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
After launching an offensive last week, Iraqi forces, back by Coalition airstrikes, captured the town of Rawa on Friday. Rawa was the last Iraqi town still held by the Islamic State in Iraq, though pockets of resistance remain and IS still controls some territory in the deserts of western Iraq. The International Rescue Committee has warned the international community that the end of the Islamic State’s territorial control does not mean the end to civilian needs, as more than 11 million Iraqis remain in need of humanitarian assistance.
Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal from the New York Times published the first systematic, ground-based investigation of the civilian death toll from Coalition airstrikes in Iraq since the anti-ISIS campaign began in August 2014. Khan and Gopal visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes between April 2016 and June 2017 in areas recently liberated from the Islamic State, where they interviewed witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants, and local officials. They also interviewed senior commanders, legal advisors, and civilian-casualty assessment experts at the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Their reporting shows that the Coalition’s air campaign is killing significantly more civilians than it has acknowledged. Khan and Gopal found that one in five Coalition strikes resulted in civilian death – a rate 31x higher than publicly acknowledged.
Khan and Gopal’s reporting details the Coalition’s failure to properly investigate claims of civilian harm or keep records in order to investigate claims. Central to the Coalition’s investigation process is matching civilian casualty accusations against its own airstrike logs, yet Khan and Gopal found many discrepancies between the dates and locations of strikes and those recorded in the Coalition’s records. The report also addresses the Coalition’s failure to compensate those injured or killed in US operations. In the course of their reporting, Khan and Gopal found that the Coalition had not yet offered a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (October 27): In the month of September, CJTF-OIR carried more than 344 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 302 new reports resulting from Coalition strikes (artillery or air) in support of partner force operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. During this period, the Coalition completed the assessment of 127 reports: 105 were assessed to be non-credible, six were assessed to be duplicates of previous reports, and 16 were assessed to be credible, resulting in 51 unintentional civilian deaths. To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 786 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve. A total of 519 reports are still open and being assessed at the end of the month.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
My story as told by my good friends Azmat and Anand .
I wish to covey my appreciation and gratitude to both of them and to all the people who helped in this great peice of journalisim .
I am hoping that justice will prevail soon. https://t.co/6HWCmA3yhQ
— Basim razzo (@basimrazzo) November 17, 2017
November 20: Wilson Center – Narrowing the Gap between International and Local Actors in Peacebuilding Efforts in South Sudan
November 29: USIP – Raqqa After the Islamic State: Governance Challenges in Post-ISIS Syria
December 4: Atlantic Council – Rebuilding Syria: A Localized Revitalization Strategy
December 5: USIP – Turmoil Across the Middle East: What Does It Mean?
Bureau of Investigative Journalism (Total Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen)
Civilians Killed: 753 – 1,488
Children Killed: 262 – 331
Total Killed: 6,826 – 9,930
Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,413
Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)
Minimum Civilians Killed: 5,961
Coalition Strikes: 28,380
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 102,082
Senate Sends NDAA to President’s Desk: The Senate summarily approved the redrafted 2018 NDAA in a voice vote on Thursday, sending the $700 billion defense authorization bill to President Trump’s desk for approval. The House had passed the legislation two days prior with a vote of 356-70; House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) along with his Senate counterpart John McCain (R-AZ) are now preparing to lobby budget officials for the necessary appropriation. These budget negotiations will be crucial if defense hawks want to guarantee that the NDAA is fully funded, since current budget caps would automatically cut over $100 billion of the bill’s spending. McCain stood by the funding request after the vote on Thursday: “I call upon the president to sign this important legislation into law — and in doing so acknowledge that this is the level of defense spending necessary to meet current threats, prepare for the challenges of an increasingly dangerous world and keep faith with our men and women in uniform.” President Trump has long campaigned on promises to dramatically increase investment in the military, and is expected to support this most recent call for defense spending boosts. While spending increases may signal Congressional intent to expand the United States’ involvement in foreign conflicts, the new NDAA contains many valuable new reporting requirements that will provide information on civilian protection capacity of U.S. allies (1, 2, 3) and casualties resulting from U.S. strikes.
