AOAV’s monitoring project, launched in October 2010, uses English-language media reports to capture information on who has been killed and injured by incidents of explosive violence. We have over 10 years of explosive violence data recorded and analysed. The data below focuses on Syria.
Explosive Violence in Syria in 2022
Syria experienced a significant drop in civilian casualties of explosive violence last year, dropping by 35% from 2,016 in 2021 to 1,304 in 2022. Of these, 340 were killed and 964 injured. Of note, 2022 was the year with the lowest recorded civilian casualties in Syria since 2012. Similarly, the number of recorded incidents also decreased, falling by 8% from 709 to 652. Overall, civilians represented 50% of all 2,591 recorded casualties, compared to 57% in 2021. At least 238 civilians harmed were reported as children, 131 as men and 146 as women.
While ground-launched weapons continued to cause the majority of civilian casualties in Syria, accounting for 54% (702) of civilian harm last year, this represents a significant decrease from the 1,176 civilians killed and injured by such weapons in 2021. Similarly, civilian casualties of IEDs fell from 516 in 2021 to 152 last year, a 71% decrease. While in 2021, IEDs accounted for 26% of civilian casualties in Syria, last year they caused 12%. Incidents of both ground-launched attacks and IEDs decreased between 2021 and 2022, from 334 to 303, and from 203 to 149 respectively.
On the other hand, incidents of air strikes increased marginally, from 104 to 129, and civilian casualties of such weapons rose from 214 to 297. In 2021, air strikes accounted for 12% of civilian casualties, compared to 23% last year.
Similar to 2021, last year state actors were the reported perpetrators of the majority of incidents, 54% (355), as well as the majority of civilian casualties, 64% (829). Non-state actors caused 21% (277) of civilian casualties across 35% (228) of incidents. State actors were also the predominant perpetrators of ground-launched and air-launched attacks, accounting for 68% (207) and 99% (128) of civilian casualties from such attacks respectively.
The majority of civilian harm was attributed to Turkey, who was the reported perpetrator in the case of 25% (330) of civilian casualties, closely followed by Syria (324 civilian casualties). Russia caused 82 reported civilian casualties in Syria last year, and Israel 37. Unknown state actors were the reported perpetrators of 53 civilian casualties. Comparatively, in 2021, Syria caused the majority of civilian casualties, 33% (660), followed by Russia (132 civilian casualties), Turkey (118), and Israel (26).
Of the predominant non-state armed groups active in the country, last year the Islamic State (ISIS) caused 66 civilian casualties, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) caused 43. This is a marked increase from the 16 civilian casualties of the SDF recorded in 2021, but a drop compared to the 80 civilian casualties of ISIS recorded that year. However, Syria continues to be characterised by the presence of a large number of non-state actors, with at least 17 recorded in 2021 and 24 in 2022.
As in 2021, Aleppo and Idlib were the most affected governorates in terms of civilian casualties last year, accounting for 34% (447) and 21% (279) of civilian harm respectively. 190 civilian casualties occurred in Hasakah, 115 in Daraa, and 84 in Raqqa. Aleppo and Idlib have consistently been two of the five most dangerous governorates for civilians in Syria since 2012.
The continuing downward trend in numbers of civilian casualties in Syria raises hopes that the conflict, which only shows signs of becoming increasingly tense and contentious, will have a reduced impact on civilians, but it is likely that AOAV’s data is influenced by the decreased media and reporting interest around the Syrian conflict.
A Decade of Data in Review: Syria, 2011-2020
- Syria has been the state worst-affected by explosive violence over the past decade
- From 2011-2020, AOAV recorded 92,832 deaths and injuries from explosive violence in Syria – of these, 77,535 (84%) were civilians
- 91% of civilian deaths and injuries occurred in populated areas
- Air-launched explosive weapons caused the most civilian harm in this period, with 45% of civilian deaths and injuries resulting from airstrikes
- Ground-launched explosives were responsible for 29% of all civilian deaths and casualties, whilst IEDs accounted for 19%
- AOAV recorded more than 13,000 civilian casualties in Syria in both 2016 and 2017
- 3 of the 10 worst incidents of explosive violence recorded by AOAV in the past decade occurred in Syria.
The onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 coincided with the first full year of AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor. As a result, AOAV has regularly cited Syria as the country worst-affected by explosive violence over the past decade. In 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, the country saw higher numbers of civilian deaths and injuries caused by explosives than anywhere else in the world; in 2013, 2014 and 2020, it was second.
The period 2011-2016 was marked by a growing ‘sophistication’ in the military equipment deployed in Syria, and thus the nature and impact of explosive violence. The extension of the US-led mission against ISIS into Syria in September 2014, alongside the commencement of Russian involvement in 2015, led to a large increase in the level of civilian harm caused by air-launched weapons. This can be seen in the 75% rise in civilian casualties from airstrikes recorded by AOAV between 2014 and 2015.
However, the enormous toll explosive violence has inflicted on Syria’s population became more apparent following the drastic levels of civilian harm recorded in 2016 and 2017. In these two years, AOAV recorded a total of 13,313 and 13,062 civilian casualties respectively – a figure greater than the combined civilian casualties of the next four worst-affected states in that timeframe. This was predominantly the result of the sieges of key cities such as Aleppo and Deir Ezzor, and the June 2017 campaign by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to capture the city of Raqqa, which had stood as the de facto capital of the so-called Islamic State. This operation brought with it a large increase in aerial bombing raids carried out by the US-led coalition, resulting in what Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria, called a ‘staggering loss of civilian life’.
