NEW DELHI: According to a new report titled “Cause For Concern: Civilians Killed in Coalition Strikes” published by Airwars -- an independent investigative project -- more than 450 civilians have been killed in the US-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State (IS) since it began a little under a year ago.

The report reaches this number based on a wide range of sources, including local media, witness reports, social media and video evidence. It pins the number of civilian casualties at 459-591.

The figure stands in stark contrast to the official figures of the anti-Islamic State coalition, which acknowledges two civilian casualties as being “likely” and none confirmed.

The report calls this discrepancy a “worrying lack of urgency on the part of all coalition members regarding civilian deaths.”

The report’s key findings and recommendations are as follows:

1. Despite claims by the US-led Coalition that its airstrikes in Iraq and Syria are ‘the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare’, there are clear indications from the field that many hundreds of non-combatants have been killed by the 12 international allies in the first year of their air war against Islamic State/ Daesh.

2. Airwars is concerned that the Coalition’s own monitoring systems miss many reports of noncombatant fatalities. To the end of June 2015, officials appear to have identified only one third of 118 alleged cases of concern.

3. For 57 of these incidents, Airwars believes there is sufficient publicly-available evidence to indicate Coalition responsibility for civilian and ‘friendly forces’ deaths. Between them these events account for 459-591 alleged civilian fatalities, and the reported deaths of 48-80 allied forces. Each of these claims warrants a prompt and impartial Coalition inquiry.

4. The Coalition’s admission of only two ‘likely’ non-combatant deaths to date – conceded some seven months after the event – indicates a worrying lack of urgency on the part of all Coalition members regarding civilian deaths.

5. Almost all claims of non-combatant deaths from alleged Coalition strikes emerge within 24 hours – with graphic images of reported victims often widely disseminated across media and social media. In this context, the present Coalition policy of downplaying or denying all claims of non-combatant fatalities makes little sense, and risks handing Islamic State and other forces a powerful propaganda tool.

6. Efforts to limit the risk to civilians on the ground continue to be hampered by an absence of effective transparency and accountability from almost all Coalition members. It is unacceptable that only one of twelve Coalition partners – Canada – has consistently stated in a timely fashion both where and when it carries out airstrikes.

7. The need for transparency is vital from all participating nations, since each is individually liable for any civilian deaths or injuries it causes. As CENTCOM notes: ‘If a claim of civilian casualties were found valid, that claim would be processed in accordance with the laws of the nation that conducted the strike.’

8. Casualty recording for Iraq is particularly weak. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq already reports more broadly on civilian fatalities from the conflict. In our view, there would also be merit in UNAMI also taking on the monitoring of Coalition-inflicted casualties for Iraq, as its sister mission UNAMA already does for Afghanistan.

In almost a year of intense bombings, the Coalition has publicly conceded only one incident – two girls ‘likely’ killed in a November 2014 strike in Syria. Six additional investigations are presently underway, while three more investigations have concluded – having found no ‘preponderance of evidence’ at present to support claims of civilian deaths, according to CENTCOM.

The report further notes that other efforts to arrive at figures also indicate a high number of civilian casualties.

One of the case studies presented in the report is that of Ibrahim al-Mussul and his two daughters. It states: “Ibrahim al-Mussul, a shepherd in his late 60s was reported killed with his two daughters Jozah aged 27 and Zahra (25) in a major Coalition air raid on Islamic State-controlled oilfields. Eyewitnesses said that ‘flames and the sound of explosions were seen and heard dozens of kilometers from the bombing site.’ Mr al-Mussul’s home was in close proximity to the Gona oil fields, one of the main targets of the raid. In a follow-up investigation by monitoring group the Syrian Network for Human Rights, neighbour Mahmoud al-Hadidya described events: ‘Their bodies were shredded. We found Ibrahim’s hand next to the house, and we were still collecting bits of flesh and body parts into the early hours of the following morning.’ The family was buried in Hadidiya Cemetery. The coalition has confirmed air strikes at the location for February 2nd-3rd 2015, reporting that ‘Near Al Hasakah, two airstrikes struck multiple ISIL oil pump jacks and destroyed four ISIL mobile drilling rigs.’ In the view of Airwars and other monitoring groups, there is a high likelihood Mr alMussul and his daughters died as a result of Coalition actions.”

Another case study is that of Kherallah Ahmed Al Saleh Al Thawabi and others. The report states: “In the worst alleged civilian casualty incident for Iraq to date, up to 70 non-combatants and many more militants were reportedly killed when Coalition aircraft struck an Islamic State IED factory in the town of Hawijah in early June. The secondary explosions which followed devastated the surrounding neighbourhood (picture courtesy of Iraqi Spring) Eyewitness Hassan Mahmoud al Jubbouri later told Reuters the area looked as if it had been hit by a nuclear bomb, and described personally pulling the bodies of a family of six from the rubble. Casualty counts varied significantly, with few details of individual victims so far emerging. Only one victim has been publicly named – Kherallah Ahmed Al Saleh Al Thawabi, described as the owner of a car maintenance shop in the area. The head of Kirkuk’s Arab Council, Mohammed Khalil al-Jubouri, placed the total number of dead and injured civilians at 150. The Iraqi Revolution website claimed 70 civilians had died, with more than 100 injured. And news agency Rudaw also reported 70 killed, describing 26 children and 22 women among the dead. The coalition confirms that it carried out the strike at Hawijah, though a senior commander later insisted that only a ‘fairly small weapon’ had been used in the attack – and that any responsibility for civilian deaths ‘rests squarely on Daesh.’ However on June 24th the Pentagon announced a formal inquiry into what it now views as ‘credible’ claims of civilian deaths.”

The case study of Al Bab, Aleppo governorate in Syria is also included. The report states: “In one of the worst known incidents of mass civilian casualties reportedly caused by Coalition bombings, at least 58 non-combatants appear to have died when aircraft struck an Islamic State local headquarters, which was also being used as a temporary prison. Among those killed were men imprisoned by ISIL simply for buying cigarettes. At least four women and a number of teenagers were also reported among the dead. Multiple sources have confirmed significant casualties. For example, US news agency McClatchy ‘located two sources who confirmed a high civilian death toll from the strike. One witness, an activist in Al Bab, gave the death toll as 61 civilian prisoners and 13 Islamic State guards.’ The use of al-Saraya as a holding facility for locals had been widely reported long before the US airstrike. Syrian NGOs were damning: ‘There is no evidence that the International Coalition exerted any effort to ensure that there were no civilians near the building nor to be certain that the building itself was not a secret detention center for ISIL, as was widely known in town,’ noted VDC. Troublingly, between December 28th 2014 and January 10th 2015 the Coalition concealed the fact it had carried out any airstrikes at Al Bab on the night. Only after ‘repeated inquiries’ by McClatchy did a CENTCOM spokesman finally concede that ‘Coalition aircraft did strike and destroy an ISIL headquarters building in Al Bab on Dec. 28.’ On other occasions the Coalition has failed to identify strikes on a particular town or city, only for individual allies to then report such an attack. On October 18th/19th for example, the British reported an airstrike at Ramadi, while the French noted an attack on Tikrit. Neither city was mentioned in CENTCOM’s overall summary of bombings for that date.”

Verifying civilian casualties caused by the Coalition is a complex journey through a maze of contradictory information, disinformation and propaganda – often produced by interest groups, militias and militaries, the report states. Civilians are dying in unacceptable numbers as a result of military action by so many different actors in both Syria and Iraq. It’s not just the Coalition, but also government troops; a large number of different opposition forces; Shia’a and Kurdish militias; and of course Islamic State or Daesh.

Link to the full report: