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: August was the third deadliest month for civilians in Syria and Iraq since the Coalition began its campaign in August 2014, according to Airwars’ monthly civilian casualty claims report. Airwars tracked 128 civilian casualty events across both Syria and Iraq, likely killing between 470 and 719 civilians. The majority of casualty events were reported in Syria as the battle for Raqqa intensified. One major trend Airwars noted was that more civilians were killed in fewer casualty incidents – researchers tracked a number of larger scale events. Airwars also reported that the sharp rise in civilian casualties coincided with a record number of munitions released. In Raqqa, the Coalition fired 5,775 munitions – an 85 percent increase from July and more than the peak number of munitions fired on west Mosul, even though Raqqa is less than half the size of west Mosul; consequently, Airwars found that likely civilian deaths in Raqqa increased by 57 percent from July – between 433 and 643 civilians were likely killed by the Coalition. In contrast to Syria, the number of civilians killed by Coalition actions in Iraq fell – in August, the only major battle fought was Tal Afar, where pre-battle warnings that as many as 50,000 civilians remained in the city proved inaccurate. Airwars tracked fifteen civilian casualty events in Iraq which killed six civilians.

On Wednesday, the SDF said that the Raqqa campaign is in its final stages, as it recaptured the city’s northern neighborhoods after opening a new front on the northern edge of Raqqa five days earlier. Fewer than 300 Islamic State fighters are now confined to the city center, running out of food and munitions and under heavy bombardment by Coalition airstrikes. The Coalition estimates that between 15,000 and 18,000 remain in Raqqa under Islamic State control. There are critical shortages of food; for weeks, people have survived on moldy bread, leaves, and herbs. Only one underground hospital remains functional in the city, but there are reportedly no doctors to treat the wounded; medicine has run out, and wounds are now being sanitized with salt water; many people are unable to reach hospitals because there are no rescue teams and civil defense teams to take them. One man in Raqqa told Al Jazeera, “Seeing dead bodies is normal now.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights currently estimates that 1,084 civilians have been killed in Coalition airstrikes since the Raqqa offensive began on June 6.

Airwars reported that the Coalition is firing record numbers of munitions into besieged areas of Raqqa in its campaign to expel the Islamic State – during the month of August, the Coalition fired ten times more munitions into Raqqa than were released by the U.S. across all of Afghanistan during the same month. The intensity of the Coalition’s air campaign closely correlates with increased reports of civilian casualties on the ground. Aid agencies and NGOs have urged the Coalition to do more to protect civilians from harm; the High Commissioner for Human Rights said “civilians are paying an unacceptable price” and forces in Raqqa “are losing sight of the ultimate goal of the battle,” while the UN humanitarian advisor, Jan Egeland, even called for a humanitarian pause in Raqqa because conditions for civilians became so dire. Yet, the Coalition still insists that protecting civilians is its priority and aggressively challenges reports of high civilian casualties.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

UPCOMING EVENTS

September 25: CSIS – Foreign Policy in a New Era: The ROK and U.S.

September 27: USIP – Confronting the Next Wave of Violent Extremism

September 28: USIP – Peace in Nigeria: How to Build It and America’s Role

October 2: USIP – Resisting War: How Communities Protect

STATISTICS

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

Civilians Killed: 753 – 1,487

Children Killed: 262 – 331

Total Killed: 6,791 – 9,870

Minimum Confirmed Strikes: 4,399

Airwars (Total Iraq and Syria)

Minimum Civilians Killed: 5.343

Coalition Strikes: 27, 130

Bombs & Missiles Dropped: 98,532

SEE: CIVIC: Recommendations to the Anti-ISIS Coalition on Operations in Syria

Iraq: Iraqi forces, supported by U.S. airstrikes, launched a ground offensive against the Islamic State in western Anbar on Tuesday. Between 5,000 and 10,000 Islamic State fighters are estimated to be in the area, moving easily between Anbar and the neighboring Syrian province of Deir al-Zour. The Anbar campaign is expected to move westward from the town of Ana along the Euphrates to the town of Rawah and finally to Qaim. The UN estimates that 38,000 people have fled western Anbar since January and that as many as 75,000 remain in Islamic State-controlled areas of Anbar. The pace of displacement increased ahead of the ground offensive – the UN estimates that 4,000 fled between August 30 September 10. However, a high concentration of vulnerable groups, including the elderly, the sick, and female-headed households, is expected to remain in Anbar due to the cost and difficulty of displacement.

On Thursday, Prime Minister al-Abadi announced the start of an offensive to retake Hawija from the Islamic State. The UN estimates that 85,000 people remain in Hawija and that they are “at extreme risk and likely to be heavily affected.” Save the Children said the 30,000 children remaining in the area are among the most vulnerable. Aram Shakaram, the deputy country director for Save the Children, said that families now face the choice of remaining in Hawija as the fighting intensifies or fleeing “on foot for up to twelve hours through minefields and snipers, then wad[ing] across a river to reach safety.” Those who have fled Hawija in recent weeks have said that humanitarian conditions are very difficult – there is no access to healthcare due to the lack of functional facilities and high prices for medicine; there is a lack of clean drinking water; and malnutrition is reportedly widespread as food supplies are limited.

MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (September 1): In the month of July, CJTF-OIR carried over 424 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 68 new reports resulting from Coalition strikes in support of partner force operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The UNHCR also warned that when military operations begin in Hawija, an estimated 60,000 civilians will be affected – between half and two-thirds are expected to flee to displacement camps. The Islamic State is reportedly attempting to force civilians to remain in the city, to be used as human shields. The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights called for the establishment of safety corridors to facilitate the escape of civilians.

