Tag Archives: civilian casualties

Killing them like Flies: the Enduring Myth of Precise Airstrikes

Inside a B-52. Image from wikipedia

The American-led war against the Islamic State began in August 2014. …In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date [Nov. 2017], deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”

The US military planners describe a target-selection process grounded in meticulously gathered intelligence, technological wizardry, carefully designed bureaucratic hurdles and extraordinary restraint. Intelligence analysts pass along proposed targets to “targeteers,” who study 3-D computer models as they calibrate the angle of attack. A team of lawyers evaluates the plan, and — if all goes well — the process concludes with a strike so precise that it can, in some cases, destroy a room full of enemy fighters and leave the rest of the house intact.

The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.

NY Times reporting…found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like…remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

Excerpts from A The Uncounted, New York Times, Nov. 16, 2017

Trapped to Death

Sangin District Center during a fight between American troops and the Taliban in 2007. Image from wikipedia

By the start of 2017 the Taliban was pushing hard to take Sangin city’s district centre, Afghanistan, a fortified compound which housed the local security and administrative officials, just a few miles from Hamid Gul’s family home. The compound was the only thing stopping the Taliban from claiming the whole district as their own. The US, which had lost at least 70 of its own troops keeping Sangin out of insurgent hands over the years, scrambled to respond with scores of airstrikes.  Hamid was convinced that his family were still safer behind Taliban lines than in Laskhar Gah, one of the Taliban’s prime targets. But on the morning of February 10 2017, he got an unexpected phone call from a neighbour in Sangin: the family’s house had been flattened.  In that one night Hamid Gul lost his 50 year-old mother, Bibi Bakhtawara, six brothers and a sister. All seven children were under 16 years of age. Bibi Rahmania, his niece, also died. She was just two years old.

By the end of those three days, five women and 19 children were dead
Hamid was not the only person given devastating news on that day. On the same night, a few hours later, a second civilian house, just a few miles away from his own, was also hit. The following night a third one was struck.

To this day, there is no consensus about what happened to those three houses and why. What is clear, however, is that by the end of those three days in early February five women and 19 children were dead, among a full toll of 26 civilians, a Bureau investigation has established.

Three local officials interviewed by Bureau reporters on the ground claimed US airstrikes had destroyed the houses and killed their inhabitants. The United Nations (UN) said the same, in its biannual accounting of Afghan civilians killed in the war, released in July 2017, adding that there appeared to have been no fighting in the area at the time, meaning the attacks may have been pre-planned.

A spokesperson for Resolute Support, the US-led Nato mission in Afghanistan, told the Bureau that after four investigations the organisation could not confirm or deny responsibility for killing the civilians, though he pushed back strongly against the UN’s claims that there was no fighting in the villages at the time. Resolute Support has officially concluded the case as “disputed”, one of four categories for recording allegations of civilian casualties. It was used in this case because Resolute Support cannot decide if insurgents or the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) were responsible for the casualties, the spokesperson told the Bureau.

The fact that no-one has taken responsibility for the deaths of 24 women and children offers an insight into the lack of accountability of America’s longest-running conflict, which it now fights largely from the air under opaque rules of engagement against 20-odd armed groups.

Excerpts from  Caught in the crossfire
Civilians are bearing the brunt of conflict in Afghanistan, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Sept. 30, 2017

The Death Toll for Destroying ISIS Cash

A 2,000 lb BDU-56 bomb being loaded (2004) Image from wikipedia

In an extremely unusual airstrike, the U.S. dropped bombs on January 10, 2016 in central Mosul, Iraq, destroying a building containing huge amounts of cash ISIS was using to pay its troops and for ongoing operations, two U.S. defense officials told CNN.  The officials could not say exactly how much money was there or in what currency, but one described it as “millions.”Two 2,000-pound bombs destroyed the site quickly. But the longstanding impact may be even more significant. The officials said the U.S. plans to strike more financial targets like this one to take away ISIS’s ability to function as a state-like entity.  This is a similar expansion to the target list as happened several weeks ago, when U.S. warplanes began hitting ISIS oil trucks…U.S. aircraft and drones watched the site for days trying to determine when the fewest number of civilians would be in the area.  Because civilians were nearby during the daylight hours, and ISIS personnel were working there at night, the decision was made to strike at dawn on Sunday.

U.S. commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 civilian casualties from the airstrike due to the importance of the target. But the initial post-attack assessment indicated that perhaps five to seven people were killed.  In recent weeks, the U.S. has said it will assess all targets on a case-by-case basis and may be more willing to tolerate civilians casualties for more significant targets.

Excerpts from U.S. bombs ‘millions’ in ISIS currency holdings, CNN, January 11, 2016

UN as a Lost Cause in Darfur

unamid

[V]illagers in Darfur say their lives can scarcely get any worse if Sudan insists on international peacekeepers leaving their region.  UNAMID, the joint United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, was deployed seven years ago to stem violence against civilians during a civil war in which the Sudanese government was accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  With fighting still dragging on, UNAMID’s shortcomings have drawn criticism from the very people it was deployed to protect and Sudan has told it to devise an exit strategy.

