TSI Syria Update: April 18, 2017

Takeaway

In the past few days there have been several new unconfimed reports of civilian casualties as a result of airstrikes conducted by the US-led anti-ISIS Coalition. Today, seven civilians were killed in suspected US Coalition airstrikes on several locations in Raqqa province. Yesterday a suspected Coalition airstrike killed seven civilians in the town of al-Husseiniya in Deir Ezzor, and an airstrike by unknown jets killed nearly 20 people in the town of Albu Kamal. Conflict accounts of the Albu Kamal attack suggest that either the US-led Coalition or Iraq was responsible.

If confirmed, these incidents would fit what appears to be a trend towards an increasing tolerance for Syrian civilian casualties in US-led Coalition operations within the last few months. Today, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Bellingcat, and Forensic Architecture all released the results of their investigations into US airstrikes that targeted a complex near al-Jinah in rural western Aleppo on 16 March, killing at least 38 people. All three organizations conclude that the targeted building was indeed a functioning mosque full of worshippers for an evening prayer service and suggest that the US military misidentified the building as the site of an al-Qaeda meeting. HRW said that the attacks were likely unlawful and the US “failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties.” US Central Command reached different conclusions in an initial investigation, but said that it would “continue to carefully review this incident” in light of the HRW report.

Military

  • 18 APR: There were reports of Russian airstrikes, some of them using incendiary munitions, in multiple towns in Aleppo and Idlib governorates today. In one alleged incident, the airstrike hit residential buildings and killed a family of five in Orm al-Kubra, Aleppo. In another airstrike on the town of Maertehermeh in rural Idlib, pro-opposition sites report that 10 civilians were killed: 9 kids under the age of 13 and one elderly woman. (YouTube, Syrian Mirror-AR, Zaman al-Wasl, SNHR)
  • 18 APR: Today the Central Division of the Free Syrian Army announced that they targeted pro-government forces with an American TOW (anti-tank missile) in Rahbet Khattab in northern Hama. The strike reportedly killed several pro-government soldiers and two Russian soldiers. Russia has not yet made a statement confirming or denying the reports. (@Central_divisioAR, Qasioun, @Terror_Monitor)
  • 18 APR: Pro-government forces clashed with armed opposition groups in the neighborhoods of Qaboun, Tishreen, and Barzeh in eastern Damascus city. The opposition group Al-Rahman Corps claimed it destroyed a T72 tank and blocked pro-government forces from advancement. Pro-government media sources claimed that during the fighting in Qaboun, the Syrian military freed 34 soldiers who had been held in a prison run by the “terrorists.” (@ِAlrahmanCorpsAR, Smart News-AR, Aleqtisady-AR)
  • 18 APR: The US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) continued their progress in al-Tabaqa city. They reportedly took control of a TV broadcasting center previously controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS). (SDF Press)
  • 18 APR: Several airstrikes believed to have been conducted by the US-led coalition reportedly killed civilians in ISIS-held areas of Raqqa today. Sources said that airstrikes in Tabaqa city killed two civilians, and airstrikes in Maadan and small nearby villages killed five civilians, in addition to several wounded. (Syrian Mirror-AR)
  • 18 APR: In addition to the suspected US-led Coalition airstrike that killed 7 civilians in the Deir Ezzor town of al-Husseiniya – reported in yesterday’s TSI Syria Update – a possible US Coalition airstrike near the border town of Albu Kamal killed nearly 20 civilians, although are conflicting reports that implicate an Iraqi jet may have been to blame. The daily US Coalition strike report confirmed that an airstrike had been conducted near Albu Kamal, but described the target as conducted an “and ISIS staging area.” Deir Ezzor 24, a local reporting network, reported that the Albu Kamal strike was actually conducted by Iraq. (Reuters, Inherent Resolve, Deir Ezzor 24)

Political

  • 18 APR: Today Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said it is important for the Astana peace negotiations to “increase the number of observers.” Abdrakhmanov mentioned inviting Arab nations or the European Union to be observers. (Al-Jazeera-AR, Sputnik News)
  • 18 APR: Human Rights Watch (HRW), Bellingcat, and Forensic Architecture released complementary reports today regarding the deadly US airstrikes on the Omar ibn al-Khattab Mosque complex near al-Jinah last month. All three organizations concluded that the airstrikes did in fact strike a mosque full of civilians during evening prayer. This finding contradicts the US Central Command (CENTCOM) claim that it struck an al-Qaeda meeting house. HRW said that the US “failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties” and that the attacks were likely unlawful. In light of the new HRW report, CENTCOM said that it will “continue to carefully review this incident.” (Al-Jazeera, TSI Syria Update, HRW, Bellingcat, Forensic Architecture, US Central Command)
  • 18 APR: The Kurdish-dominated US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the formation of a Raqqa Civil Council intended to run the province after ISIS has been expelled. In the announcement they said that the council represents a variety local factions including tribal figures, although it appears to be dominated by the Kurdish YPG (military) and  PYD (political) wings. According to the pro-opposition site Baladi News, the opposition’s Interim Government had recently decided to dissolve the existing regional council and establish a new one in the coming days. The report suggests that the Kurdish-dominated council created today is intended to challenge the legitimacy of a regional council affiliated with the mainstream Syrian opposition and preemptively assert Kurdish dominance in the area. (AFP, Hawar News -AR, Enab Baladi-AR, Baladi News -AR) (Analyst note: Although Kurds are a significant minority in northern Syria, non-Kurdish Arabs are still the large demographic majority in Raqqa, and this move by the Kurds to claim power is likely to be controversial.)

Humanitarian

  • None

Notable Media/Transcripts/Reports

  • 18 APR: “The Al-Jinah Mosque Complex Bombing – New Information and Timeline” – Christiaan Triebert (Bellingcat)
  • 18 APR: “Syria: US Mosque Attack Likely Unlawful” (HRW)
  • 18 APR: “Al-Jinah Mosque” – Eyal Weizman, Christina Varvia, Omar Ferwati, Nick Masterson, Simone Rowat, and Sarah Nankivell (Forensic Architecture)
  • 18 APR: “Why I chose to leave and why I chose to stay: two voices from town now under government control, both of regret” – Alaa Nassar, Bahira al-Zarier, and Madeline Edwards (Syria Direct)