Allegations of civilian casualties as a result of United States coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have swelled so much since January that airstrike watchdog Airwars can't keep track. Unable to keep up with the number of bombings by both Russia and the United States coalition, the organization announced today that it no longer has the resources to carry out its typical investigations of Russian airstrikes, and is devoting its resources to the US-led coalition bombing campaign only.
Airwars, a civilian casualty monitor established by journalists in 2014, is now concentrating all of its detailed investigatory work, relied upon by NGOs, peace campaigners, and the media, on "an unprecedented number" of alleged Coalition civilian casualty events.
For a small team, operating on an annual budget of less than $200,000, there just aren't enough resources to continue the detailed assessment of alleged Russian actions in Syria, project leader Chris Woods told Motherboard over the phone today.
"Currently, for March, we're tracking more than 100 alleged [civilian casualty] events for the Coalition so far, and around 50 alleged incidents from Russia this month," said Woods. "That's been the consistent pattern since January. By all accounts, Coalition strikes have been killing more civilians than Russian strikes. That trend is continuing."
As an all source investigator, Airwars' analysis of civilian casualty events is an exhaustive and time-consuming process.
"The first part is tracking the allegations. Our Iraqi and Syrian researchers track media and social media reports, militant rebel reports, and military reports," Woods said.
"That process will continue for Russia. We'll still be tracking that data, but the much more time consuming part of that is doing very detailed assessments of those allegations." These assessments are what Airwars is suspending for now, in preparation for focusing entirely on US Coalition activities.
"Once we've identified an alleged incident, our researchers will then dive deeply into the cases and search through local media and social media reports, trying to find other sources, corroboration, contested claims and so on," said Woods.
"It can take a significant period of time to burrow down into these allegations. A lot of material is on local sites, local social media sites, posted to YouTube, it takes a great deal of time to pull that information together."
Woods told Motherboard that Airwars probably has around one million words of public data on specific Russian and Coalition allegations on the Airwars website, alongside thousands of archived photographs and videos.
"It's a huge operation just to track this as a resource and to ensure it's permanently and properly archived," he said. "That's the challenge, when the numbers are so crazy from the Coalition, with such limited resources, it's something we've had to pause."
Airwars intends on resuming detailed assessments of Russian strike allegations in the near future, and is in the process of finding potential funders for new resources focused on tracking Moscow's military actions.
"The decision to temporarily suspend our Russia strike assessments has been a very difficult one to take. Moscow is still reportedly killing hundreds of civilians in Syria every month," the watchdog said in a media statement on its website. "But with Coalition casualty claims escalating so steeply—and with very limited Airwars resources—we believe our key focus at present needs to be on the US-led alliance."
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