Khartoum’s move elicited indifference rather than opposition in northern Darfur, where much of the violence now rages.  “We won’t be affected if UNAMID leaves because it doesn’t play a significant role in protecting civilians,” said Mohamed Abdullah, a local civilian. “We only hear about UNAMID submitting reports. We don’t know what they do for us….

“Our lives are very difficult since the war began. We cannot grow crops except in a very small area because rebels and gangs come and loot our fields,” said Mohamed Ismail, a resident.Pointing to nearby mountains, Ismail added: “Just six kilometres from here, rebels and bandits dominate the region.”

The Darfur conflict, which erupted in 2003 when mainly African tribes took up arms against the Arab-led government in Khartoum, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced over two million, according to the United Nations.

Tabit was under rebel control for eight years of the war, with the government reasserting its authority in 2010.  But much of that authority is nominal, with gunmen stalking dirt roads to attack military and civilian vehicles alike, preventing villagers from travelling even for healthcare….  With officials standing by during the government-organised press trip, it was difficult to speak freely about the alleged rape of 200 women and girls by Sudan’s forces in Tabit, highlighting the hurdles faced by UNAMID investigators.  UNAMID’s conclusion that there was “no evidence” of the rapes triggered an outcry from rights activists. Khartoum had delayed UNAMID’s first visit to the area in early November and denied it permission to visit a second time…

Last month, an internal U.N. review said UNAMID had failed to provide U.N. headquarters with full reports on attacks against civilians and peacekeepers.The review was ordered after media reports alleged that UNAMID had covered up details of deadly attacks to avoid provoking the government.  “UNAMID is something of a lost cause,” said a Sudan analyst with a conflict-monitoring organisation, asking not to be named.

Excerpts, War-weary Darfuris see grim future with or without UN peacekeepers, Reuters, Nov.25. 2014

Explosive Weapons Abuses 2013

ballistic missile

Data released by Action on Armed on Violence  (AOAV) on May 14, 2014 shows that civilian deaths and injuries in 2013 from explosive weapons have increased by 15%, up from 2012.Civilians bore the brunt of bombings worldwide. AOAV recorded 37,809 deaths and injuries in 2013, 82% of whom were civilians. The trend was even worse when these weapons were used in populated areas. There civilians made up a staggering 93% of casualties.  These stark figures mean that civilian casualties from bombings and shelling worldwide have gone up for a second consecutive year.  This data is captured in AOAV’s latest report, Explosive Events, which analyses the global harm from the use of explosive weapons like missiles, artillery and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

KEY FINDINGS
•Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Lebanon were the most affected countries in the world. More than a third of the world’s civilian casualties from explosive weapons were recorded in Iraq, where AOAV saw a dramatic escalation in bombings with improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
•Seventy-one percent (71%) of civilian casualties from explosive weapons worldwide were caused by IEDs like car bombs and roadside bombs.
•Civilian casualties in Iraq increased by 91% from 2012, with more than 12,000 deaths and injuries recorded in the country in 2013.
•Market places were bombed in 15 countries and territories, causing 3,608 civilian casualties.
•Ballistic missiles, used only in Syria, caused an average of 49 civilian casualties per incident, the highest for any explosive weapon type.

United States Wars in Africa: colonization and its logistics

SOCAFRICA_Logo.  Image from wikipedia

US Army Africa Command (Africom) wants private contractors to move military equipment and supplies from the US to Egypt and 55 other countries within its Area of Responsibility (AOR) starting this month (Sept. 2013).  This comes hard on the heels of a transport contract awarded by the US Army’s Transport Command (US-TRANSCOM) to Berry Aviation to provide to provide air transport service in support of operations in western and central Africa. This contract is reportedly worth $49 million.

A solicitation notice issued by Africom Surface Distribution Services (ASDS) from its contracting office in Vincenza, Italy, on August 5 seeks contractors who will provide “transportation services of intra-theatre cargo within the Africom Area of Responsibility (AOR) and Egypt.”  The solicitation adds: “The contractor shall provide all necessary resources including logistics support and management to perform surface transport and distribution of general cargo within all fifty five (55) nations of the Africom AOR and Egypt.  In the solicitation document, Africom says materials to be transported, “although normally general in nature will not include sensitive cargo but may include hazardous materials.”  The solicitation notice adds contractors will not be required to transport classified equipment and materials, gunpowder, ammunition or military weapons and explosives.  It also states the successful contractors will not be required to move military tanks, self-propelled armoured combat vehicles with weapons, aircraft and spacecraft including satellites, radar or radio devices for remote control of weapons and equipment.

