Friday, January 19, 2018

Civilians paid a high price for major Coalition gains

By the end of 2017, almost all the territory so-called Islamic State (ISIS) had once controlled in Iraq and Syria had been captured, but at significant cost. The year in many respects was a watershed for popular conceptions of modern warfare. Sold as the “most precise campaign in history” by US officials, the urban battlefields laid waste by bombs, artillery and improvised explosives told another story.
ISIS took every opportunity to endanger civilians, even as the Coalition increased the intensity of its own actions. The Coalition-backed assault on Mosul also grew bloodier in 2017 as fighting moved into denser pockets of the city, leaving thousands dead. In June, after months of bombing the vicinity, Coalition-support ground forces also began battling inside Raqqa. The ferocity of these simultaneous campaigns yielded the largest civilian casualty total from likely Coalition strikes ever monitored by Airwars.
Non-combatant deaths from Coalition air and artillery strikes rose by more than 200 per cent compared to 2016, rising to between 3,923 and 6,102 civilians estimated killed during the year according to Airwars tallies. By another measure, roughly 65% of all civilian deaths from Coalition actions tracked by our team since 2014 occurred over the last 12 months. This unprecedented death toll coincided with the start of the Trump presidency, and suggested in part that policies aimed at protecting civilians had been scaled back under the new administration. 
The huge ramp up in Coalition actions came in parallel with a relative reduction in Russian operations in Syria. From January 2017, for eight straight months until September, Airwars tracked many more allegations per month against the Coalition than against Moscow’s forces.
Despite international concern over increased civilian deaths, Russia continues to deny any civilian harm from its strikes – while the Coalition has downplayed the devastating impact of its own actions in Iraq and Syria. 

The 2017 Coalition campaign in numbers

From January 1st to December 31st 2017, the Coalition reported 11,573 air and artillery strikes against ISIS – a 49% increase from the 7,779 strikes it reported in 2016. Of these strikes, 3,348 (29%) were in Iraq and 8,225 (71%) were in Syria. While strikes in Iraq fell overall by 28%, actions in Syria increased by 161% compared to 2016, indicating a new focus for the campaign.
The active Coalition allies –  the United States, the UK, France, Belgium and Australia, and possibly Jordan and Saudi Arabia – cumulatively dropped 39,577 bombs and missiles in airstrikes against ISIS in 2017. Weapon releases from the air were up 29% on the previous year. Even so, in December 2017 just 584 munitions were fired – the lowest reported number since August 2014.

Coalition map showing the extent of the ISIS rollback in both Iraq and Syria during 2017.




A 215% rise in likely civilian fatalities and a 55% increase in injuries

In 2017 the war against ISIS moved into the most densely-populated urban centres controlled by the group, with dire results for civilians. Simultaneous assaults on Raqqa and Mosul meant that 2017 was the deadliest year yet for ordinary Iraqis and Syrians.
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