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
The bombing of a school bus in Yemen last month has exposed divisions in the Trump administration over the level of US military support for the Saudi war in Yemen, the Wall Street Journal reports. Some officials at the State Department have urged the administration to scale back military support for the Saudi-led coalition, while others at the National Security Council (NSC) are calling for the US to provide more intelligence and assistance with targeting. Those at the NSC have argued that allowing American advisers to take part in war-room discussions on difficult strikes will limit civilian casualties.
However, Attorneys at the Pentagon have said that the law prevents the United States from being involved with dynamic targeting and that having American advisers take part in discussions about airstrikes on specific targets would cross the line and make the US part of the “kill chain.”
Senator Chris Murphy also warned against expanding US military support: “Putting our people more directly involved into the targeting process would make us even more complicit in this bombing of civilians.”
The World Food Program (WFP) has warned that Yemen is on the brink of a full-blown famine, as more than 18 million Yemenis are food insecure, 8.4 million severely so. Executive Director David Beasley said at the UN General Assembly last week that Yemen is “undeniably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” and there is no “light at the end of the tunnel right now.”
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said that Yemen is “approaching a tipping point, beyond which is will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life” and that there are “already pockets of famine-like conditions” in the country.
There has been a huge spike in civilian casualties in Yemen since June when the Saudi-UAE coalition and Yemeni government forces launched an offensive to retake the city from Houthi rebels, according to a report by Save the Children. Civilian deaths in Yemen have risen by 164 percent in four months with an average of 166 deaths per month. Spokesman for Save the Children, Bhanu Bhatnagar, said the situation in Yemen is “dire,” with millions on the brink of starvation and shortages of clean drinking water that could lead to another possible outbreak of cholera.
The UN Human Rights Council voted on Friday to extend a probe of alleged war crimes committed in Yemen against objections from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
This is a bombshell.
And the effective takeaway here is that we are going to keep knowingly killing civilians in Yemen to protect our ability to sell more weapons to Gulf countries to kill MORE CIVILIANS. Maybe the least virtuous circle ever. https://t.co/KHD0CCtH5g
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 20, 2018
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 751 – 1,589
Children Killed: 252 – 359
Total Killed: 8,054 – 11,459
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,988
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,575
Coalition Strikes: 30,092
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 108, 462
- October: NYU Wagner – Navigating the Gulf: How Economic Trends Are Driving Politics and US Counterterrorism Efforts in the Arabian Peninsula
- October 4: US Institute of Peace – Preserving the Past to Strengthen Afghanistan’s Future
- October 9: NYU Wagner – State of Rebellion: Violence and Intervention in the Central African Republic
- October 18: US Institute of Peace – Breaking Rules to Build Peace
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) expressed concern on Tuesday about the rising number of civilian casualties from airstrikes, as the Afghan government increasingly relies on airpower to fight the Taliban. At least 21 civilians were killed in two separate airstrikes last week, including 9 members of the same family.
In the first six months of the year, UNAMA documented 353 civilian casualties, including 149 deaths, resulting from airstrikes – a 52 percent increase from the same period last year. Women and children made up more than half of all aerial attack civilians casualties.
OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE
Coalition forces carried out 78 strikes in Iraq and Syria between September 17 and 23.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (September 27): In the month of August, CJTF-OIR carried over 219 open reports from previous months and received 151 new reports. The assessment of 60 civilian casualty reports has been completed. Out of the 60 completed casualty reports, eight of the reports were determined to be credible and resulted in 53 unintentional civilian deaths. Two of the reports were determined to be duplicate reports that had previously reported and the remaining 50 reports were assessed to be non-credible. A total of 310 reports are still open. The Coalition conducted a total of 30,008 strikes between August 2014 and end of August 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.
Defense Spending Bill Signed Into Law
This week marked rapid progress for the ‘minibus’ package including defense appropriations. First, the bill found a receptive audience in the House, where it was passed on a vote of 361-61. Much of the urgency behind the bill was driven by the need to prevent government shutdown, which this appropriations package delayed until December.
President Trump signed the bill on Friday despite his misgivings over the absence of border wall funding. The measure authorizes $674 billion in defense spending.
House Democrats Propose Bill to End U.S. Involvement in Yemen
Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA), a prominent critic of the United States’ support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, has officially proposed a war powers resolution along with 50 cosponsors to end American involvement.
It is noteworthy that the War Powers Act allows “privileged” resolutions such as this to be forced to a vote by sponsors, meaning that House Speaker Paul Ryan, a supporter of military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, cannot prevent a vote.
A similar motion was attempted in the Senate in March of 2018; it faced powerful opposition from the White House and its allies, and the measure failed on a 55-44 vote. Representative Khanna, however, seems optimistic about his legislation after widespread backlash to highly visible strikes and the civilian casualties they caused. “This time around, our coalition to end the war has expanded and the call for withdrawing U.S. involvement is louder,” said Rep. Khanna.
On the Congressional Agenda:
- Tuesday, October 2 – 10:00 am – Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Full Committee Hearing Russia’s Role in Syria and the Broader Middle East
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
The State Department approved several arms sales last week:
- 46,000 M831A1 and M865 rounds and 10,000 APFSDS-T rounds to Egypt for an estimated cost of $99 million
- 50 MK 15 Phalanx Close-in Weapon System Block IB Baseline 2 Upgrade Kits to the United Kingdom, worth an estimated $75 million
- 2 SEAL Delivery Vehicles MK 11 Shallow Water Combat Submersibles to the United Kingdom for an estimated cost of $90 million
- Funds for blanket order requisitions to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office for an estimated cost of $330 million
- 120 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System M31 Unitary Rocket Pods and 120 Army Tactical Missiles Systems M57 T2K Unitary missiles to Bahrain, worth an estimated $300 million
Over the summer, a widely-circulated video emerged of members of Cameroon’s armed forces executing women and children. Despite a digital forensic investigation by Amnesty International and the BBC which pinpoints the location of the killings, the make and model of a weapon used, and the identity of the perpetrators demonstrating that they are members of the Cameroonian military, the Pentagon has remained silent.
The US government – which has given more than $200 million in security assistance to Cameroon since 2015, provides intelligence and training in counterterrorism skills, and operates a drone base in the north of the country – can put pressure on Cameroon’s leaders by enforcing existing US laws.
WHAT WE’RE READING
In Just Security, CIVIC’s Shannon Green and Dan Mahanty respond to Samuel Moyn’s recent lecture in which he questioned whether the ‘forever war’ is too humane, arguing instead that the risks and costs of war have merely been shifted to civilians.
Ali Wyne addresses the risks of permanent war in Just Security: “While many observers use ‘forever war’ to describe America’s intervention in Afghanistan, the term increasingly, and concerningly, seems to characterize a core component of US foreign policy.”