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
More than 500,000 people have been killed in the US war on terror, according to a report published by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. The figure includes civilians, armed fighters, security forces, and American and allied troops, though it is almost certainly an undercount due to limitations in reporting. The report documented as many as 204,575 civilian deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not including those who were indirectly killed as a result of war.
SEE: The Protection of Civilians in Partnered Operations
Fighting in and around Hodeida has escalated drastically over the past week and “is at its worst in months.” The Saudi-led coalition launched a new offensive last week to take full control of the city, and Houthi rebels are taking up positions in houses, buildings, and hospitals, prompting fears they are using civilians as human shields.
Residents and aid workers are reporting relentless airstrikes, low-flying jets, mortars, and missiles on the outskirts of town, and the “near constant barrage of air attacks” is causing “permanent anxiety” among residents. More than 200 strikes have been reported in the past week, including in residential neighborhoods, while ground forces have been fighting street-to-street in the south of the city. Aid workers have said fierce clashes, airstrikes, and shelling are causing scores of civilian casualties.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
The Administration announced today they are stopping refueling of Saudi jets over Yemen. This is long overdue, but if refueling is a bad idea, then why still sell the Saudis the bombs and help them pick targets? Time to get ALL THE WAY OUT of this moral and strategic catastrophe.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 10, 2018
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 751 – 1,597
Children Killed: 252 – 359
Total Killed: 8,059 – 11,482
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,990
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,716
Coalition Strikes: 30,722
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 109,507
The UN estimates that 445,000 people have fled Hodeida governorate since June. The UNHCR said the number of people remaining in Hodeida is difficult to assess but expressed concern that people who need to flee aren’t able to because intensified military operations are “increasingly confining populations and cutting off exit routes.”
UN peace talks scheduled for the end of November have been pushed back to the end of the year. 35 human rights organizations have issued a statement calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities.
OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE
The Coalition began ground operations of phase three to clear the Islamic State from eastern Syria in September, but the civilian death toll for the month was at a near all-time low with between 4 and 9 civilians killed in Coalition operations. However, Airwars has still tracked high levels so far in 2018: from January through September, it documented between 521 and 766 civilian deaths across 101 civilian harm events.
More than 200 mass graves have been found in areas of Iraq once controlled by the Islamic State, containing as many as 12,000 bodies, the UN said on Tuesday. Iraqi authorities have so far only exhumed 1,258 bodies from 28 graves.
Fighting between the Coalition-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State fighters in eastern Syria is “some of the most intense” since the Mosul and Raqqa offensives. The SDF has been slowed by booby traps, land mines, and a counterattack launched by IS militants during a sandstorm last week, and American officials said that the operations will likely drag into early next year. UN humanitarian official Jan Egeland said that around 15,000 people, including IS fighters and their families, live in the area.
Coalition forces carried out 100 strikes between October 28 and November 3.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (October 25): In the month of September, CJTF-OIR carried over 310 open reports from previous months and received one new report. The assessment of 104 civilian casualty reports has been completed. Out of the 104 completed casualty reports, none of the reports were determined to be credible and resulted in zero unintentional civilian deaths. The Coalition conducted a total of 30,247 strikes between August 2014 and end of September 2018. During this period, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1114 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Midterms Promise Shakeup in Congress
Now that Democrats have won the House, the turnover of the Speaker’s gavel will also bring about turnover in House committee leadership. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), currently the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, has announced his candidacy for Chair of that committee in the 116th Congress and is expected to win without difficulty. In the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is the likely candidate for Chair. While the Senate will not change from Republican hands, the retirement of Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), a relatively moderate member who blocked numerous arms sales over conflict in Gulf states, is expected to be replaced with pro-Trump hardliner Senator James Risch (R-ID).
While the Democratic House is more likely to pass progressive human rights legislation such as limits on American capacity to assist or sell arms to Saudi Arabia, the Senate has become even more reliably Republican. Legislative potential in the next two years is therefore very low. Democrats in the House will, however, have an important lever of power when it comes to must-pass legislation like the NDAA or budget that require their support. It is likely that efforts will be made to include progressive priorities in those packages. Subpoena and oversight authority will also be powerful tools for Democrats seeking to hold administration officials accountable for the nature of U.S. relationships with regimes that don’t respect civilian lives. This turnover of power and creation of a split chamber gives new weight to voices that tend to be critical of human rights abusers; it also creates the potential for an even more oppositional and complex political climate.
On the Congressional Agenda:
- Wednesday, November 14th – 2:00 pm – House Foreign Affairs Committee – U.S. Department of State Counterterrorism Bureau: Ensuring Resources Match Objectives
- Tuesday, November 27th – 9:30 am – Senate Armed Services Committee – Findings and Recommendations of the Commission on the National Defense Strategy
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
The United States will stop refueling Saudi-led coalition aircraft in Yemen amid growing concerns about civilian casualties and pressure from Congress to end US support to the coalition. The coalition issued a statement on Saturday saying it has requested an end to US refueling of aircraft because it had “increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen.”
In a statement confirming the Saudi-led coalition’s decision, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that the United States would continue helping the coalition minimize civilian casualties and suggested plans to build up Yemeni troops. The US still provides intelligence support, assists with targeting, and sells arms to the coalition.
The move is welcomed as a positive step by human rights advocates, but a halt to refueling is likely to have little practical effect with only 20 percent of coalition aircraft requiring in-air fueling from the US. The decision on its own is unlikely to rein in the coalition or change the trajectory of the war.
Some members of Congress have supported the move but are still pushing to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE and end all US support for the Saudi-led coalition. A measure by Rep. Ro Khanna in the House and Sens. Chris Murphy, Bernie Sanders, and Mike Lee in the Senate would force the withdrawal of US forces from Yemen. The measure was tabled when it was introduced in March, but Sen. Murphy said he believes the mood has changed in the Senate because of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and more awareness of the dire humanitarian situation in Yemen.
Armored vehicles given by the United States to Guatemala to combat drug trafficking have been used to intimidate a UN anti-corruption commission. The Departments of State and Defense confirmed that the Jeep J8s were donated to be used by specific Guatemalan interagency task forces for counternarcotic operations in border region, but their transfer or use outside of those parameters would violate the donation agreement.
Exports of US-made weapons for fiscal year 2018 increased 13 percent over last year following a push from the Trump administration to sell more weapons abroad, according to figures released by the State Department on Thursday. Total weapons sales – both foreign military sales and direct commercial sales – reached $192.3 billion this year.
The State Department also released information on its implementation plan for the Trump administration’s new Conventional Arms Transfer policy, detailing three core objectives: expedite the transfer of US defense equipment, support the US defense industry, and better compete with adversaries.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLING
US forces conducted two counterterrorism air strikes against AQAP in Yemen’s Abyan and al-Bayda governorates in September, bringing the total number of strikes to 36 in 2018, Central Command said in a statement on Tuesday. There were no counterterrorism strikes in October.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Brian McKeon and Caroline Tess write in Foreign Affairs that Congress now has a chance to influence the Trump administration’s foreign policy with Democrats in control of the House. They call on Congress to exercise proper oversight, end support for the war in Yemen, and repeal and replace the 2001 AUMF.
- November 13: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – Rethinking Yemen’s Economy
- November 14 Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School – The United States’ Retreat from the Human Rights System
- November 19: US Institute of Peace – Questions from CENTCOM on Achieving Peace in Afghanistan
- November 20: Brookings Institution – The Future of the Defense Budget
- December 4: US Institute of Peace – Voices of the Afghan People