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.
OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE
Airwars currently estimates that between 6,136 and 9,315 civilians have been killed in Coalition actions since the start of operations in August 2014, while the Coalition concedes 841 civilian deaths.
During the month of January, the Coalition released 448 munitions across Iraq and Syria – a 23 percent decrease from December 2017 and the lowest number reported since August 2014. The fall in Coalition strikes has led to a sharp decline in civilian casualties, particularly in Iraq, where the Coalition has not tracked a civilian casualty event since November 2017. In Syria, Airwars documented between 21 and 52 civilian deaths.
The Trump administration is pushing to eliminate the position of US envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (February 22): In the month of January, CJTF-OIR carried over 406 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 195 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 116 reports: 102 were assessed to be non-credible, 10 were assessed to be duplicates of previous reports, and four were assessed to be credible, resulting in 10 unintentional civilian deaths. A finding of non-credible in many cases indicates a lack of evidence. According to the coalition, “non-credible” is not intended to deny the possibility that a CIVCAS incident occurred, nor is it intended as a comment on the credibility on the source of the allegation. To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 841 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.
White House Outlines Authorization for War in Iraq and Syria: In a pair of letters addressed to Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), Defense and State Department officials provided the administration’s argument that the United States is authorized to continue using military force in Syria and Iraq based on existing AUMFs. In his letter to the Senator, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense David Trachtenberg argued that U.S. force was authorized under both the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs:
The 2001 [AUMF] authorizes the United States to use force against al-Qa’ida in Iraq and Syria. U.S. and partner forces in both countries continue to fight ISIS and al-Qa’ida and disrupt terrorist attack plotting. … Finally, the 2002 [AUMF] continues to provide authority for military operations against ISIS in Iraq. It also provides authority to respond to threats to U.S. national security emanating from Iraq that may re-emerge and that may not be covered by the 2001 AUMF.
Trachtenberg notably defined victory against ISIS as “when local security forces are capable of effectively responding to and containing the group, and when ISIS is unable to function as a global organization.”
These statements follow sustained Congressional pressure from Democrats and Republicans to require a new AUMF for operations in Iraq and Syria. The administration’s response to these efforts has not satisfied Senator Kaine, who is principally concerned with the blatant lack of any authorization “to strike pro-Assad forces in areas devoid of ISIS to protect our Syrian partners who seek Assad’s overthrow.” Neither letter suggested that anti-Assad strikes ordered by President Trump have been legally justified.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
This cannot go on.
Distressing reports of dozens injured & killed every day in #EasternGhouta. Families trapped, with no safe place to hide from shelling.
Dozens of mortars in Damascus cause civilian casualties and spread fear.
We cannot let history repeat itself. #Syria
— ICRC Syria (@ICRC_sy) February 20, 2018
February 27: USIP – Countering Illicit Funding of Terrorism: A Congressional Approach
March 1; Atlantic Council – Afghanistan: Assessing Progress and Prospects for Regional Connectivity
March 6: USIP – Preventing Conflict to Create Pathways for Peace
March 8: USIP – How Film Captures the Roles of Women in War and Peace
March 8: Atlantic Council – US-Sudan Relations: What’s Next?
March 15: CSIS – The My Lai Massacre: History and Legacy
March 22: CSIS – The Impact of Counterterrorism Laws and Measures on Civil Society
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,136
Coalition Strikes: 29,095
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 105,756
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
Corker to Reconsider Arms Sales to Gulf States: Citing a regional dispute with Qatar, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker (R-TN) created a hold on arms sales to any states in the Gulf Cooperation Council last June. On February 8, Corker informed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that he was rescinding this hold, allowing proceedings on foreign military sales to these countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE) to move forward. Although the Qatar dispute remains largely unresolved, Senator Corker justified his decision by appealing to the use of arms sales to combat terrorism: “Unfortunately, there still isn’t a clear path to resolving the GCC rift. Given that weapons sales are part of our security cooperation with these states, I am lifting my blanket hold on sales of lethal military equipment to the GCC and will resume informally clearing those sales if the administration can make the case that that [sic] the purchasing state is taking effective steps to combat support for terrorism.”
Military Budget Calls for Drones, Planes: The newly increased military budget is prioritizing capacity to strike from the air, and details major investments in the size of the United States’ drone fleet. Acquisitions of the MQ-9 Reaper drone are slated to increase from 16 in 2018 to 29 in 2019, an increase of over 81%. The budget also calls for a considerable increase of munitions acquisitions from 2018 to 2019 – 24% – including 36,000 Joint Direct Attack Munitions, 4,338 Hellfire missiles, and 7,336 small diameter bombs. These new military procurements reflect President Trump’s more aggressive air strike policy, which have thus far resulted in a higher rate of civilian casualties than his predecessor. The manner in which the Defense Department plans to wield these new resources is uncertain, especially as the fight against ISIL is appearing to reach a resolution on several key fronts.
ON THE CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA:
- Tuesday, February 27 – 10:00 am – House Armed Services Committee – Terrorism and Iran: Defense Challenges in the Middle East
- Wednesday, February 28 – 2:00 pm – House Committee on Foreign Affairs – Zimbabwe After Mugabe
- Wednesday, February 28 – 2:30 pm – Senate Committee on Foreign Relations – Review of the FY 2019 State Department Budget Request and Redesign Plans
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
Afghanistan: On February 16 , a US strike reportedly killed seven Islamic State militants in Kunar province’s Chapa Dara district. A possible US strike reported on February 17 targeted an Islamic State hideout in Nangarhar province’s Achin district and killed one member of the group. A second possible US strike reported on February 17 destroyed a drug lab in Bakwa district of Farah province, killing between three and eight insurgents. A US drone strike reported on February 22 killed three Islamic State fighters and injured one in Nangarhar’s Deh Bala district. A possible US strike reported on February 23 killed six Taliban fighters and injured seven in Sar I Pul city.
Somalia: On February 19, US Africa Command said that three al-Shabaab militants were killed in a US strike near the town of Jilib. On February 21, AFRICOM said a US strike killed four al-Shabaab fighters were killed near Jamaame in the Lowe Juba region; a Somali government official told VOA that a US strike hit a rickshaw, killing five militants. Some sources said that two of the killed were civilians traveling with three militants in the rickshaw, though AFRICOM said no civilians were killed in the strike.
Yemen: Central Command confirmed that the US conducted a strike against AQAP in Bayda province on February 11 that killed six militants, according to AFP. On February 16, AFP reported a US strike in Bayda province that targeted a motorbike, killing two AQAP militants.
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
Afghanistan: Human Rights Watch called on the Afghan and US militaries to investigate reports that Afghan special forces summarily executed civilians in Kandahar during military operations from January 31 to February 1. Beginning on January 31, the Special Forces Unit of the National Directorate of Security, backed by US airstrikes, began an offensive against Taliban fighters in Maiwand and Panjwai districts. Local sources said Afghan forces opened fire on men as they tried to flee, killing about 50 Taliban militants and at least 20 civilians. Residents also said that Afghan forces allegedly dragged some men from their homes and shot them.
Kuwait: The State Department approved the possible sale of King Air 350ER Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance aircraft to Kuwait, worth an estimated $259 million.
WHAT WE’RE READING
The Intercept: Murtaza Hussain discusses the influence of Trump’s rhetoric on the conduct of the war against the Islamic State. He argues the President’s rhetoric has influenced the Pentagon, evidenced by Mattis’s call for the use of “annihilation tactics” to defeat the group and more aggressive targeting decisions that lead to more civilian casualties.