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 Senior Advisor, 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: The SDF has launched the final assault to recapture Raqqa from the Islamic State, whose fighters have been encircled in a small area in the center of Raqqa that includes the city’s stadium and a hospital. Coalition spokesman, Col. Ryan Dillon, initially said the Coalition would not accept a negotiated withdrawal of IS fighters, though on Saturday the Raqqa Civil Council and tribal elders brokered an arrangement allowing civilians and Syrian Islamic State fighters to leave Raqqa; officials have given conflicting accounts on whether or not foreign fighters will be allowed to leave as well. The Coalition statement said that the Coalition was not involved in the negotiations and that it “does not condone any arrangement that allows Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqa without facing justice,” though it “believes [the arrangement] will save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the Coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqa with less risk of civilian casualties.” Prior to the deal, an estimated 2,000 to 8,000 civilians remained in Raqqa, held in the stadium and hospital as human shields by the Islamic State; however, AFP reported that more than 3,000 civilians fled Raqqa on Saturday night to areas controlled by the SDF. Talal Sello, a spokesman for a U.S.-backed militia, said that Raqqa is “now empty of civilians” who had been used as human shields and that only 250 to 300 foreign fighters remain, along with their family members.
Coalition airstrikes intensified ahead of the final assault, with seventy-five strikes hitting Raqqa between October 7 and 8. Despite a decrease in Coalition airstrikes on October 9 with zero reported strikes and on October 10 with five reported strikes, intensified airstrikes on Raqqa continued on October 11. The Coalition’s air raids have taken a severe toll on civilians in Raqqa. Reuters reported that hundreds of families fled the city on Thursday – the sheer intensify of the airstrikes forced IS fighters to shift their positions or hide underground, thus giving civilians an opportunity to flee. One man told Reuters that all fourteen of his family members were killed when an airstrike targeted his building, while another woman said that four entire families were killed in airstrikes in one day this week.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented 1,130 civilians, including 270 children, killed by Coalition airstrikes from June 5 to October 10.
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: 28,024
Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 102,082
Iraq: Prime Minister al-Abadi officially announced the full liberation of Hawija this week. Médecins sans Frontières said that the Hawija operation displaced close to 14,000 people, mostly to neighboring districts in Kirkuk governorate. One man told MSF that “fleeing Hawija was so dangerous that people called it the road of death.” The UN said it was “relieved” that the fighting in Hawija and Kirkuk province had ended, but that it remains deeply concerned about the safety of civilians due to incidents of collective punishment, restrictions on free movement, evictions, forced returns, sexual exploitation and violence, and children, the elderly, and the disabled being separated from their families.
With the loss of Hawija, the Islamic State now controls only a string of small towns and the city of Qaim in western Anbar, where operations are ongoing. Iraqi forces have thus far recaptured Ana, Rayhanah, and Akashat and are planning for operations to retake Rawa and al-Qaim. The UN estimates that as many as 75,000 people remain in Islamic State-controlled areas of Anbar and that more than 54,000 people have fled western Anbar since January, particularly from Ana, al-Qaim, and Rawa. The UNHCR expects an additional 50,000 people to be displaced from Rawa and al-Qaim as a result of forthcoming military operations.
MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (September 29): In the month of August, CJTF-OIR carried over 455 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 80 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 185 reports: 168 were assessed to be non-credible, three were assessed to be duplicates of previous reports, and 14 were assessed to be credible, resulting in 50 unintentional civilian deaths. To date, based on information available, CJTF-OIR assesses at least 735 civilians have been unintentionally killed by Coalition strikes since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve. A total of 350 reports are still open and being assessed at the end of the month.
