like to see strikes stop until Congress passes a new authorization for the use of military force in Syria. Said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), “One night of airstrikes is not a substitute for a clear, comprehensive Syria strategy. The president must come to Congress and secure an (new military force authorization) by proposing a comprehensive strategy with clear objectives.”
The administration and its supporters in Congress continue to argue that current AUMFs cover military force in Syria, but momentum is building against the idea. Outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) is one of these legislators. “He has the authority under the existing AUMF. What I would hate to do is have an AUMF that ties the hands of our military behind their backs. That makes it much more difficult to respond, to keep us safe, because they have the authority to do that now.”
Regardless of their side of the aisle, however, legislators seem highly frustrated with the quality of information coming from the White House. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) is a supporter of the President and the recent strikes, but expressed that “the administration needs to begin fully explaining its strategy in the months ahead.”
A strategy that diminishes Syrian President Assad’s ability to commit gas attacks on his own civilians would be admirable indeed. It is not yet clear to what extent this strike has achieved that goal, and the fallout from this strike is still to be determined. Pentagon officials have declared that there were no known civilian casualties caused by the coalition’s strike on Friday. However, if hostilities between Western forces and the Syrian regime escalate, such favorable outcomes may no longer be assured.
ON THE CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA:
- Tuesday, April 17 – 10:00 am – Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Full Committee Hearing: U.S. Policy in Yemen
- Wednesday, April 18 – 2:00 pm – House Foreign Affairs Committee – Libya Fractured: The Struggle for Unity
- Wednesday, April 18 – 10:00 am – House Foreign Affairs Committee – U.S. Policy Toward a Turbulent Middle East
- Tuesday, April 24 – 9:30 am – Senate Armed Services Committee – Posture of the Department of the Air Force
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
A US airstrike killed the leader of the Islamic State in northern Afghanistan, Qari Hekmatullah, and his body guard on April 9 in Faryab province.
US forces carried out an airstrike on April 11 near Jana Cabdalle in Kismayo, Somalia destroying a vehicle-borne IED. It’s unclear if anyone was killed in the strike.
Rita Siemon, of Human Rights First, addresses the “dangerous lack of transparency regarding the use of lethal force under the Trump administration,” writing that Congress should require the administration to provide an unclassified explanation of its lethal force policy.
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
On Monday, the State Department approved the sale of Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems II Guidance Sections to Qatar, worth an estimated $300 million.
In a series of articles, Just Security examines US support to the Saudi-led coalition’s operations in Yemen. In the first, the authors conclude that because the US provides refueling assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, it may be sufficient to involve America in the non-international armed conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis, even though the US hasn’t directly participated in the conflict. In the next, they examine whether US corporations that manufacture and sell weapons, specifically cluster munitions, to the Saudi-led coalition could be liable for aiding and abetting violations of international law committed using those weapons under the Alien Torts Statute.
The US is reducing the presence of American special operations forces on Africa’s front lines. Commander of US special operations in Africa, Maj. Gen. Mark Hicks, said the US is shifting away from training, advising, and assisting local partners in the Sahel to a similar role “farther up the chain of command,” working from command centers and battalion headquarters. Hicks added that “we’re not reducing our footprint or tempo” and said that “where it makes sense, we will still accompany [training, advising, and assisting] tactical formations.”
US Special Operations Command in Africa opened the Flintlock military exercise in Niger on Wednesday. The exercise aims to strengthen West African countries’ ability to combat terrorist groups in the Sahel region.
Senator Jim Inhofe, the acting head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, asked Army Secretary Mark Esper in a letter on April 9 to consider assigning one of the future Security Force Assistance Brigades to US Africa Command, writing that “AFRICOM does not have any assigned forces, but must compete for allocated forces within the Department of Defense’s global force management process.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
In separate essays for The Atlantic and The New York Times, Phil Kay addresses falling morale among US troops as political leaders fail to articulate the purpose of their mission and warns against “patriotic correctness,” which prohibits serious discussion of foreign policy and the military’s role within it.
At Lawfare, Hayley Evans lays out the U.S. and U.K. positions on lethal autonomous weapons systems. Both countries think it is too early for a prohibition on LAWS – the United States because autonomous technologies can advance civilian protection, while the United Kingdom is skeptical that such systems will ever exist.