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
Syria: Though the SDF declared the official capture of Raqqa on October 20, the destruction of and lingering insecurity in the city has prevented residents from returning. The UN estimates that 80 percent of Raqqa is uninhabitable, as the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed: there is no water, electricity, or health service facilities in the city. The State Department warned that it could take months, if not longer, before mines and debris are cleared and residents may return.
Iraq: Iraqi forces launched an offensive on Thursday to retake Rawa and al-Qaim in western Anbar. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 65,000 people have fled western Anbar since January, including more than 10,000 since the beginning of October. The UN estimates that as many as 75,000 people remain in Islamic State-controlled areas of Anbar and expects an additional 50,000 people to be displaced from Rawa and al-Qaim as a result of military operations.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has raised concerns about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” Islamic State fighters and their families or suggests that they are “outside the bounds of humanity.” Patrick Hamilton, the ICRC deputy director for the Middle East, said that language that might seem to justify or encourage illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq “to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees with no exceptions.” His warning comes as Western officials have said that it would be best if Islamic State foreign fighters died in combat, rather than returning back to their home countries. Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the Coalition, said that “if [foreign fighters] are in Raqqa, they’re going to die in Raqqa.” Florence Parly, the French Defense Minister, said that “if the jihadis perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Hamilton noted that none of these statements called for extrajudicial killings, but cautioned that all parties need to “de-escalate their language.” Nasser Weddady writes at the Washington Post that “we should not allow the savagery of our enemies to tempt us into surrendering our own ideals.”
The United Kingdom has dropped more than 3,400 bombs and missiles on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria since the start of the Coalition actions in September 2014, yet the British government has not acknowledged a single civilian casualty resulting from its strikes. The RAF insists that it takes “all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties,” but human rights and monitoring groups argue that it is no longer credible for the government to maintain that it has not killed any civilians. In May, Samuel Oakford wrote at Foreign Policy that Coalition allies are hiding behind the alliance to shirk responsibility for civilian casualties.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (October 26): 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.
October 30: American Society of International Law – The Use of Force Under International Law
October 30: CSIS – A Work in Progress: A Conversation on Women and Girls in Afghanistan
October 30: CSIS – Iraqi Public Opinion on the Rise, Fall, and Future of ISIS
October 31: CSIS – U.S. Foreign Assistance Reorganization
November 1: CSIS – The Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel: An African-led Response to Insecurity in the Sahel
November 2: World Peace Foundation – Forum on the Arms Trade: Tackling Corruption in the Global Arms Trade
November 7: Atlantic Council – The Civilian Elements of the New U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan
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: 5.637
Coalition Strikes: 28,181
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 102,082
The Coalition conducted a total of 27,566 strikes that included 56,099 separate engagements between September 2014 and September 2017. During this period, the total number of reports of possible civilian casualties was 1,266. The total number of credible reports of civilian casualties during this time period was 194. The percent of engagements that resulted in a report of possible civilian casualties was 2.26%. The percent of engagements that resulted in a credible report of civilian casualties was .35%.
Airwars estimates that a minimum of 5,637 civilians have been killed by the Coalition since September 2014.
UPDATE (Nov 1):
Senate AUMF Hearing: During the October 30 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SRFC), featuring witnesses Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY) cited protection of civilians as a major cornerstone of US strategic interests abroad. Senator Booker cautioned that increasing US military presence while slashing bilateral aid will only further destabilize the region; partnering with militaries responsible for atrocities committed against their civilians exacerbates an already daunting security question. Referencing the violent attacks on civilians by Nigerian security forces in 2014 and the bombing of an IDP camp by the Nigerian military earlier this year, Senator Booker cautioned against ignoring the global threat of violent extremism, noting that grievances of civilians abused by security forces can fuel radicalization. He asked the witnesses “to consider whether or not we are truly achieving US aims” through the current AUMF.
Senator Paul began his remarks by imploring the witnesses to prevent war through not initiating conflict. He argued that Congress needs to assert its authority and limit the reach of the executive branch beyond passing a new AUMF. Senator Paul discussed the conflict in Yemen, highlighting the United States’ enabling role as it aids the Saudi coalition to conduct bombing campaigns and blockade the key port of Hodeidah. Across Yemen, women and children are dying and injured with knowledge of US involvement. “What do you think they say about us?” implored Senator Paul. He pushed for the United States to lead diplomatically and bring about a political solution.
House Resolution: Withdraw Support for Saudi War in Yemen: House Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) launched a bipartisan effort to withdraw U.S. support for Saudi operations in Yemen last Friday with a resolution invoking the War Powers Resolution. Jointly sponsored by an unlikely coalition of progressive Democrats and Freedom Caucus Republicans, the legislation calls on the President to end mid-flight refueling missions for Saudi jets and logistical assistance for the bombing campaigns they conduct. Republican sponsors include Reps. Massie (R-KY) and Jones (R-NC), who believe that the legislation will further their conservative, anti-interventionist agenda. The move was also fueled by concerns about cooperating with Saudi Arabia; said Jones, “we must stop selling weapons and lending forces to Saudi Arabia, a country whose royals were complicit in funding 9/11 attacks.” Democratic sponsors Khanna and Pocan (D-WI) are citing concerns for human rights in Yemen including civilian casualties of bombings and food insecurity caused by the Saudi blockade of food imports.