These developments come when at least one American military watcher, Nick Turse of TomDispatch.com, maintains Africom is involved in the A to Z of Africa.  “They’re involved in Algeria and Angola, Benin and Botswana, Burkina Faso and Burundi, Cameroon and the Cape Verde Islands. And that’s just the ABCs of the situation. Skip to the end of the alphabet and the story remains the same: Senegal and the Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the US military is at work. Base construction, security co-operation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion—except at US Africa Command,” he wrote

Another solicitation notice (HTC711-13-R-R016) issued in July seeks dedicated fixed wing service for the deployment and extraction of US military personnel involved in operations in the central African region.  It specifies contractors must be able to transport personnel and willing to carry hazardous cargo including ammunitions for small arms, signal flares, smoke grenades, blasting caps, rockets, mines and explosive charges in the central African theatre of operations. “The contractor will be asked to routinely take off and land on improved and unimproved dirt airfields of a minimum of 1 800 feet in length to support resupply and personnel transportation requirements,” part of the solicitation note reads.  It said routine locations involved in the operations could include airfields such as Entebbe in Uganda, Obo and Djema in the Central African Republic. The operations will also support the training of counter-narcotics law enforcement agencies from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Niger, South Africa, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Togo, Guinea and Mali.

Apart from these developments the US Military has been supporting construction all over Africa for its allies.  A report by Hugh Denny of the Army Corps of Engineers issued earlier this year references 79 such projects in 33 countries between 2011 and 2013 including Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Cote D’Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia with a reported price tag of $48 million.

In addition to creating or maintaining bases and engaging in military construction across the continent, the US is involved in near constant training and advisory missions. According to Davis, the command is slated to carry out 14 major bilateral and multilateral exercises by the end of this year. These include Saharan Express 2013, which brought together forces from Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, among other nations, for maritime security training; Obangame Express 2013, a counter-piracy exercise involving the armed forces of among others Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Togo; and Africa Endeavour 2013, in which the militaries of Djibouti, Burundi, Cote d’Ivoire, Zambia, and 34 other African nations took part.

And it’s not only on land and in the air that US forces are making their presence felt more. The Defense Logistics Agency is preparing to buy 65 000 metric tonnes of marine gas oil for Africom operations.

Written by Oscar Nkala and Kim Helfrich, US Army looking to contractors for African operations, defenceWeb. com  Sept. 17, 2013

See also Drone War in Africa (1), Drone War in Africa, US Trains Uganda Military

Naming the Dead of the CIA Drone War

Naming the Dead is a project run by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a not-for-profit research organisation based in London. The project aims to identify those killed in CIA drone strikes on Pakistan.  Over the past nine years, the tribal region of Pakistan’s north west has been hit by hundreds of drone attacks as the CIA has sought to stamp out al Qaeda fighters and the militant groups that have given them shelter.  Missiles launched from these high-tech, unmanned aircraft have hit homes, cars, schools, shops and gatherings. At least 2,500 people have been killed, according to data already collected by the Bureau as part of our wider Covert Drone War research.

Senior US officials have described drones as highly precise weapons that target and kill enemies of the US. John Brennan, who oversaw the development of the drone campaign and is now director of the CIA, has called drone technology an ‘essential tool’ for its ‘surgical precision – the ability, with laser-like focus, to eliminate the cancerous tumour called an al Qaeda terrorist while limiting damage to the tissue around it.’

Those killed by drones include high-ranking militant leaders – figures such as Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda’s feared second-in-command, or Baitullah Mehsud, commander of the Pakistan Taliban (TTP).  But according to credible media reports analysed by the Bureau, the dead also include at least 400 civilians. Some were unlucky enough to be nearby when militants were attacked. Others were killed alongside their husbands or fathers, who were believed to be militants. Still others were mistaken for terrorists by drone operators sitting thousands of miles away.

In most cases, there is little information available about who the drones are really killing. Most of the dead – an estimated four-fifths of those killed – are believed to be militants. But their deaths are typically reported as a number – their names, origins and livelihoods remain a mystery.  For so many people to die in obscurity, unnamed and unacknowledged, is a tragedy. But it is a further tragedy that the public, and even policy makers, are unable to properly test whether drones are ‘highly precise weapons’ when so little is known about who is actually dying.

Through Naming the Dead, the Bureau aims to increase the transparency around this conflict and inform the public debate. Initially this project will record all names published in open-source material – in credible reports by journalists, in legal documents presented in court, in academic studies and in field investigations carried out by human rights groups.  In the future, the Bureau aims to identify more of the dead on a regular basis, and to uncover more details of those who have been killed. Where possible we will provide further identification – where they were killed, and their occupations, full names and ages. In the remote areas of Pakistan where drone strikes take place, official identification is rare. Few people possess identification cards, birth certificates, or even documents recording their relatives’ deaths. But wherever possible this project will provide documentation recording a person’s death.

Photographs of the destruction of a particular site are included in the database. Affidavits, photos, hospital records, student identification and transcripts of interviews with researchers are all provided when available. Over time, the Bureau aims to build on such currently scarce records in an attempt to properly scrutinise the little that is reported, and the claims being made – on all sides.

Bureau of Investigative Journalism