Since President Trump took office, approximately 12 or more civilians have been killed every day by U.S.-led coalition troops in Iraq and Syria in the war against the Islamic State, an Airwars investigation for The Daily Beast has found. The Trump administration is on track to double the number of civilian casualties, with 2,200 civilians reportedly killed in total since Trump's inauguration. At least 2,300 civilians are believed to have died under the Obama administration's command.
The coalition's own civilian casualties reports are significantly lower than those kept by independent watchdog groups like Airwars, with forces taking responsibility for a total of 603 civilian deaths. Yet in just one attack in Mosul in March, correspondents told The Independent that the U.S-led coalition killed upwards of 240 Iraqi civilians.
On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to "knock the hell out of ISIS" and "take out" the families of terrorists. In office, he formally requested "changes to any United States rules of engagement and other United States policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS." Civilian deaths are also likely up for a number of other reasons, such as tougher end-phase battles against the terrorist organization.
In early June, war crimes investigators for the United Nations concluded U.S.-backed air strikes are causing a "staggering loss of civilian life." Read more about The Daily Beast's Airwars investigation here. Jeva Lange
On Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry said a Russian airstrike just outside the Islamic State's de facto capital Raqqa, Syria, on May 28 killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, along with other high-ranking ISIS leaders, 30 midlevel commanders, and about 300 other fighters. "According to the information that is being verified through various channels, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also attended the meeting and was killed in the airstrike," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The ISIS leader is believed to have been hiding out in the desert outside of Mosul, Iraq, until escaping the area when U.S.-backed Iraqi forces recaptured most of the city. The meeting of senior ISIS leaders was to plan the group's withdrawal from Raqqa amid a mounting U.S.-backed offensive there, the Russian Defense Ministry said. This isn't the first report of al-Baghdadi's death, BBC News notes. Peter Weber
On Tuesday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance of Kurds and Arabs announced the start of an offensive to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State, which considers the Syrian city the capital of its "caliphate." Talal Sillo, spokesman for the Kurdish-led forces, told reporters that the SDF is working in coordination with U.S. air power. The SDF has been advancing on the ISIS stronghold since November, and its forces now have Raqqa surrounded on three sides. The battle for Raqqa, which ISIS has held since 2014, is expected to be long and bloody; at least 12 people were reported killed in presumed U.S.-led airstrikes on Monday night. Peter Weber
On Sunday, a herd of wild boars overran an Islamic State position about 50 miles southwest of Kirkuk, killing three ISIS militants likely preparing to ambush local anti-ISIS tribes, according to tribal leaders and Kurdish military officials. Five other ISIS militants were injured, Sheikh Anwar al-Assi, a chief of the local Ubaid tribe, told The Times of London. "It is likely their movement disturbed a herd of wild pigs, which inhabit the area as well as the nearby cornfields."
Local tribes, Kurdish peshmerga fighters, Iraqi army troops, and some Shiite militias from Iran are fighting ISIS south of Kirkuk, as Iraqi and U.S. forces are focusing most of their energy on pushing ISIS out of Mosul. Three days before the boars attacked ISIS, al-Assi said, ISIS militants massacred 25 people fleeing to Kirkuk from ISIS-held Hawija, on the road from Mosul to Baghdad.
Brigadier Azad Jelal, deputy chief of Kurdish intelligence in Kirkuk, confirmed the boar attack, telling Britain's Telegraph, "three fighters from ISIL were near the peshmerga checkpoint in al-Rashad. They met some feral boars and the boars killed the three fighters. ... Some refugees saw the bodies on the edge of a farm when they were fleeing and they told us." Assuming you are rooting for the boars and not ISIS, this doesn't have a happy ending. "A few days later ISIL started to kill pigs around the area," Jelal said.
Boars don't normally attack people, but they are ferocious when they do, Newsweek says, quoting a 2006 article on boar attacks in the Journal of Forensic Medicine: "The boar has a typical method of attack wherein it steadily rushes forward, pointing the tusks toward the animal to be attacked and inflicts the injuries. It goes back, takes position, and attacks the victim again. This repeated nature of attack continues till the victim is completely incapacitated due to multiple penetrating injuries, which can have a fatal consequence." Peter Weber
The Islamic State overran large swathes of Syria and Iraq in the summer of 2014, and the militants left traces of their massacres dotting the landscape. In a new report, The Associated Press identifies 72 mass graves in Syria and Iraq, and says many more will be uncovered as ISIS's territory shrinks. "This is a drop in an ocean of mass graves expected to be discovered in the future in Syria," says Ziad Awad, the editor of online publication The Eye of the City, who is trying to document ISIS's mass burial plots.
