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 Syrian Democratic Forces are preparing for the final assault on the Islamic State in the Syrian town of Hajin, home to 35,000 civilians. Hundreds of civilians have fled the area over the past few weeks in preparation of the offensive, but the number leaving is still relatively small compared to the number of civilians still believed to be in the area, as the Islamic State is holding civilians in Hajin and preventing them from leaving, according to Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney, deputy commander for strategy and support.
The United Nations estimates that between 20,000 and 30,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, distributed fairly equally between the two countries. The Coalition wouldn’t comment on its estimates of the number of fighters left, but said there are over a thousand in the Middle Euphrates River Valley, which is the Coalition’s priority, according to Gen. Gedney.
Coalition forces carried out 12 strikes in Iraq and Syria between August 6 and 12.
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
One thing that came up in my interviews for this piece: the US military was in an awkward spot criticizing the Saudi Coalition for killing civilians, partly because the Iraq/Syria campaign was itself killing so many thousands. https://t.co/07wzK8Z1oa
— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) August 17, 2018
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: 29,857
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 108, 107
Afghan security forces backed by American air power dislodged Taliban forces from the city of Ghazni, home to 250,000 civilians, last week after insurgents launched an assault and took control of the city several days earlier. The humanitarian situation in the city is dire with shortages of food, water, electricity, and medicine and dead bodies in the river and on the streets. The United Nations said Ghazni residents’ plight was “particularly grim” and estimated that between 110 and 150 civilians were killed and injured during the fighting. The Ghazni Red Cross said at least 24 civilians were killed in American and Afghan airstrikes to push out the insurgents.
At least 1,500 Afghan government forces hundreds deployed in Ghazni backed by US air power, as well as hundreds of reinforcements, struggled to dislodge the insurgent force estimated to be in the hundreds by local officials, raising doubts about the progress of the US military building security forces in Afghanistan nearly a year after the Trump administration raised troop levels in the country.
The death toll from the Saudi-UAE coalition airstrike on Dahyan market in Saada province has risen to 51 people, including 40 children.
Munitions experts and local Yemeni journalists working with CNN found that the weapon used by the Saudi-UAE coalition in the attack was a 500-pound laser-guided MK 82, produced by Lockheed Martin. It’s still unclear whether the United States was involved in refueling planes for the attack because the US doesn’t track where the coalition planes go or what their missions are. A senior US official said the ability to track Coalition planes that are refueled by the US would require more American manpower and questioned whether anything would be gained by knowing the details of the US role in each airstrike: “Well, what difference does that make?”
The official said results of the Saudi-led investigation were expected soon but doubted that the coalition would “complete a probe in the desired manner.”
The Joint Incidents Assessment Team, set up in Riyadh to investigate incidents of civilian casualties, has consistently failed to find fault in the coalition’s actions. An analysis by Human Rights Watch found that out of 75 cases in which civilian casualties were reported, JIAT acknowledged only two cases to be legitimate.
Separately, Saudi-UAE airstrikes killed at least 13 civilians and injured 24 others in Hodeidah on Tuesday. The strikes hit a heavily populated area, damaging civilian infrastructure including medical facilities and a mosque. The International Committee of the Red Cross said its medics were also prevented from entering the city.
A report provided to Al Jazeera by Yemeni military figures who worked with the Saudi-UAE coalition alleges that individuals detained across 27 secret UAE-run prisons in southern Yemen have been exposed to brutal interrogation techniques that include physical and psychological torture by Emirati personnel and their Yemeni partners. The report said that more than 49 people have died as a result of the torture and that those killed were buried in five gravesites.
The account corroborates reports by the Associated Press of the widespread use of torture by UAE and UAE-backed Yemeni security forces in secret prisons across the country.
2018 NDAA Signed into Law
President Trump signed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act into law on Monday, officially codifying further increases in defense spending (though Congress is yet to pass an appropriations bill to fund the Act). Despite the bill’s expansionary effects on the military, several amendments were passed that enhance Congressional oversight of U.S. military operations abroad, and specifically investigate the ways in which they ensure or imperil the security of civilians. More information about these amendments can be found here.
Senate Inquiry Follows Yemen Bombing
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been a consistent voice in the Senate on issues affecting civilians in conflict, and helped pass legislation improving DOD reporting on civilian casualties in the 2017 NDAA. Senator Warren is now pushing for improved scrutiny of how weapons sold by the United States are eventually used by the receiving party in response to the Saada strike on a school bus by the US-backed Saudi-UAE coalition.
In response to the attack, Senator Warren has written a letter to Gen. Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, asking whether the United States is capable of tracking airstrikes conducted by its partners in Yemen.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also announced on Friday an amendment to the FY 2019 Defense Appropriations bill that would halt US support for the Saudi-led coalition until the Secretary of Defense certifies that the coalition’s air campaign is not violating international law and US policy related to civilian protection.
On the Congressional Agenda:
- Tuesday, August 21 – 9:30 am – Senate Armed Services Committee – DOD Nominations
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLING
The use of drones in Yemen is not making Yemen or the United States safer, Mohamed Askar, the Yemeni minister for human rights, wrote in an opinion piece for the Guardian. The sharp escalation of drone strikes and weakening of civilian protections “is wreaking havoc and sowing terror.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
This Atlantic profile of Larry Lewis, the State Department’s senior adviser on civilian harm, discusses his efforts to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen.
Micah Zenko writes in Foreign Policy about the United States’ lack of direction or specific objectives in Yemen, arguing that the “elected leaders – in the White House and on Capitol Hill – of both parties are deeply implicated and responsible for each new civilian fatality from a US-made munition that makes the news.”