US-led Coalition slashes airstrike transparency despite rising civilian toll
In its first published strike report since President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American forces from Syria on December 19th, the US-led Coalition has substantially reduced available information on where and when it is bombing.
The move represents the most significant reduction in Coalition transparency since the start of the war in August 2014 warns Airwars – and will make the task of securing proper accountability for battlefield civilian harm far harder. At the same time, a new Airwars monthly assessment shows that likely civilian casualties from US-led actions are at their highest point since the bloody 2017 battle for Raqqa.
The reduction in Coalition strike transparency was unexpected. For the entirety of the 52-month war against ISIS, the US-led alliance had published information on the number of strikes conducted daily in both Iraq and Syria – along with the near location of attacks and the reported targets. That detail helped distinguish the US-led alliance from other belligerents such as Russia, which remains barely accountable for its own actions in Syria.
While these public Coalition reports more recently shifted to a weekly format, the alliance nevertheless maintained a commitment to state where, when and what it bombed in both Iraq and Syria on each given date. The last such weekly report was published on December 19th – coincidentally the date President Trump announced a US withdrawal from Syria.
In its new fortnightly bulletin, the Coalition declares 478 airstrikes consisting of 1,015 engagements for the period December 16th-29th. While the release gives some detail on what was bombed, there is no mention of where in Iraq or Syria the strikes occurred – or on which specific dates. An accompanying Coalition statement claims that “Our intent is to reduce the number of reports while maintaining transparency.”
However in the view of Airwars, transparency has been significantly reduced. With the Coalition no longer identifying where or when it strikes in either Iraq or Syria, it will no longer be possible for external monitors to match potential civilian harm events to Coalition strikes. That process has been a key part of Airwars’ engagement until now on more than 2,000 claimed civilian casualty events in the war against ISIS, which it has flagged to the Coalition’s own civilian casualty monitoring team for assessment.
Civilian toll from US-led strikes is climbing fast, new report finds
In the Airwars monthly assessment for November 2018 published today, researchers found that at least 221 civilians and perhaps hundreds more likely died as a result of Coalition actions in Syria during the month.
Deaths were mostly clustered around the towns of Hajin, Al Sha’afa and Al Kishma in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, where ISIS is making a last stand. Thousands of civilians including the families of ISIS fighters are known to be trapped in the so-called ‘Hajin Pocket’.
The reported Coalition casualty toll was the highest since the end of the Raqqa campaign in October 2017. The Coalition’s own air and artillery strike data also showed a 32%. However, actions by the US’s Dutch, British and French allies actually fell significantly during November 2018 – suggesting that the great majority of reported civilian casualties at Hajin were from US military actions alone.
“The war against ISIS is not yet over – and civilians continue to pay a heavy price,” says Chris Woods, the Director of Airwars. “We are troubled to see the US-led Coalition slashing public transparency in the wake of President Trump’s recent announcement – even as civilian casualties climb back to troubling levels. Airwars urges the US and its allies to re-think this shortsighted decision to reduce public accountability for the war against ISIS.”
Main image: The children Aisha, Zaid and Ziad Mahmoud al Haj Hussein, killed in a reported Coalition strike on al Sha’afa in Syria on November 3rd 2018. Image courtesy of the Syrian Network for Human Rights.