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, YEMEN

YEMEN

The Saudi-led coalition acknowledged that an airstrike last month on a school bus killed dozens of people, including 40 children. An investigation by the Joint Incident Assessment Team “concluded that there were mistakes made in abiding by the rules of engagement.” The Saudi-led coalition said it would hold accountable those who made mistakes and provide compensation to the victims.

The same day, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that continued US support to the coalition is “not unconditional” and will depend on the coalition’s “doing everything humanly possible” to avoid civilian casualties. Mattis also said that the US hadn’t seen any “callous disregard” by the Saudi-led coalition and would continue working with its members.

A report by the UN Group of Experts on Yemen has found that all parties to the conflict may have committed war crimes. It said that members of the Saudi-led coalition and allied forces, Houthi and Yemeni-government aligned forces have consistently carried out unlawful attacks on civilians, restricted access to humanitarian aid, carried out widespread arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, and used child soldiers.

The report found that coalition airstrikes “have caused most direct civilian casualties” as they’ve hit “residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats, and even medical facilities.”

A piece by the New York Times editorial board calls for the US and its Western allies to stop selling arms and end military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition: “Saudi Arabia and its allies seem to have little compunction about slaughtering children as long as more bombs can be bought, so it’s up to the enablers to call a halt.”

An estimated 400,000 people remain in Hodeidah, many trapped by the fighting and unable to afford to flee. Some civilians who previously fled to Sanaa said the cost of living in the capital was too high, forcing them to return to Hodeidah.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

STATISTICS

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

Civilians Killed: 751 – 1,580

Children Killed: 252 – 355

Total Killed: 7,988 – 11,383

Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,973

Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)

Minimum Civilians Killed: 6,575

Coalition Strikes: 29,929

Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 108, 462

OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE

A spokeswoman for the Norwegian Refugee Council said it was particularly concerned about the plight of children, the elderly, and people with disabilities in Hodeidah and “that the city could be closed off for a long period with nothing able to get in or out, and in that case, the biggest concern of all is the possible severing of lines into the rest of Yemen. That will push millions of people over the cliff of hunger into a full-blown famine.”

In its monthly report for July 2018, Airwars tracked an 18 percent decrease in munitions released by the Coalition in Iraq and Syria – the lowest number released in one month since August 2014 – but documented a 39 percent rise in civilian deaths with at least 75 civilians killed in Coalition actions, all in Syria.

Coalition forces carried out 30 strikes in Iraq and Syria between August 27 and September 2.

MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (August 30): In the month of July, CJTF-OIR carried over 232* open reports from previous months and received two new reports. The assessment of 18 civilian casualty reports has been completed. Three reports were determined to be credible, resulting in two unintentional civilian deaths, while 15 were assessed to be non-credible. A total of 216 reports are still open. CJTF-OIR assesses at least 1061 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve.

SEE: CIVIC Quick Reference Guide: US Law & Policy on the Use of Military Force and Lethal Operations

CONGRESS

Democrats Prepare Resolution to Withdraw US Forces from Yemen

A group of House Democrats led by Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) wants to force a vote to withdraw US forces from the Yemen civil war. In a joint statement issued on Thursday, the lawmakers said they are planning to introduce a privileged resolution invoking the War Powers Resolution of 1973 that would withdraw the US military from helping the Saudi-led coalition “should additional escalation continue and progress fail to be made towards a peace agreement.”

UN-sponsored peace talks between the internationally-recognized Yemeni government and Houthi rebels were scheduled to begin the same day in Geneva, but collapsed as Houthi leaders failed to attend, saying they were not guaranteed safe return after the discussions. UN envoy Martin Griffiths said on Saturday that he would go back to Yemen and Oman “within days” to try and agree on a new date.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must also certify by September 12 that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are taking meaningful steps to reduce civilian casualties, alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and support a political solution to the war, as required by this year’s annual defense bill. If he doesn’t offer certification, the US will be prohibited from refueling coalition aircraft – unless Pompeo grants a national security waiver to continue refueling aircraft, though he must still submit an unclassified justification to Congress detailing why he cannot make the certification.

SASC Reshuffles after Senator McCain’s Death

Following the death of Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, reorganization of the Committee has been rapid. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), selected as McCain’s replacement from Arizona and known for promoting the interests of the defense sector during his prior term as Senate Minority Whip, has joined the Armed Services Committee. Senator Kyl has been regarded by many as one of the closest analogues to Senator McCain’s political stance on national defense.

Additionally, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) has been chosen to replace McCain as the Chairman of the Committee. Inhofe has infamously expressed disapproval of those who criticized the treatment of American prisoners at the Abu Ghraib black site.

On the Congressional Agenda:

DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLING

The US military will begin operating MQ-9 Reapers from the remote base that the Air Force is building in Agadez, Niger, marking a sharp escalation of the US drone war in Africa. The Pentagon is also considering a proposal to severely cut special operations forces in Africa.

The CIA is also broadening its drone operations under expanded authorities by the Trump administration, flying drones from a small commercial airport in Dirkou, Niger. One official said the drones haven’t yet been used in lethal missions but likely would in the future to counter threats in southern Libya.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights reviewed Niger’s compliance with its human rights obligations, calling on it to ensure that the use of armed drones in the country complies with international law.

The State Department announced on Wednesday that it has added al Qaeda’s affiliate in Mali has been added to its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The group, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), was established in March 2017.

The US Air Force has built a hangar at Romania’s 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii that could be used to house MQ-9 Reaper drones to support intelligence-gathering operations around Eastern Europe and monitor the Black Sea.

US forces have conducted six airstrikes against AQAP in Yemen since May 16, bringing the total number of US airstrikes in Yemen to 34 this year according to Central Command. The Associated Press reported an additional US drone strike last week in Abyan province that killed four AQAP militants.

SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has authorized the release of $1.2 billion in military aid to Egypt, despite serious human rights concerns. The aid includes $1 billion for the current fiscal year and $195 million appropriated for FY 2017. Pompeo lifted another $195 million in July that Congress had approved for FY 2016.

Human rights organizations have condemned the decision. Brian Dooley of Human Rights First said, “This is a clear signal that the Trump administration is more than okay with President Sisi’s targeting of human rights defenders. Green lights don’t come much bigger than this.”

WHAT WE’RE READING

Tanisha Fazal and Sarah Kreps write in Foreign Affairs about the American public’s indifference to the war in Afghanistan: “without being confronted with the grim realities of war, the public is unlikely to exercise the levers of accountability that it did in the past by voicing opposition and pressuring leaders to bring a close to the war.”

Image courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Audrey M.C. Rampton
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