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, 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 AND COALITION OPERATIONS
OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE
Coalition airstrikes in eastern Syria have intensified in recent weeks after Trump ordered the removal of US forces from Syria last month with 469 reported strikes against the Islamic State from December 16 to 29. Scores of civilians have been killed amid heavy fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by US airpower, and the Islamic State. At least 11 civilians were killed in a Coalition strike on al-Shafa on Wednesday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more than 12,000 people fled the Islamic State’s last enclave in Deir Ezzor in December, and more than 1,000 have escaped since Wednesday to areas controlled by the SDF.
During the month of November 2018, Airwars tracked the highest civilian death toll since the fall of Raqqa in October 2017. Between 221 and 631 civilians were likely killed in Coalition airstrikes.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (December 30): In the month of November, CJTF-OIR carried over 194 open reports from previous months and received 15 new reports. The assessment of 25 civilian casualty allegation reports has been completed. Out of the 25 completed casualty allegation reports, three reports were determined to be credible and resulted in 15 unintentional civilian deaths. Two of the reports were determined to be duplicate reports that had previously reported and the remaining 20 reports were assessed to be non-credible. A total of 184 reports are still open. The Coalition conducted a total of 31,406 strikes between August 2014 and end of November 2018. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1139 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.
A report by the New York Times offers a history of US assistance to the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen. Though the Pentagon said the US didn’t track whether coalition jets that it refueled were used in attacks that resulted in civilian casualties, the report says that information was readily available – American officers had access to a database that detailed every strike.
This interactive from the New York Times shows the effect of the war on civilians in Yemen. Criticism of the Saudi-led campaign has focused on the air war, but the war is also taking place at sea with even less accountability and significant civilian casualties.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
8-year-old Rahmatullah recovers in a ward. The US military told us the Taliban were using civilians as human shields, and that it was often “difficult to discern” when non-combatants are inside buildings that fighters are firing from. Read the full story: https://t.co/lSLOIGd2N7 pic.twitter.com/LzYjxYPUmI
— The Bureau (@TBIJ) January 2, 2019
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 760 – 1,667
Children Killed: 253 – 382
Total Killed: 8,327 – 11,897
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 6,361
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Civilians Killed: 7,315 – 11,654
Children Killed: 1,532 – 1,973
Coalition Strikes in Iraq: 14,368
Coalition Strikes in Syria: 16,864
As many as 14,000 Sudanese men have been fighting in Yemen alongside Saudi-backed forces, almost all of whom come from Darfur. Saudi Arabia has offered families as much as $10,000 to send their sons to fight in Yemen, some between 14 and 17 years old, the New York Times reported.
Five Sudanese soldiers also told the Times that they had been issued “modern” weapons that they believed to be American-made. Saudi Arabia issued a statement last week denying that it had distributed any US weapons.
The Trump administration put Yemeni warlord Abu al-Abbas on a terrorist list for his associations with al Qaeda and the Islamic State, yet he continues to receive millions of dollars in weapons and financial support from the United Arab Emirates, undermining US counterterrorism goals in the country,
CIA-backed Afghan forces in Yemen have held the line against militant groups, but they’ve also “operated unconstrained by battlefield rules designed to protect civilians, conducting night raids, torture, and killings with near impunity” and American and Afghan official have said that the abuses are pushing people toward the Taliban. With the Trump administration’s draw down of forces in Afghanistan, the role of the CIA is likely to grow in the country.
A report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Daily Beast illustrates the effect of the escalating American air war on civilians in Afghanistan, as an airstrike in November killed 13 members of the same family and injured two more.
The NYT recorded 14 civilian deaths in Afghanistan between December 28 and January 3. At least 10 civilians were killed in two separate American airstrikes in Faryab and Paktia provinces.
Turnover in Armed Services Committees
The House Armed Services Committee underwent significant changes on January 3rd when it switched to Democratic control under the leadership of new chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA).
Despite continuing Republican control, there are significant changes expected in the Senate Armed Services Committee as well. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), an outspoken and polarizing ally of President Trump, is expected to retire from the committee along with colleagues in Sens. Scott (R-SC), Cruz (R-TX), Sasse (R-NE), and Kyl (R-AZ). Their replacements will be Sens. McSally (R-AZ), Cramer (R-ND), Blackburn (R-TN), Hawley (R-MO), and Scott (R-FL).
Several Democrats on the committee — Sens. Nelson (D-FL), McCaskill (D-MO), and Donnelly (D-IN) — were defeated in the 2018 midterms. Democrats have announced that their seats will be filled by Sens. Duckworth (D-IL), Manchin (D-WV), and Jones (D-AL).
Senator Responds to Syria Withdrawal
President Trump’s announcement that the United States would be unilaterally withdrawing troops from Syria — a move that prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis — was met with outrage and confusion in Congress.
Now, allies of the President including Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are suggesting that the administration is considering adjusting its approach to meet Republican demands in Congress. Graham, who was an outspoken opponent of the decision, said after a meeting with the President that he feels “a lot better about where we’re headed in Syria.” Graham went on to say that President Trump promised the “destruction” of the Islamic state before American troops would fully withdraw.
ARMS SALES AND SECURITY ASSISTANCE
Last month, the State Department approved the sale of Patriot air and missile defense systems to Turkey for an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.
Croatia has urged Israel to confirm the sale of 12 used American-made fighter jets, estimated at $500 million. Israel tentatively made the deal to sell the F-16 jets to Croatia in March pending US approval, but the State Department has said that Israel needed to strip the jets of upgrades.
US commanders planning for the withdrawal of American forces in Syria have recommended that Kurdish fighters keep US-supplied weapons.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLING
US Africa Command carried out at least 47 strikes in Somalia in 2018, surpassing the 31 strikes in 2017, which itself was a record number. The US carried out an airstrike on Wednesday against al-Shabaab, the first reported US strike of the year.
The Pentagon is planning to scale back its role in Somalia and curtail airstrikes against al-Shabaab because the Trump administration has assessed that the group doesn’t pose a direct danger to the United States. There are currently about 500 US personnel based in Somalia, though it’s unclear how many US forces would remain on the ground under the shift.
A report by the Daily Beast details a US operation in Somalia in July 1993 in which American forces, targeting Somali warlord General Mohamid Aidid, instead bombed a peace meeting, resulting in significant civilian casualties.
US forces carried out an airstrike on January 1 in Yemen’s Marib province that targeted a militant believed to be one of the planners of the USS Cole bombing in 2000. The Pentagon said on Friday that it is still trying to assess whether Jamal al-Badawi was killed in the strike.
In a classified report, the Pentagon said that said 35 people were killed in the Trump administration’s first raid in Yemen in January 2017 and that and there were “minimal civilian casualties.” Those numbers contradict on-the-ground reporting which found that most of the dead were Yemeni villagers, including at least six women and ten children.
WHAT WE’RE READING
In Foreign Policy, Micah Zenko writes that the “Yemen civil war will not be the last strategically misguided, irresponsible, or immoral war in which the US is a participant.” He offers questions for citizens to consider before the next war is launched because “it’s clear that citizens cannot count on their elected representatives” to ask tough questions.
- January 9: US Institute of Peace – Building Peaceful, Just, and Inclusive Societies Amid a World on Fire
- January 11: Center for Strategic and International Studies – Can the U.S. Win a Counterinsurgency War?
- January 14: Center for Strategic and International Studies – Scheiffer Series: The U.S. Withdraws: Syria and Afghanistan
- January 14: The Brookings Institution – The Future of U.S. Policy in Afghanistan