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
The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that 10,204 civilians were killed in Syria in 2017. More than half were killed by Syrian regime and Russian forces, yet Coalition actions resulted in the deaths of 1,759 civilians. In December, the SNHR tracked 596 civilian deaths, including 89 killed by the Coalition.
Iraqi security forces are forcibly returning civilians from displacement camps to unsafe areas predominantly in Anbar province, according to aid workers and Iraqi civilians, in order to ensure that the election takes place on time. Upon their return, many find their homes destroyed, face acts of vigilantism, and are exposed to booby traps, From November 21 to January 2, aid workers estimate that between 2,400 and 5,000 people were forcibly returned, several of whom were killed or injured.
At a press conference, British Army Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney, the deputy commander for strategy and support at OIR, said that “the coalition’s efforts against ISIS have been successful, but there is still much to do to eradicate this group.” Gedney said that the Islamic State remains a threat in Syria and that Coalition airstrikes continue in Syria, with twenty-three strikes against IS targets in eastern Syria in the past week. He said that the SDF has isolated the remaining pockets of IS fighters along the Euphrates River and is clearing areas to the east along the border with Iraq., Gedney said that in Iraq, forces are clearing IS pockets in Anbar and Baghdad, and the “Coalition will continue to partner with the ISF, advising, training, and equipping them in their efforts to fully eliminate ISIS as a threat to Iraq.” The Coalition estimates that fewer than 1,000 Islamic State fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.
Thousands of Iraqis, primarily men and teenage boys, remain missing after victories against the Islamic State. Some of the missing were arrested by the Islamic State during its rule, while others were detained by Iraqi forces who suspected alleged ties to the group. Officials warn it could be years before families know what happened to their relatives, as the Iraqi government does not have enough forensic experts to exhume the mass graves discovered as territory was retaken from the Islamic State, and Iraqi courts are overwhelmed by the number of Islamic State suspects arrested – one official said that the courts couldn’t spare the time or resources to reach out to families.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (December 28): In the month of November, CJTF-OIR carried over 695 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 9 new reports resulting from Coalition strikes (artillery or air) in support of partner force operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. During this period, the Coalition completed the assessment of 101 reports: 92 were assessed to be non-credible, none were assessed to be duplicates of previous reports, and nine were assessed to be credible, resulting in 11 unintentional civilian deaths. To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 817 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve. A total of 603 reports are still open.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
In its latest monthly civilian casualty report, the Coalition says it unintentionally killed one civilian at Al Qaim, Iraq on October 5th. Talib Jabbar Ziedan Hathool is the only known named victim killed in an airstrike on the town that day, say our researchers pic.twitter.com/XQZDEgslDI
— Airwars (@airwars) January 3, 2018
January 9: Carnegie Endowment – Reimagining the Public Sector in the Middle East and Central Asia
January 10: Stimson Center & CIVIC – With Great Power: Modifying US Arms Sales to Reduce Civilian Harm
January 25: Atlantic Council – People Power Movements and International Human Rights
February 2: Interaction – Civilian Protection: Skills for Practitioners
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 737 – 1,551
Children Killed: 242 – 330
Total Killed: 7,207 – 10,511
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,705
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,047
Coalition Strikes: 28,696
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 104,724
Congress Continues Defense Budget Negotiations: As the Congressional session resumes in 2018, Republicans and Democrats must continue negotiations over the defense budget allocation in the context of broader political fights over immigration and domestic spending. Republican leaders are expected to achieve their goal of lifting defense budget caps, allowing their hundred-billion dollar budget boost for the nation’s military to proceed. Democrats in the Senate are determined, however, to use the power of the filibuster to extract concessions from their colleagues. Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are insisting on parity between defense and non-defense spending when raising budget caps. Said Schumer, “We Democrats believe our soldiers should get the funding they need. We also believe there are real domestic needs that cannot be neglected.” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed optimism that a deal could be reached, but rejected demands for parity. “Any agreement must provide our armed forces with the resources they need to fulfill their missions. That means setting aside the misguided notion that new defense spending needs to be matched dollar for dollar by new nondefense spending,” McConnell said. Democrats are also facing pressure to tie their support for a spending package to a renewal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era policy protecting immigrants that came to the U.S. as children that expired in 2017. As the January 19th deadline to fund the government approaches, legislators of both parties will face pressure to reach agreement on these issues as the threat of government shutdown looms. Should Republicans succeed, their budget will seek to expand Navy by 76 ships, the Army by 60,000 soldiers, and the Air Force by 100 aircraft, significantly increasing U.S. capacity to exert military force around the world.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
Pakistan: A US drone strike on December 26 along the Pakistani-Afghan border killed three members of the Haqqani group. It is unclear on which side of the border the strike hit, but members of the group and local residents said it took place in Pakistan.
