Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) shares regular updates about the work of our global programs. Our US program, helmed by US Program Director, Daniel R. Mahanty, with support from Research & Advocacy Associate, Julie Snyder, works with US institutions to protect civilians trapped in conflict around the world. This weekly overview of the US Program is authored by CIVIC consultant, Lyndsey Martin.

US MILITARY OPERATIONS: IRAQ, SYRIA, AFGHANISTAN, YEMEN

OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE

The US-led Coalition is preparing for its final fight against the Islamic State in Syria, closing in on the last pocket of militants in the eastern Syrian town of Hajin, home to 35,000 civilians. Coalition officials said that the Syrian Democratic Forces will lead the offensive on Hajin and that the Coalition will primarily provide air support. More than 1,000 Islamic State fighters are holed up in the city, preventing civilians from fleeing to be used as human shields.

Coalition forces carried out 9 strikes in Iraq and Syria between July 23 and July 29.

MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (July 26): In the month of June, CJTF-OIR carried over 314 open reports from previous months and received 45 new reports. The assessment of 125 civilian casualty reports have been completed. Sixteen reports were determined to be credible, resulting in 105 unintentional civilian deaths, while three were assessed to be duplicate and 106 were assessed to be non-credible. A total of 234 reports are still open. The Coalition conducted a total of 29,826 strikes between August 2014 and end of June 2018. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1059 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Afghanistan

The Afghan air force has significantly expanded its operations over the past three years, now launching dozens of strike missions each month. Yet allegations of civilian casualties resulting from its operations have also increased, prompting human rights groups to call for the United States to do more to pressure the Afghan air force to mitigate civilian harm.

SEE: A CIVIC Quick Reference Guide: US Law and Policy on the Use of Military Force and Lethal Operations

STATISTICS

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

Civilians Killed: 751 – 1,555

Children Killed: 252 – 345

Total Killed: 7,715 – 11,067

Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,926

Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)

Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,488

Coalition Strikes: 29,822

Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 108, 107

UPCOMING EVENTS

August 8: Center for Strategic and International Studies – US Arms Transfer Policy

CONGRESS

NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT

The conference draft of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act cleanly passed the House and Senate and now awaits the President’s signature. The legislation calls for massive spending – $717 billion – for 2019, another step up in the budget allotment after legislators removed sequestration-era budget caps in 2018. While the Department of Defense claims a lack of interest in further budget increases, the new norm established by this major defense expansion is likely to persist.

The bill includes a number of provisions related to human rights, civilians in conflict, and security cooperation, among them:

Section 936: Responsibility For Policy On Civilian Casualty Matters

This section mandates the appointment of a Senior Civilian Official by the Under Secretary of Defense to be tasked with, among other things, the development of best practices to avoid civilian casualties, the creation of a uniform review process to evaluate allegations of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations, and the creation and submission of a report on civilian casualty policy to Congressional defense committees.

Section 1062: Improvement Of Annual Report On Civilian Casualties In Connection With United States Military Operations

2018 NDAA Section 1057 requires an annual DoD report on civilian casualties; the unclassified version of the first report of this kind is available here. This amendment seeks to add depth and complexity to that report, requiring new information for “each specific mission, strike, engagement, raid, or incident.”

Subtitle C: Matters Relating to Syria, Iraq, and Iran

This section details the policy governing U.S. cooperation with Syrian opposition forces. It also creates a report, to be submitted to Congress by the Secretary of State, on “Accountability For War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity, And Genocide In Syria”.

Section 1274: Review To Determine Whether The Armed Forces Or Coalition Partners Of The United States Violated Federal Law Or Department Of Defense Policy While Conducting Operations In Yemen

This report, to be submitted by the Secretary of Defense, seeks to clarify the nature of U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. It asks whether U.S. forces interrogated Yemeni prisoners, whether any such interrogations complied with U.S. law, and whether any assistance was given to units of a foreign military culpable for gross violations of human rights in Yemen.

Section 1290: Certifications Regarding Actions By Saudi Arabia And The United Arab Emirates In Yemen

This section contains a briefing requirement for a designee of the President to explain to Congress, among other things, measures being taken by Saudi coalition forces to minimize civilian harm in their ongoing military campaign against the Houthis in Yemen. The briefing will also describe any human rights violations committed by Houthi forces.

DRONE STRIKES AND TARGETED KILLINGS

The United States began arming drones in Niger earlier this year, US Africa Command said last week. Armed drones are currently deployed to Air Base 101 in Niamey and will eventually be moved to the air base currently being built in Agadez. AFRICOM did not say whether strikes have already been carried out by the drones.

US forces carried out an airstrike in Somalia on Friday, killing four Shabaab fighters northwest of Mogadishu. This marks the nineteenth strike this year against al-Shabaab, though the US has also carried out strikes against Islamic State fighters in the north of the country.

The US is preparing to reduce the number of troops and special operations missions in Africa in response to the Trump administration’s national security strategy to increasingly focus on China and Russia. Defense Department officials said they expect most of the troop cuts to come from Central and West Africa where special operations missions have focused on training militaries to combat the threat from extremist Islamist groups.

US Africa Command has taken steps to increase the security of troops on the ground, adding armed drones and armored vehicles and limiting how often US troops accompany local forces on operations – the result of a broad review of the US military in Africa in the wake of the deadly ambush in Niger last year.

SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES

The State Department cleared several potential arms sales this week, including:

  • 4 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to Latvia for an estimated cost of $200 million
  • 106 MK 54 conversion kits to the Netherlands, worth an estimated $169 million
  • Up to 46 Standard Missiles SM-2 Block IIIA All-Up Rounds and related equipment to Denmark for an estimated cost of $152 million
  • 28 TOW Improved Target Acquisition Systems and related equipment to Bahrain for an estimated cost of $80 million
  • Various Mk- series munitions to Kuwait, worth an estimated $40.4 million
  • 300 AGM-114R Hellfire missiles and related equipment to Kuwait for an estimated cost of $30.4 million

WHAT WE’RE READING

Jason Schwartz writes in Politico about declining media access to Secretary of Defense Mattis and senior Pentagon officials.

Civilian casualties in Yemen continue, despite assurances from the Saudi-led coalition to better protect civilians. Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post tells what happened to one village when an airstrike hit a wedding, killing more than twenty civilians.

Image courtesy of U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Calvert
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