War on ISIS Under Trump Set to Double Civilian Death Toll Compared to Obama

U.S. coalition strikes in Mosul
A picture taken on July 9 shows smoke billowing following an airstrike by the U.S.-led international coalition forces targeting the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Mosul, Iraq. Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty

The U.S.-led coalition's campaign against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) under President Donald Trump is on track to cause double the civilian casualties than the operations of his predecessor Barack Obama, according to new analysis.

Monitoring group Airwars, in new figures provided to The Daily Beast, estimated that the coalition killed over 2,200 civilians in ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria between Trump's inauguration on January 20 and July 13. This represents more than 360 civilian deaths a month and at least 12 a day since Trump entered the White House.

According to the coalition's figures, its strikes have killed 603 civilians since the beginning of the airstrike campaign against ISIS in 2014. Of those, Airwars estimates that around 40 percent of them came after Trump's inauguration, alluding to the possibility of a greater disregard for civilian life at a time when ISIS's hold on its self-styled caliphate is coming to an end.

The coalition does not specify the air force of the country that conducts each coalition airstrike in Iraq and Syria. The member nations in the coalition include Britain, the U.S., Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, France, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Turkey.

The higher numbers come at a time when the coalition and Iraqi forces have stepped up their campaign to liberate the northern Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, conducting strikes in dense urban areas. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the liberation of the city last Monday.

Obama instigated airstrikes as part of a wider coalition against ISIS on September 2014, following the murder of American journalist James Foley and the mountain rescue of thousands of members of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq. Airwars estimates that around 2,300 civilians died in coalition strikes while Obama was president, working out at a lower rate than under Trump, with an average number of civilian deaths of 80 a month.

Trump famously said on the campaign trail in 2015 that he would "bomb the s**t out of 'em," referring to ISIS's captured oil refineries and infrastructure, and "take the oil." He also called on the Pentagon to review the strategy of Obama on ISIS following his ascent to the Oval Office, one which resulted in several changes as outlined by Secretary of Defense James Mattis in May.

"First, [Trump] delegated authority to the right level to aggressively and in a timely manner move against enemy vulnerabilities. Second, he directed a tactical shift from shoving ISIS out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate ISIS," he said, addressing the coalition fighting ISIS.

The coalition has said consistently that it has made every effort to avoid civilian casualties in coordination with international humanitarian law. But some of its top officials have said that "war is not pleasant," and others have said ISIS has used thousands of civilians as "human shields."

Rights groups have accused all parties in the battle for Mosul of human rights violations, including ISIS and the Iraqi security forces. Human Rights Watch has leveled the claim that the coalition is using white phosphorus in its campaign for both Mosul and Raqqa. The munition, if it comes into contact with the human skin, can burn through flesh and to the bone.

International law, under the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons, bans the use of the weapon on enemy combatants in civilian-populated areas. A coalition general, New Zealand Brigadier Hugh McAslan, said in June that the coalition had used the munition but only to demarcate enemy territory, something it can be used for due to the intense heat it creates.

In one of the most deadly incidents in the campaign for Mosul, the coalition hit the Al-Jadida neighborhood in a March 17 strike that killed at least 140 civilians. The coalition said the target was ISIS "fighters and equipment" and ISIS-held structures but it said it did not realize that civilians were present in the building. Local officials said the strikes may have hit an explosives-laden truck in possession of ISIS militants, causing further damage to the surrounding area.