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

An investigation by Airwars for the Daily Beast examines the civilian death toll in Raqqa, where local monitors estimate that 2,000 civilians were killed between June and October. Six months after the end of fighting, only 11 percent of Coalition civilian harm assessments have resulted in an admission of responsibility – the Coalition has acknowledged 13 strikes that left 21 civilians dead and 6 injured, far short of the 1,400 civilian deaths attributed to the Coalition by monitoring organizations. The Coalition relied heavily on airpower and artillery in Raqqa – at least 21,000 munitions were fired into the city and target engagement authority was delegated to lower-level commanders, suggesting a possible correlation between the delegation of authority and the resulting increase in civilian harm. The “ground force unit controlled all dynamic engagements” of air and artillery, according to an AFCENT spokeswoman.

MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (February 22): In the month of January, CJTF-OIR carried over 406 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 195 new reports resulting from Coalition strikes (artillery or air) in support of partner force operations to defeat Daesh in Iraq and Syria. During this period, the Coalition completed the assessment of 116 reports: 102 were assessed to be non-credible, 10 were assessed to be duplicates of previous reports, and four were assessed to be credible, resulting in 10 unintentional civilian deaths. A finding of non-credible in many cases indicates a lack of evidence. “Non-credible” is not intended to deny the possibility that a CIVCAS incident occurred, nor is it intended as a comment on the credibility on the source of the allegation. To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 841 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.

CONGRESS

CIA Director Nominee Haspel Questioned for Links to Torture: Following the ousting of former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State last Tuesday, President Trump announced that the position of top diplomat would be filled by the current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. To replace Pompeo, the President has tapped Gina Haspel, the deputy CIA director and former administrator at a United States black site in Thailand. Though the extent to which Haspel participated in torture is itself unclear, anti-torture advocates like Senator John McCain have expressed pronounced concern about her nomination, and have repeatedly requested the declassification of black site documents to ascertain the extent of her involvement. According to McCain, “The torture of detainees in U.S. custody during the last decade was one of the darkest chapters in American history. Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.” Haspel also ordered the destruction of videotapes documenting violent interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

UPCOMING EVENTS

March 19: USIP – Foreign Policy and Fragile States

March 20: USIP – Human Rights: The Foundation for Peace

March 20: Brookings Institution – Charting A Path Forward for the Democratic Republic of the Congo

March 20: Atlantic Council – Kremlin Aggression in Ukraine: Seeking Restitution for Private Property

March 21: USIP – Hidden Wounds: Trauma and Civilians in the Syrian Conflict

March 21: CSIS – Senator Robert Menendez on Congressional Leadership in Foreign Policy

March 22: USIP – Progress on Peace and Stability in Afghanistan

March 22: CSIS – The Impact of Counterterrorism Laws and Measures on Civil Society

March 22: USIP – Overcoming Violence: A Conversation with Women of Courage

March 23: Brookings Institution – What’s Next for the War(s) in Syria?

March 28: CSIS – Celebrating Women and Girls: Change Agents for Food and Nutrition Security in Conflict Settings

March 29: Center for a New American Security – Evolving the Future Force

March 30: CSIS – After Syria: The United States, Russia, and the Future of Terrorism

April 5: Brookings Institution – Autonomous Weapons and International Law

STATISTICS

Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)

Civilians Killed: 737 – 1,551

Children Killed: 242 – 335

Total Killed: 7,361 – 10,677

Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,737

Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)

Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,238

Coalition Strikes: 29,162

Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 105,756

ON THE CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA:

DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS

On March 12, the Trump administration submitted to Congress a “report on the legal and policy frameworks for the United States’ use of military force and related national security operations,” as required under Section 1264 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2018. Many national security specialists and human rights and civil rights experts hoped the report would provide the legal and policy bases for US military and counterterrorism operations, including reported changes to US drone policy, but the unclassified section largely paraphrased the December 2017 War Powers Report in which the executive lists deployments abroad. Lawfare provides a detailed summary of the report.

The report did acknowledge a previously unreported encounter between US forces and Islamic State militants in Niger in December, two months after senior commanders imposed stricter limits on military missions in the country after four American soldiers were killed in an ambush in October. The US military acknowledged the gun battle for the first time on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for US Africa Command said no American or Nigerien forces were killed or wounded in the attack and that 11 militants were killed.

The US has quietly decreased transparency over its air wars in Afghanistan and Yemen since President Trump took office, the Bureau of Investigate Journalism reports. Toward the end of the Obama administration, US military officials became more transparent about counterterrorism campaigns – Resolute Support began providing detailed monthly reports on air strikes in Afghanistan and Central Command announced its intentions to provide detailed information on strikes in Yemen on an ad hoc basis. Yet by the end of 2017, the US military became less transparent, withholding numbers and detailed information on strikes in order not to give “the enemy any information they could use to their advantage.” Restricting information makes it harder to hold operations in Yemen and Afghanistan to account at a time when air power in both countries is increasing.

SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged the Senate to reject a bipartisan joint resolution to end US military support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which includes providing limited intelligence and midair refueling of jet fighters and selling weapons to the Saudis. In a letter to lawmakers, Mattis said that ending US support to Saudi Arabia would be counterproductive – it could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation on counterterrorism, and embolden Iran to increase support to the Houthis therefore raising the risk of a regional conflict. The resolution could come up for a vote this week, when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is scheduled to arrive in Washington.

The State Department’s updated drone export policy could be released as early as next week, according to Michael Miller, the Acting Deputy Assistant with the Bureau of Political Military Affairs. The Trump administration is seeking to change the 2015 guidance in place governing the export of unmanned systems to make them easier to sell abroad.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Just Security: As the battlespace in Syria becomes even murkier with the merging of the anti-ISIS and anti-Assad conflicts, Tess Bridgeman discusses the legal basis for US forces in Syria. She specifically addresses the “unwilling or unable” doctrine that the US has relied on and questions how long the US can maintain a military presence in Syria on that basis.

Image courtesy of U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Molina
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