MOST RECENT OIR CIVCAS REPORT (September 1): In the month of July, CJTF-OIR carried over 424 open reports of possible civilian casualties from previous months and received 68 new reports resulting from Coalition strikes in support of partner force operations to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

CONGRESS

NDAA Passes in the Senate: The Senate voted 89-8 last Monday in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act after tabling Senator Paul’s (R-KY) amendment to sunset the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs. Though the bill outspends budget caps by $91 billion, the Senate was unable to come to agreement on Senator Tom Cotton’s (R-AR) amendment that would have repealed sequestration on defense spending. Also among the hundreds of amendments not considered were provisions to improve reporting on civilian casualties caused by United States military operations–introduced by Senator Warren (D-MA)–though a similar amendment introduced by Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) passed in the House version of the Act in July. The House and Senate versions of the bill must now be reconciled with each other before a final version can be passed; during this time, lawmakers must either reduce expenditures on defense or find a way to overcome the Democratic filibuster in the Senate and repeal sequestration to avoid automatic budget cuts.

NC Lawmakers Contest GAO Report on FMS to Kenya: Despite a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office that attempted to dispel concerns about the manufacturer selection process of a foreign military sale to Kenya, North Carolina lawmakers are again raising questions about the integrity of the sales process, this time concerning the GAO report itself. Though the representatives from North Carolina are primarily concerned that a manufacturer from their state was overlooked in the process, there are reasons to be concerned about a sale of fighter aircraft to Kenya at this time. The results of the presidential election in Kenya were recently nullified, and it is unclear whether the upcoming October 17 elections will produce violence mirroring the 2007-08 election in which over a thousand were killed and over 500,000 civilians were displaced.

Senators Introduce Resolution to Condemn Violence against the Rohingya: Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced a resolution earlier this month that condemns the violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar. The resolution, which “calls for an immediate halt to all hostilities by Burmese authorities,” takes particular aim at Nobel Peace Prize winner and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to address the “historic and brutal repression of the Rohingya.” Although French President Emmanuel Macron made waves at the United Nations for labelling the atrocities against the Rohingya as genocide, the American resolution avoids the term entirely, referring only to “ethnic cleansing” and “the likely commission of crimes against humanity.” As members of the UN and Congress deliberate, the Rohingya people face systemic torture, rape, and execution; nearly 400,000 have been forced to flee the country thus far.

On the Congressional Agenda:

Tuesday, September 26 – Senate Foreign Relations Committee – Managing Security Assistance to Support Foreign Policy

Tuesday, September 26 – Senate Armed Services Committee – Nomination: General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC for reappointment to the grade of general and reappointment to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Wednesday, September 27 – House Foreign Affairs Committee – Rwanda: Democracy Thwarted

Wednesday, September 27 – House Foreign Affairs Committee – Burma’s Brutal Campaign Against the Rohingya

Wednesday, September 27 – Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission – Nigeria: Conflict in the Middle Belt

DRONE WARFARE AND TARGETED KILLINGS

Afghanistan: A “joint Afghan-NATO operation” on September 18 killed as many as fifteen Taliban militants, including three commanders, in Farah province; a resident of the area said that a strike also injured three civilians and damaged a residential building. On September 19, a U.S. airstrike in Nangarhar’s Achin district killed two Lashkar-e-Islam militants, while a separate strike killed two IS-K fighters in a different district of the province. Two U.S. drone strikes in Kunar province killed at least eighteen IS-K militants on September 20; on the same day, a U.S. strike killed between two and four IS-K fighters in Nangarhar.

Libya: On September 23, six U.S. airstrikes on an Islamic State camp southeast of Sirte killed seventeen militants, marking the first U.S. strikes in Libya since Trump took office.

The Trump administration is preparing to dismantle Obama-era limits on drone strikes and raids outside of areas of active conflict. Top leaders of national security agencies and departments approved new rules, called P.S.P for “Principles, Standards, and Procedures,” and the document now awaits Trump’s approval. Two rules from Obama’s Presidential Policy Guidance would be relaxed: targets would be expanded from high-level militants posing a “continuing and imminent threat” to include foot soldiers; and proposed drone strikes would no longer undergo high-level vetting. However, Trump administration officials have decided to keep the “near certainty” requirement that no civilians will be killed in operations. Human rights groups say that loosening restrictions will result in more civilian deaths, though the number of civilians killed in areas outside of active conflict under Trump is already at record highs. As the use of armed drones proliferates, the U.S. would ideally have strengthened, rather than weakened, standards for drone operations.

The United States is dropping record numbers of bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. During the first eight months of 2017, the U.S. dropped 32,800 bombs on Iraq and Syria – compared with 30,473 in all of 2016. The number of ordnance dropped in August 2017 – 5,075 bombs – marked the highest monthly figure since the campaign against the Islamic State began in August 2014. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has dropped more than 2,400 bombs this year– compared to 1,337 dropped in all of 2016.

SECURITY ASSISTANCE AND ARMS SALES

Afghanistan: The Afghan Air Force received its first four U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters on Tuesday as part of a planned replacement of its fleet of Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters. The U.S. will supply Afghanistan with 159 Black Hawks in the coming years.

Yemen: Amnesty International reported that a bomb made in the United States destroyed a residential building in Sana’a and killed sixteen civilians and injured seventeen more. Lynn Maalouf, Research director for the Middle East at Amnesty, said that “there is simply no explanation the U.S.A. or other countries such as the U.K. and France can give to justify the committed flow of weapons to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition for use in the conflict in Yemen.” Amnesty has called for an embargo to ensure that no party to the conflict is supplied with weapons or other military equipment.

WHAT WE’RE READING:

Just Security: Lt. Col. Alan Schuller of the U.S. Naval War College discusses his recently completed research project on the intersection of artificial intelligence and machine learning in autonomous weapons systems with International Humanitarian Law.

Image courtesy of Maranie Rae Staab
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