Using satellite imagery, photos, and interviews, AP has found the location of 17 mass graves in Syria, and 16 of the mass graves the news organization located in Iraq are in areas still too dangerous to excavate. AP says anywhere from 5,200 to more than 15,000 ISIS victims are buried in the graves it knows about. "They don't even try to hide their crimes," Sirwan Jalal, director of the Iraqi Kurdistan agency in charge of mass graves, tells AP. "They are beheading them, shooting them, running them over in cars, all kinds of killing techniques, and they don't even try to hide it."
The evidence and chances to identify the dead are waning with the passage of time and exposure to the elements, however, and the Iraqi Kurds and other local groups are seeking international help. Part of the goal is to build a case to convict ISIS leaders of war crimes, and part of it is so families can bury their dead. "We want to take them out of here," Rasho Qassim, an Iraqi Yazidi, says of the remains of his two sons. "There are only bones left. But they said 'No, they have to stay there, a committee will come and exhume them later'.... It has been two years but nobody has come." You can read more at AP, and watch the video below for more context and testimony about the ISIS massacres. Peter Weber
Early Wednesday, Turkish-backed Syrian rebels and Turkish tanks and minesweepers crossed into Syria in a campaign to push the Islamic State out of the border town Jarablus, one of ISIS's last strongholds on the Turkey-Syria border, Turkey's Anadolu news agency reports. The offensive, backed by U.S. warplanes and advised by U.S. special operations forces, is aimed at shutting off ISIS's supply route to its de facto capital, Raqqa. Turkey has been shelling ISIS positions around Jarablus for two days to prepare for the push, and its forces crossed into Syria hours before U.S. Vice President Joe Biden lands in Ankara to meet with Turkish leaders to smooth over tensions that arose during Turkey's recent failed coup.
This is Turkey's first major offensive against ISIS, and The Wall Street Journal suggests three reasons why the country is getting involved now: Ankara wants to demonstrate that its military is still strong after the post-coup purge of officers; retaliation for the suspected ISIS suicide bombing of a wedding on Saturday; and to prevent Kurdish fighters, who have been successfully pushing ISIS back for months now, from claiming the town for themselves, thus gaining more territory along the Turkish border. Turkey reluctantly allowed Kurdish fighters to take part in the offensive, The Journal reports, with the expectation they will leave the town after ISIS is outside.
Turkish officials were quoted by Anadolu as saying the Jarablus operation "is aimed at clearing the Turkish borders of terrorist groups, helping to enhance border security and supporting the territorial integrity of Syria." Peter Weber
On Aug. 8, 2014, the U.S. began bombing the Islamic State around Sinjar in northern Iraq, beginning what has become a larger U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In the two years since, the U.S. has conducted more than 9,400 strikes on ISIS in Iraq and another 4,700 in Syria (while 12 coalition countries have hit ISIS with 3,018 strikes in Iraq and 249 in Syria). These anti-ISIS airstrikes have cost the U.S. $11.9 million a day, or $8.4 billion as of July 15, and three U.S. service members have been killed in combat in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. says since Operation Inherent Resolve began two years ago, ISIS has lost more than 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and Syria.
When announcing the operation, President Obama said that he will "not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq," and "American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq." That has meant an air war, supporting the Iraqi army and various militias, most notably the Kurdish peshmerga and YPG forces, though the U.S. has about 3,800 military personnel stationed in Iraq, plus hundreds more on temporary duty, according to the Pentagon. The use of U.S. air power has been a major driver in ISIS's losses, but as The Associated Press notes, the airstrikes have "also leveled entire neighborhoods," leaving "in many cases... a ruined prize." You can learn more about what Iraq has gained and ISIS has lost over the past two years at AP and the Defense Department. Peter Weber
Syrian human rights groups believe that over 120 people were killed in seven early morning bombings in the cities of Jableh and Tartus — regions of Syria thought to be firmly under the control of President Bashar al-Assad. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying in a statement that they targeted members of the Shiite minority Alawite — a sect to which Assad belongs.
The bombs, which were nearly simultaneous, were mainly suicide attacks and took a reported 73 lives in Jableh and 48 in Tartus. The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP that the attacks were "without a doubt the deadliest" on the cities since the civil war began in March 2011.
ISIS was not formerly thought to have a presence in the coastal cities, which are considered the heartland of President Assad's territory and are mainly dominated by the rival jihadist group, Al-Nusra Front.
Targets in the attacks included a bus station as well as a government hospital. A police officer told AFP that one suicide attacker detonated inside the emergency room.