Although year-on-year casualties fell in both 2018 and 2019, Syria remained the most dangerous country to be a civilian, according to AOAV. Despite a fall of 27% from 2017, the 2018 figure of 9,588 civilian casualties was still more than double that of Afghanistan (4,268) – the second most conflict-affected state according to the 2018 Explosive Violence Monitor. 2018’s high casualties were, in part, the result of the ruthless bombardment of Eastern Ghouta by Russian and Syrian forces early in the year. As a result, 44% of all civilian casualties in that year were recorded in the Rif Dimashq region.
AOAV’s 2019 Explosive Violence Monitor recorded a 24% decrease in civilian casualties from 2018 and a 44% decrease from 2017. However, when compared with other countries, the picture remained bleak. With 7,256 civilian casualties recorded over the year, Syria was still by far the most dangerous place to be a civilian, recording more deaths and injuries from explosive violence than Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia (the next three worst affected countries) combined. The 2019 data also reflected the relentless toll of the conflict on civilians, who made up 83% of all casualties from explosive violence in the country. This is especially pertinent when we consider that Afghanistan witnessed more total casualties in the period, but nearly half the number of civilian deaths and injuries.
Both the 2018 and 2019 Monitors highlighted the prevalence of Russian and Syrian airstrikes in the country, and their devastating impact on civilian populations. In 2018, state actors were responsible for 77% of all civilian casualties, whilst in 2019 the figure was 66%. Like in 2017, data from 2018 and 2019 continued to emphasise the dominance of air-launched explosive weapons in Syria, which were responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in each year.
In 2020, AOAV recorded a further fall in the numbers of civilian casualties recorded in Syria. The figure of 3,014 civilian deaths and injuries – a 59% fall from 2019 – meant that AOAV did not cite Syria as the country worst-affected by explosive violence for the first time in five years. Despite this, Syria remained the second worst-affected country, according to AOAV, and levels of violence continue to inflict intense damage and suffering to the country and its population.
War and explosive violence, since 2011, has had a devastating impact on Syria. Over the ten-year history of AOAV’s Monitor, no other country has witnessed higher levels of explosive harm, particularly on civilian populations. From 2011 to 2020, AOAV has recorded 77,535 civilian deaths and injuries from explosive violence, but as reporting has been constantly hampered by continuing violence, it is highly likely that this figure drastically underestimates the true scale of harm. Violence also continues to drive a refugee crisis, with current estimates suggesting that 5.6 million Syrians have fled the country, whilst another 6.6 million are internally displaced. Furthermore, it is important to remember the devastating impacts explosive violence has had on the economic, environmental, health, social and cultural wellbeing of the country, which will continue to perpetuate a myriad of problems for generations to come. AOAV have explored these lasting impacts in greater detail in their report on the reverberating effects of explosive weapons use in Syria, published in 2019.
AOAV reports on explosive violence in Syria include:
- The reverberating effects of explosive violence on agriculture in Syria
- Explosive violence and its impact on malnutrition in Syria
- The reverberating health effects of explosive weapon use in Syria
- The reverberating economic effects of explosive weapon use in Syria
- The reverberating environmental effects of explosive weapon use in Syria
- The reverberating social and cultural effects of explosive weapon use in Syria
- Explosive violence and the health challenges ahead for Syria
- Investigating the reverberating harm from the use of explosive weapons in Syria
- In ‘Syria’s Shockwaves’, AOAV considers the consequences of explosive violence on civilian populations.
- In our ‘Wide Area Impact’ report, we examined the impact of Syrian mortar fire on civilians.
- In ‘Syria’s Dirty Dozen,’ AOAV investigated some of the most dangerous explosive weapons in use in Syria.
The reverberating effects of explosive violence on agriculture in Syria
AOAV examines the consequences of explosive weapon use on agriculture in Syria.
Explosive violence and its impact on malnutrition in Syria
AOAV examines the reverberating harm to nutrition from the use of explosive weapons in Syria.
The reverberating health effects of explosive weapon use in Syria
AOAV examines the health consequences from the use of explosive weapons in Syria.
An overview of the long-term harm resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas: an analysis of the ten worst-impacted countries
AOAV examines the reverberating impacts from the use of explosive weapons in the countries and territories worst-impacted by manufactured explosive weapons.
Case study: Mortar and other inaccurate weapon use on the Jordanian/Syrian border
At 1pm on the ninth day of Ramadan in 2015 – 5 June – a mortar hit the al-Horani coffee shop in the centre of Ramtha, Jordan.
Video – Wide-Area Impact: mortar fire on the Jordanian/Syrian border
AOAV’s field investigations in September 2015 charted 15 explosive weapon strikes that crossed the Syrian border into Jordan between 2012 and 2015. This video records their impact.
Syria’s shockwaves: the consequences of explosive violence
AOAV speaks to Syrian refugees who fled devastating explosive violence there.
Explosive weapons are the biggest cause of child deaths in Syria
More than 70% of the 11,420 children killed in Syria’s brutal conflict have been killed by explosive weapons, according to a report released on Sunday.
Video: Syria’s Dirty Dozen – an examination of the worst weapons being used in the Syrian conflict
Watch 'Syria’s Dirty Dozen', narrated by investigative journalist Ramita Navai, the face of Channel 4’s Unreported World