Syria Justice and Accountability Centre: Coalition Airstrikes in Syria and the Issue of Civilian Harm

SJAC Update | June 15, 2017
Home of activist Wassim Abdo in Tabqa where his family was killed allegedly by US airstrike


Coalition Airstrikes in Syria and the Issue of Civilian Harm

As the US-led global coalition fights the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the Syrian Democratic Forces, the coalition’s partner on the ground, have advanced on Raqqa. But as ISIS’s so-called capital and military stronghold is giving way, civilians have been stuck in the middle of intense fighting. Between August 2014 and April 2017, the Coalition conducted over 20,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, but since US President Donald Trump took office in January, the number of airstrikes in Syria has increased significantly with over 2,800 strikes in the past five months. As the fighting has moved closer to population hubs like Raqqa, the strikes have taken a toll on civilians. While it is difficult to verify every claim of civilian death, the number of civilians the Coalition has confirmed dead in both Iraq and Syria increased by 90% from January to April as compared to all of 2016. According to statistics compiled by Airwars. from January to June, there have been 977 reports of civilian causalities that are unconfirmed but credible (“reasonable level of public reporting of alleged incident from two or more generally credible sources, often with biographical, photographic or video evidence”), a stark increase from the previous year.

Through the Coalition’s strategy of insulating ISIS by bombing bridges and ISIS’s strategy of using civilians as human shields, the fighting has severely hindered civilians from escaping Raqqa. Those who are able to flee the city have sometimes been met with a shortage of humanitarian supplies. Increased airstrikes, an inadequate humanitarian response, alleged abuses by SDF affiliated forces, and a lack of accountability have led to increased resentment among the local population that will be difficult to overcome as anti-ISIS forces attempt to reestablish security in the area. In Iraq, for example, civilian casualties due to Coalition airstrikes caused such anger in Mosul that in late May, Iraqi forces halted their efforts to in order to reassess tactics.

The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at

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Author: Sarah Lafen

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