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
The Islamic State now controls only two villages in eastern Syria after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) captured Baghouz and a string of other villages in recent days. Former residents said that at least 1,000 civilians fled the IS enclave last week. The chief of the SDF said on Friday that military operations are wrapping up and that the Islamic State will be ousted from its last pocket of territory within a month.
Since the SDF began its offensive to defeat the Islamic State in eastern Syria in September 2018, more than 20,000 civilians have fled IS-held area, and coalition airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians and left many towns and villages in Deir Ezzor in ruins.
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.
An American airstrike on Thursday killed 16 civilians from the same extended family in Helmand province. During an operation early that day, Afghan and American forces received gunfire from a house that was then bombed, killing four women and ten children inside the house. A second strike carried out on Friday reportedly struck male relatives of the victims who had gathered for a mass funeral and killed 13 men, according to local Afghan officials.
A spokesperson for the US military said an investigation was underway for the Thursday airstrike, but said that the claim that a US airstrike killed “civilians while digging graves is false and Taliban propaganda.”
The New York Times recorded 21 civilian deaths in Afghanistan between January 18 and 24.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
This estimate of civilian casualties is far too low. UNAMA's own conservative estimate is 24,754 killed just since Jan 2009, when decent record-keeping started. Total is likely far higher but unknown given poor media coverage, difficulty in accessing areas, and high displacement https://t.co/V87WgsFhb4
— Jason Lyall (@jaylyall_red5) January 26, 2019
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 774 – 1,683
Children Killed: 253 – 382
Total Killed: 8,445 – 12,021
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 6,777
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Civilians Killed: 7,357 – 11,745
Children Killed: 1,550 – 2,013
Coalition Strikes in Iraq: 14,368
Coalition Strikes in Syria: 16,864
Residents in Hodeida have reported continued clashes between Houthis and Saudi-led coalition forces, and security officials said there was heavy fighting last week with both sides using heavy weapons and bringing in reinforcements. The clashes and the failure of both sides to pull out troops from Hodeida as agreed by last month’s ceasefire have prompted fears of an all-out assault in the city that could lead to famine.
A fire caused by suspected mortar shelling has damaged wheat silos in Hodeida, threatening food supplies for millions of people, the UN said on Friday. Lise Grande, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said that a quarter of a million people are in a catastrophic condition, facing near starvation if assistance doesn’t get to them.
An investigation by the Saudi-led coalition’s Joint Incident Assessment Team into the June 2018 bombing of a cholera treatment center run by Doctors Without Borders admits that the coalition did not “complete the necessary procedures used by the Coalition Forces” before undertaking the strike. Oona Hathaway writes in Just Security that the failure of the coalition to properly vet a targeting location before striking it implicates the coalition in a possible violation of international humanitarian law, but also implicates the United States in a possible violation.
ARMS SALES AND SECURITY ASSISTANCE
Saudi Arabia receives around $10,000 in the State Department-run International Military Education and Training program (IMET) each year, but Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office said the program allows Riyadh to save up to $30 million per year in training costs. There’s increasing bipartisan support in Congress, led by Leahy, for ending discounted training costs for Saudi Arabia.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLING
The US military said that it carried out two new strikes in Somalia against al-Shabaab on Wednesday, but that it would no longer include details on fighters the damage done to enemy weapons or positions. However, US Africa Command said shortly after that it will continue to release the number of enemy fighters killed and damage from info caused, though it is working to “place less emphasis on the number of militants killed and place more context on how these strikes are helping our Somali partners achieve their security objectives.”
In Lawfare, Annika Lichtenbaum offers a backgrounder on current US operational activity in the Sahel, a year after the Pentagon announced a shift away from counterterrorism operations to focus on countering threats from Russia and China in the 2018 National Defense Strategy.
The Pentagon is developing supply routes between the US military’s main base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, to other American camps in eastern Africa that will cross areas controlled by al-Shabaab and land controlled by private warlords, further entrenching the US military’s presence in Africa.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Aurel Sari writes in Lawfare about the obligations imposed by the law of armed conflict on defenders in urban warfare.
- February 5: The New York Times – Civilian Casualties in the War on Terror
- February 5: Center for Strategic and International Studies – Saving Lives in a time of Crisis: Why the Global Humanitarian System Matters
- February 8: Center for International and Strategic Studies – Discussion with the Secretaries of the U.S. Military Departments
- February 12: The Wilson Center – Civilizing Torture: An American Tradition