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
US military operations killed 499 civilians and injured 169 civilians in 2017, according to a report released by the Pentagon on Friday. The figure includes civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, though it does not break down the deaths and injuries by country. The report found no credible allegations of civilian casualties in Somalia or Libya, despite relaxed rules of engagement and a sharp escalation in US strikes in Somalia.
The Trump administration is hiding the number of civilians that have been killed in US military operations, Sarah Knuckley and Alex Moorehead write in an op-ed for the Washington Post. The excessive secrecy surrounding US counterterrorism operations undercuts Americans’ right to know about the role and costs of US military interventions and engage in public debate. Knuckley and Moorehead urge Congress to use its oversight powers and closely scrutinize the administration’s actions.
Although the Defense Department has since released the congressionally-mandated report on civilian harm, local monitors and watchdog groups say the Pentagon is severely undercounting the number of civilians killed in airstrikes and ground operations due to its flawed system for investigating civilian casualties. The report acknowledged the divergent death tolls, but attributed the discrepancies to different reporting practices and said the Pentagon’s analysis included certain information unavailable to civilian investigators.
Backed by American-led air power, the Syrian Democratic Forces are working to clear the last pockets of Islamic State fighters along the Iraqi-Syrian border. The Coalition conducted 225 strikes in support of SDF operations in the Euphrates River Valley during the month of May – a 123 percent increase in strikes from April.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented 244 civilian deaths during the month May, the lowest monthly death toll since the start of the Syrian War. At least 39 civilians were killed in Coalition strikes.
Twelve members of the same family were killed in Coalition air and artillery strikes in the village of Hidaj in southern Hasakeh province on Friday, according to reports by the SOHR. The previous day, eight civilians were reportedly killed in Coalition strikes near the town of Hajin in eastern Deir Ezzor.
In an interview with Airwars, the Raqqa Reconstruction Council describes its efforts to recover the remains of thousands of individuals killed in the battle to oust the Islamic State last year and the continuing threat posed by unexploded munitions. The Council has so far recovered almost 700 bodies, but is unable to provide an estimate of the overall number of civilians who died in the fighting.
President Trump officially nominated Lt. Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller to replace Gen. John Nicholson as commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan. If nominated, Miller would be the ninth US general of the 17-year-old war.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (May 31): In the month of April, CJTF-OIR carried over 476 open reports from previous months and received four new reports. The assessment of 159 civilian casualty reports have been completed. Five reports were determined to be credible, resulting in nine unintentional civilian deaths, while 149 were assessed to be non-credible and five to be duplicate. A total of 321 reports are still open. The Coalition conducted a total of 29,358 strikes between August 2014 and end of April 2018. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 892 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Airwars currently estimates that at least 6,259 civilians have been killed in Coalition military actions since August 2014.
June 4: Center for a New American Security – “Technology Roulette: Managing Loss of Control as Many Militaries Pursue Technological Superiority” Report Launch
June 5: Council on Foreign Relations – Northern Syria: The United States, Turkey, and the Kurds
June 5: US Institute of Peace – Sudan After the Sanctions
June 5: Atlantic Council – A Discussion on the Next Steps in the Rohingya Crisis
June 6: Center for Strategic and International Studies – The Global Peace Index 2018 Launch
June 7: US Institute of Peace – The Long Search for Peace in Afghanistan
June 7: Stimson Center – An Action Plan on US Drone Policy
June 11: Center for Strategic and International Studies – Ukraine: Four Scenarios
June 14: Wilson Center – Deepening a Natural Partnership? Assessing the State of US-India Counterterrorism Cooperation
June 14: New America – Counternarcotics: Lessons from the US Experience in Afghanistan
June 19: Center for Strategic and International Studies – Restoring Restraint: Enforcing Accountability for Users of Chemical Weapons
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 751 – 1,555
Children Killed: 252 – 345
Total Killed: 7,584 – 10,918
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,809
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,259
Coalition Strikes: 29,476
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 107, 383
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
The US Air Force has begun operating MQ-9 Reaper drones from Miroslawiec air base in Poland “to enhance regional stability.” US Air Forces Europe said the Reapers will be unarmed and only used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, likely aimed at watching Russian movements along borders and coastal areas.
Google will not seek another contract for its work providing artificial intelligence to the Defense Department for analyzing drone footage due to backlash from the company’s employees. Thousands of Google employees signed a petition asking that Google “commit not to develop military technologies” and pledge not to develop, manufacture, trade, or use autonomous weapons.
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
A new report by the Government Accountability Office found major failings in the Global Train and Equip program aimed at increasing partner nations’ counterterrorism capabilities. Of twenty-one Global Train and Equip projects undertaken in 2017, only eight resulted in improved capabilities for local forces due to equipment suitability and procurement problems, partner nation failings, and staffing shortages. The Defense Department has also struggled to ensure projects are sustainable.
The European Court of Human Rights has found that Romania and Lithuania were complicit in the CIA’s secret detention program in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The Court said authorities in each country “knew of the nature and purposes of the CIA’s activities on its territory”; assisted by agreeing to host prisons; and knew that “by enabling the CIA to detain terrorist suspects on its territory, it was exposing them to a serious risk of treatment contrary” to the European Convention on Human Rights. Katherine Kornman outlines the legal and policy implications of the Court’s rulings in Just Security.
WHAT WE’RE READING
WJ Hennigan writes in Time about the threat of weaponized commercial drones. American military forces have already faced the threat from commercial drones during the fight against ISIS in Iraq, but experts say it’s only a matter of time before such weaponized drones are used at home.