House: War in Yemen Not Authorized: After the House legislation to prohibit the United States from contributing troops or funds to the Saudi anti-Houthi campaign in Yemen was stripped from the NDAA, House leaders proposed and passed a new, non-binding resolution declaring any such efforts unauthorized by Congress. Members were told in NDAA negotiations that the President should have flexibility to use force in Yemen if necessary and are now asserting that “Congress has not enacted specific legislation authorizing the use of military force against parties participating in the Yemeni civil war that are not otherwise subject to the  Authorization of Use of Military Force or the  Authorization of Use of Military Force in Iraq.” Debate over the President’s authorization to use force abroad has been ongoing in the House and Senate, and this legislation may inspire new momentum in Congress to provide updated definitions for where the President is and is not authorized to conduct military campaigns.
ON THE CONGRESSIONAL AGENDA:
There are no upcoming Congressional hearings on civilians in conflict or human rights at this time.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
Afghanistan: A US drone strike reported on November 13 killed at least four IS-K fighters in Nangarhar province. On November 14, a US strike killed six Taliban fighters in Helmand province.
Operation Inherent Resolve: Coalition airstrikes killed four senior Islamic State leaders in the past three weeks, including an a media official and an external operations coordinator near al-Qaim in Iraq and a weapons facilitator and external operations plotter in Syria.
Somalia: Between November 9 and November 14, the US carried out seven strikes in Somalia against both Islamic State and al Shabaab targets, killing more than 45 militants. On November 9, U.S. forces carried out an airstrike against al-Shabaab in the Bay Region of Somalia. On November 10, the US conducted an airstrike twenty miles north of Mogadishu against al-Shabaab. On November 11, the US carried out a strike against al Shabaab near Gaduud. On November 12, the US conducted two strikes, killing “several” fighters. The first strike targeted al Shabaab in the Lower Shabelle region; the second targeted the Islamic State in the Puntland region. On November 13, a US strike targeted al Shabaab fighters near Gaduud; according to an AFRICOM spokesman, “A group of al Shabaab terrorists posed an imminent threat to Somali-led and US forces” during a Somali-led counterterrorism operation and that the US conducted a “self-defense strike” in response. On November 14, a US strike killed “several” al Shabaab militants in the Idow Jalad village in the Lower Shabelle. The November 14 strike marked the twenty-eighth US strike in Somalia this year.
Yemen: Between November 10 and 12, the US conducted three drone strikes in al Bayda governorate. The first, on November 10, killed two Islamic State fighters; the second, on November 11, killed one IS fighter; the final strike, on November 12, killed two IS fighters.
The Long War Journal details the intensifying US air campaign in Yemen against Islamic State militants. The first US strike against the Islamic State in Yemen took place on October 16, followed by two more strikes in al Bayda at the end of October. Since the beginning of the year, the US has launched more than 100 strikes in Yemen against AQAP and six against the Islamic State.
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
Norway: The State Department approved the possible sale to Norway of sixty AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-AIr Missiles (AMRAAM), worth an estimated $170 million.
Peacekeeping: On Wednesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that the US will reduce its contributions to UN peacekeeping missions. The US currently pays 28 percent of the roughly $8 billion in annual peacekeeping costs, but will reduce its contributions to 25 percent. Shanahan said that the US will continue to provide training and equipment to UN peacekeeping missions.
Poland: The State Department approved the potential $10.5 billion sale to Poland of a Raytheon Patriot missile defense system.
Sudan: On Thursday, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that the US would consider removing Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, contingent on Sudan’s progress on counterterrorism cooperation and human rights. Last month, the Trump administration formally lifted sanctions against Sudan.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
Just Security: Last week, as states gathered at the UN to discuss lethal autonomous weapons, Paul Scharre wrote about the rapid pace of development in artificial intelligence and automation which has made setting effective policy difficult. In the second part of his post, Scharre argues that policymakers can address this issue by shifting the focus from technology back to the human. He writes that states must consider what role humans should play in lethal force decisions, including which decisions require uniquely human judgment.
Lawfare: Dave Blair and Karen House unravel the myth of drone warfare as remote-control fighting, detailing the “intensely personal experience” of remote killing and the costs it bears on operators.