House Prepares for NDAA Conference: The House has appointed its delegates – 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats – to represent its version of the National Defense Authorization Act in a conference committee with the Senate. The representatives, charged with resolving discrepancies between the language of the House and Senate versions of the bill, will be responsible for ensuring that key provisions from the House bill are included in the final draft. This could have significant consequences on United States policy aimed towards mitigating civilian casualties. Key amendments in the House version of the bill include:
- Requirements for improved Nigerian military transparency concerning civilian protection
- Reports to determine if FMS recipients have transferred arms to units forbidden under the Leahy Law
- Reports on Saudi Arabia’s adherence to no-strike rules and capacity to avoid civilians
- Prohibitions on use of funds or deployment of troops in the conflict in Yemen
- Annual reports on US military strikes and resultant civilian casualties
The Senate has not yet appointed conference delegates, though it too will be Republican-favored in its appointments. The Senate’s NDAA deliberations were plagued with unwillingness to confront controversial policy decisions, ignoring or tabling amendments that were liable to trigger heated debate. It is not yet known whether these same attitudes in the Senate will stymie House efforts to protect crucial yet controversial components of the bill aimed at protecting civilians in conflict.
HASC Members Unveil New AUMF: Four veteran members of the House Armed services committee—Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Don Bacon (R-NE), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA)—have introduced legislation creating a new AUMF authorizing military force against ISIL and Al-Qaeda with a five-year sunset and requiring regular presidential reports to Congress. Says Gallego, “For too long, Congress has allowed our armed forces to be used with ever more tenuous links to a vague and obsolete Authorization of Military Force. This bill would refocus our efforts against terrorism and prevent the unauthorized use of our military against other countries or people.” This legislation reflects a recent surge in efforts in the House and Senate to rein in Presidential authority to conduct war. Legislation has been introduced this year by Rep. Barbara Lee (R-CA), Sens. Kaine (D-VA) and Flake (R-AZ), and Senator Paul (R-KY); though none of these efforts have succeeded, they signal a desire by Congress to take responsibility for war-making power following the election of President Trump, seen by many in Congress as unstable in his foreign policy.
On the Congressional Agenda: There are, at this time, no upcoming Congressional hearings on issues relating to civilians in conflict.
DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS
Afghanistan: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that during the month of September, the U.S. conducted 212 strikes and launched 751 weapons in Afghanistan – an average of 3.5 weapons per strike. 158 of the strikes were carried “strategic strikes” in support of Afghan strategic goals; 46 were carried out under force protection rules; 8 were conducted under counter-terrorism authorities against al Qaeda or IS-K. On October 1, a possible U.S. drone strike in Nangarhar’s Achin district killed Qari Zahid, a “key member” of IS-K. On October 11, possible U.S. strikes killed at least eleven IS-K militants in Nangarhar’s Achin district. A possible U.S. strike on October 7 in Sar e Pul province struck a Taliban compound being used as an insurgent training facility, killing at least seven Taliban militants and injuring at least eleven more. On October 10, a U.S. drone strike in Badakhshan province killed eight and injured eleven Taliban fighters. A U.S. drone strike in Nangarhar’s Bati Kot district on October 10 killed two Taliban fighters. A U.S. drone strike reported on October 11 targeted a suspected IS-K hideout in Nangarhar’s Haska Mina district, killing four fighters. A U.S. strike on October 11 in Syed Karim district in Paktia province killed eleven Taliban militants and injured two others. On October 12, a U.S. drone strike reportedly targeted IS-K militants in Kunar province, though the MP for the province, Shahzada Shaheed, said that the strike resulted in civilian casualties.
At Lawfare, Naz Modirzadeh responds to Ryan Goodman’s “Memo to the Human Rights Community” published last week in Just Security, in which he asserts that international humanitarian law is applicable to areas outside of active conflict. Modirzadeh argues that the debate should be shifted from the applicability of international humanitarian law in areas outside of active hostilities to the legality of the use of force, because the primary concern under the Trump administration is that the U.S. will go to war in more places without sufficient justification or congressional involvement.
WHAT WE’RE READING:
Air University Press: USAF Capt. Jordan Kowalski provides details about the use of drones in special operations. He identifies solutions to improve drone operations for current and future theatres.