The resolution cites section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution, which states that “at any time that United States Armed Forces are engaged in hostilities outside the territory of the United States, its possessions and territories without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so directs by concurrent resolution.” As of this time, it is unclear whether Senate counterparts will introduce their own resolution or if a sufficient coalition can be formed between conservatives and liberals in the House. Some Democrats in the House Armed Services Committee are already balking at the plan; Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) replied, “I see problems with what the Saudis are doing, but I see huge problems with the Houthi as well.” Sherman went on to question whether the operations fall outside the Congressional authorization for use of military force. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) has introduced similar legislation as an amendment to the NDAA that would prohibit the use of U.S. funds to conduct military operations in Yemen; it is not clear that this would prohibit mid-air refueling of Saudi jets outside of Yemen’s airspace or logistical support for bombing campaigns.
Conferees Convene for NDAA Negotiations: The NDAA conference committee held their opening meeting on Wednesday to begin rectifying the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Led by the chairs of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees—Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), respectively—the committee is expected to come to agreement on a conference report quickly. Rep. Thornberry expressed optimism in a public statement: “There is a widespread consensus that we need to do better for our military. … I am optimistic that we can deliver better in a pretty short amount of time given the similarities between the House and Senate bills.” The House version of the bill includes several crucial amendments aimed at improving protections for civilians in Nigeria, Yemen (1, 2, 3) and elsewhere (1, 2) that are absent in the Senate’s legislation. Advocates should be attentive in the coming days, as there is a high risk that crucial language might be excluded in the final draft of the bill to secure passage in the Senate. Committee members will also be taking efforts to remove statutory budget caps, which both the House and Senate bills exceed by nearly $100bn.
On the Congressional Agenda:
- Monday, October 30 – 5:00pm – Senate Foreign Relations Committee – The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
Afghanistan: A U.S. drone strike on October 20 killed ten IS-K militants in Nangarhar’s Achin district. On October 21, a possible U.S. airstrike in Nangarhar’s Achin district killed at least forty IS-K fighters. On October 24, local officials said a possible U.S. airstrike in Heart province left many insurgents dead after it reportedly hit a Taliban meeting where over 300 had gathered.
Yemen: On October 25, the U.S. carried out two airstrikes in Bayda province, killing at least nine Islamic State fighters.
Replacing the PPG: Charlie Savage reported at The New York Times that President Trump has signed his new policy to replace the 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance regulating drone strikes and raids outside of conventional battlefields. The new “Principles, Standards, and Procedures” policy does not require strikes to undergo high-level vetting; includes status-based targeting; eliminates the requirement of imminence of threat; and reduces the “near certainty” requirement that no civilians will be killed to “reasonable certainty.”
Niger: NBC reported that the Trump administration is pushing forward with a plan to allow lethal strikes against terrorists in Niger, marking a significant escalation in U.S. counterterrorism operations. Though the U.S. conducts strikes in Libya and Somalia, most of Africa has not been included in the U.S. drone war. U.S. officials noted that plans to arm Reaper drones had been under consideration long before four American soldiers were killed in an ambush earlier this month.
NBC’s report comes as Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the military is shifting its counterterrorism strategy to focus more on Africa. New rules of engagement would give commanders more decision-making authority and expand the ability to use lethal force against suspected terrorists. Graham also said that the counterterrorism policy would include status-based targeting, allowing troops to use lethal force against a suspected terrorist even if that person does not pose an imminent threat.
Amnesty International: In a report released last week, Amnesty International addresses the rapid proliferation of the use of armed drones and raises concerns that some states’ use of armed drones have violated the right to life and have included cases of unlawful killings. It notes that many drone strikes have taken place in the context of actual armed conflicts, though the United States has asserted its right to carry out drone strikes against members of certain groups as part of its global war on terror or on the basis of purported self-defense. Amnesty calls on states to ensure their use of armed drones complies with international law; to disclose the policy and legal frameworks for the use of armed drones; to ensure oversight and remedies; to regulate state responsibility for assistance; and to put in place controls on transfers.
At Just Security, Daphne Eviatar writes that Amnesty International’s “Key Principles on the Use of Armed Drones” are important for U.S. lawmakers to consider, because the United States use of armed drones sets an important precedent. She argues that it is important to recognize that American interpretations of the law “could lead other countries to similarly stretch the bounds of law to allow the use of lethal force outside of armed conflict in ways that violate international human rights.”
SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES
Czech Republic: The State Department approved the potential sale to the Czech Republic of twelve UH-1Y utility helicopters worth an estimated $575 million via the Foreign Military Sales program.
Myanmar: The U.S. will not allow Myanmar units involved in operations in Rakhine State to receive or participate in any U.S. assistance programs.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
Buzzfeed: Borzou Daragahi writes about a U.S. airstrike in September that hit a wedding celebration in Jarachi, Afghanistan, killing two men and injuring three. As the United States increases its use of airpower in Afghanistan, Daragahi warns that civilian casualties risk undermining U.S. goals and alienating Afghans, adding that “no Taliban atrocity ever causes the same level of outrage.”
The Intercept: Nick Turse writes that the “rapid, largely unrecognized increase in U.S. troops in Niger is part of the large expansion of the U.S. military footprint in Africa.” Close to 6,000 U.S. troops are on the continent, conducting some 3,500 exercises, programs, and engagements each year.