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
Thousands of people, including civilians and fighters, continued to leave the Islamic State enclave in Baghouz last week after the SDF advanced on Baghouz under heavy Coalition fire on March 1-2, prompting another wave of displacement.
The UN said on Friday that 5,200 people were evacuated between March 5 and 7, while the International Rescue Committee reported that at least 12,000 people arrived at the al Hol displacement camp since Wednesday. The al Hol camp is at a “breaking point” with more than 62,000 people and shortages of food, medicine, and tents, according to the IRC.
Only a small number of people left the IS enclave in Baghouz on Friday, and the SDF launched a final assault on Baghouz on Sunday.
The UK Ministry of Defense said the RAF killed 4,315 enemy fighters in Iraq and Syria between September 2014 and January 2019 with just one civilian casualty. The figures were provided by the MoD in response to a freedom of information request by Action on Armed Violence, who said the figures are “highly likely” to be under-recorded, considering the RAF hit some 1,000 targets in Mosul and Raqqa, the majority of which were on buildings and in dynamic situations.
Between 60 and 118 civilians were killed in Coalition actions during the month of January, according to a monthly assessment by Airwars. While the civilian death toll fell sharply from December 2018, Airwars documented a number of large-scale incidents in which entire families were reportedly killed.
In January, the Coalition stopped releasing information on the location and timing of strikes, even as the number of Coalition air and artillery strikes increased, with 1,220 reported strikes – all focused on a few towns in eastern Syria still controlled by the Islamic State.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
A step back for transparency and accountability: The White House has revoked part of an Obama-era executive order on civilian casualties. This means the USG will no longer have to issue a annual public estimate of civilian casualties caused by both military & CIA strikes.
— Missy Ryan (@missy_ryan) March 6, 2019
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 769 – 1,725
Children Killed: 253 – 397
Total Killed: 8,459 – 12,105
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 6,786
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Civilians Killed: 7,508 – 12,085
Children Killed: 1,585 – 2,153
Coalition Strikes in Iraq: 14,424
Coalition Strikes in Syria: 19,280
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (February 28): In the month of January, CJTF-OIR carried over 182 open reports from previous months and received 22 new reports, five of them were previously closed, but the CIVCAS cell reopened them due to new information. The assessment of 63 civilian casualty allegation reports has been completed. Out of the 63 completed casualty allegation reports, 12 reports were determined to be credible and resulted in 67 unintentional civilian deaths. None of the reports were determined to be duplicate report and the remaining 51 reports were assessed to be non-credible. A total of 141 reports are still open.
The Coalition conducted a total of 33,921 strikes between August 2014 and end of January 2019. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1257 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the beginning of Operation Inherent Resolve.
More than 4,800 civilians were killed or injured in Yemen in 2018 – an average of almost 100 civilian casualties every week, the UN’s refugee agency said on Thursday. A fifth of all civilian casualties were children and 30 percent of the civilians were either killed or wounded inside their homes, according to the UN figures.
American- and British-made bombs have killed or injured more than 1,000 Yemeni civilians, according to a report by Mwatana for Human Rights. In the report, Mwatana looked at 27 coalition airstrikes between April 2015 and April 2018 that each struck civilian targets. At least 203 people were killed and 749 injured, including women and children.
At least nine civilians were killed during an overnight operation by Afghan forces in Wardak province.
The New York Times recorded 26 civilian deaths in Afghanistan between March 1 and 7.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLING
The Trump administration has issued an executive order ending an Obama-era requirement that the US government publish an annual report on the number of civilians and combatants killed in military and CIA airstrikes outside of active war zones. The administration said the requirement was “superfluous” because Congress included in last year’s NDAA a separate annual report on civilian casualties resulting from US military operations.
However, the congressionally-mandated report only covers strikes conducted by the US military, not those conducted by the CIA. The executive order issued by Trump obscures the “important emphasis on covering the U.S. government’s most controversial counterterrorism operations: drone strikes outside of hot warzones like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” Luke Hartig writes in Just Security.
Hartig explains, “It is particularly important to keep close tabs on drone strikes in places like Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, because they have generated significant backlash from local populations and a steady drumbeat of criticism at home.”
The Obama administration was criticized for underreporting the number of civilians killed in airstrikes, but the 2016 executive order was considered an important step towards greater transparency. Jennifer Gibson, of the human rights organization Reprieve, said the regulation was at least a “small, though imperfect, signal from the most powerful nation on earth that it was willing to not just acknowledge its mistakes, but to try and stop them from happening again.”
In Just Security, Rita Siemion writes that Trump’s executive order offers an opportunity for Congress to enhance its transparency and oversight roles and to “reassess whether the intelligence community should be conducted lethal strikes in the first place.”
A surge in the number of airstrikes in Somalia over the past two years has driven increasing numbers of civilians to flee their homes. US strikes in Somalia have tripled since Trump took office in 2017, resulting in an increase in the number of people displaced from the Lower and Middle Shabelle regions, where the US is responsible for air operations against al Shabaab.
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
The US has given more than $220 million in security assistance to Cameroon over the last five years, much of which has gone to an elite military force known as the BIR. Yet records compiled by international human rights groups show that the BIR has committed human rights abuses against civilians in operations against Boko Haram, but also that the force has specifically targeted LGBTQ people in Cameroon.
The State Department said last month that it was halting some military assistance to Cameroon due to gross human rights violations by the Cameroonian forces in the western and northern regions of the country, but international organizations are pushing the Trump administration to do more.
The United States is the largest exporter of small arms and ammunition to Central America, yet those weapons have been used by authorities against innocent civilians or ended up in the hands of criminals. Violence, corruption, and abuse in Central America – the biggest factors driving migration to the US – will be exacerbated by the Trump administration’s decision last month to weaken oversight of firearm exports.
The US is considering providing Ukraine with more weapons in addition to the anti-tank missiles it has already sent, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, chief of US European Command, said last week.
The US has awarded Lockheed Martin a $946 million contract for an advanced missile defense system for Saudi Arabia. The contract is the first installment of an expected $15 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia and it comes as members of Congress are pushing to hold Riyadh accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and its role in the war in Yemen.
ON THE CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA
- Thursday, March 14 – 9:30 am – Senate Armed Services Committee – Department of Defense Budget Posture
- Wednesday, March 13 – 4:00 pm – House Foreign Affairs Committee – Hearing on H.R. 1004, Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act
- March 12: Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute – Security Council, Yemen, and International Humanitarian Law
- March 12: Brookings Institution – A City-Based Strategy for Rebuilding Libya
- March 13: Woodrow Wilson Center – Book Launch: Secret Wars: Covert Conflict in International Politics
- March 14: Brookings Institution – The Future of the Army in an Era of Great Power Competition
- March 21: New America – 21st Century Proxy Warfare
- March 21: Atlantic Council – US Military Strategy and Great Power Competition with Gen. Joseph Dunford
- April 5: Brookings Institution – Redefining U.S. National Security: Interlinkages with American Society and Foreign Policy