Somalia: US Africa Command reported a US strike targeting al-Shabaab that killed two militants. The strike took place approximately 50 kilometers west of Mogadishu. On December 27, a US strike killed four al-Shabaab fighters twenty five kilometers west of Mogadishu.
Yemen: An on-the-ground NPR report found that a US Special Forces raid in Yemen in May resulted in several civilian casualties. While at the time the military reported that only AQAP militants were killed, Col. John Thomas from US Central Command said that in light of the new details, the unit commander has initiated a reassessment of the case. On December 20, two US strikes in Marib province killed six AQAP fighters, including the group’s propaganda chief.
The number of US airstrikes in Yemen tripled in 2017, the majority of which targeted AQAP with a smaller number against the Islamic State’s affiliate, yet American counterterrorism officials admit that the escalation of strikes has “barely dented the group’s ability to strike US interests.” US intelligence analysts and Yemen specialists have also warned that the air campaign is not tied to any broader strategic approach, encompassing diplomacy, humanitarian aid, and cooperation on intelligence sharing and law enforcement, that could be used to make sustainable gains against AQAP.
ON THE CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA
Thursday, January 11 – 10:00 am – Senate Foreign Relations Committee – U.S. Policy in Syria Post-ISIS
Wednesday, January 10 – 10:00 am – House Foreign Affairs Committee – Sanctions and Financial Pressure: Major National Security Tools
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
Mexico: The State Department approved the possible sale to Mexico of Harpoon Block II missiles, Block II RAM missiles, and MK 54 torpedoes, worth an estimated $98 million.
Oman: The State Department approved the possible sale to Oman of items and services to upgrade F-16 subsystems and Identification Friend or Foe and communications equipment. The estimated cost is $62 million.
Pakistan: On January 4, the Trump administration said that it will suspend security assistance to Pakistan due to its failure to take action against militants operating within its borders. The total amount of aid being suspended is about $2 billion, including $900 million in coalition support funds designated to reimburse Pakistan for counterterrorism efforts. State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said that the aid will remain blocked until Pakistan “takes decisive action” against groups such as the Taliban and Haqqani network. Pakistani officials denounced the decision and the Trump administration’s “arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements, and shifting goal posts.”
The Trump administration is “strongly considering” whether to withhold $255 million in aid to Pakistan due to its failure to confront the terrorist networks operating within its borders. In August, the US said it was withholding the aid until Pakistan did more to confront the terror groups, and senior administration officials said that a final decision could be made in the coming weeks.
Yemen: Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Friday, Defense Secretary Mattis defended US efforts to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen, arguing that without US involvement, there would be more. His comments come after two airstrikes by the Saudi-led Coalition on December 26 killed at least fifty-four civilians, one in a crowded market and another that hit a farm, killing an entire family. Mattis said that the US military will continue to work with Saudi pilots to improve their bombing and target identification.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Foreign Affairs: Jacquelyn Schneider and Julia MacDonald discuss their recent research suggesting that ground forces “see drones as riskier and less trustworthy than manned aircraft.” In a series of hypothetical scenarios, ground forces across branch, age, education, experience, and rank strongly preferred calling in airstrikes from manned aircraft because drones were unable to maintain situational awareness in combat environments and lacked pilots’ “on-site judgement” – particularly in scenarios in which the enemy was near and there was a high risk of friendly fire.
Just Security: States are increasingly misusing their powers to conduct counterterrorism by cracking down on civil society, arresting and detaining human rights activists and reformers, under counterterrorism legislation.