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October sees US-led coalition causing most civilian casualties from Syrian airstrikes

Last month, October 2018, the US-led coalition was responsible for 46% of civilian casualties from all explosive weapon use in Syria. All reported civilian casualties from airstrikes were perpetrated by the US-led coalition on ISIS-occupied areas in Deir Ezzor, particularly Hajin and Al Sousa.

As the civilian casualties from explosive violence have sharply fallen in recent months, the US-led coalition stood out amongst the perpetrators in October. Despite the numbers of civilian casualties from US-led coalition airstrikes falling by 79% during the first ten months of 2018, compared to the same period last year, the marked uptick in civilian casualties from such violence last month is cause for concern. With at least 122 civilian casualties from US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria in October, this accounts for almost a third (31%) of the civilian casualties said to have been caused by the US-led coalition in Syria this year.

At least 94% of all civilian casualties from US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria have occurred in populated areas, such as towns and cities.

In total, over the first ten months of 2018, AOAV has recorded a 20% decrease in civilian casualties from explosive violence in Syria, compared to the same time last year. And, over the course of this year the decrease is far greater. With civilian casualty numbers between June and October seeing a 71% decline compared to the first five months of the year.

However, despite the fall in violence, Syria remains the worst impacted country in 2018 so far, followed by Afghanistan. With a fall in civilian casualties from explosive violence globally by just over a quarter, Afghanistan, with a 40% rise in civilian harm from explosive violence, is amongst just a few countries where increases have been recorded; alongside Yemen (with a 55% increase) and Libya (a 130% increase) so far this year.

In Afghanistan, the increase appears to stem from the rise in ISIS perpetrated violence, with a 150% rise in civilian casualties from ISIS’ improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – of which over 99% have been suicide attacks. Many news outlets report that ISIS have sought to regroup or enhance their efforts from Afghanistan, to maintain presence and propaganda efforts in light of losses in Syria and Iraq. Though civilian casualties from explosive violence by the Taliban have decreased (by 30%), this too continues to cause significant harm, with at least 615 civilian casualties this year.

With an increasing presence of non-state fighters, civilian casualties from airstrikes in Afghanistan have also increased by 54% in this period as state actors intensify efforts to target militant groups.

Whether ISIS’ presence is also a factor in the rise in violence in Libya is difficult to say for certain. In Libya, there has been 462% rise in civilian casualties from IEDs this year – with 292 recorded between January and October 2018, compared to 52 civilians killed or injured in the same period in 2017. It is of note that the perpetrators of such attacks are rarely reported in Libya, though ISIS are the only group to have claimed any attacks of this kind in the country this year.

In Yemen, though ISIS’ presence is felt, it is the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes that account for the majority (85%) of civilian casualties from explosive violence there, with a 63% rise in such harm in the first ten months of 2018. With an escalation of the fighting in Yemen it puts millions at greater risk and exacerbates an already dire humanitarian crisis, particularly with fighting focused on the port city of Hudaydah, where about 75% of Yemen’s international humanitarian aid enters.

AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. All actors should stop using explosive weapons with wide-area affects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.