BY TOM O'CONNOR
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has killed more civilians during President Donald Trump's first seven months in office than in the three years it existed under his predecessor, according to the latest estimate by a U.K.-based monitor.
Airwars, which describes itself as a "journalist-led transparency project," released Tuesday its latest data on airstrikes reportedly conducted by the U.S. and its allies battling ISIS and other jihadists in Iraq and Syria. According to data gathered since the coalition's inception in October 2014, the U.S.-dominated multinational force has been responsible for a minimum of 5,117 civilian deaths, with about 55 percent of them occurring during Trump's administration. While the stage of the conflict inherited by the Republican leader has largely involved targeting ISIS's urban strongholds after allied gains elsewhere under former President Barack Obama, Trump has faced backlash at home and abroad over reports of mounting collateral damage.
"During @BarackObama's 29 months at helm of ISIS war we tracked 855 alleged civilian casualty events which likely killed 2298-3398 civilians," Airwars tweeted to the group's official account.
"In @realDonaldTrump's first 7 months as President, we tracked 1,196 alleged incidents in which we assess at least 2,819-4,529 civilians died," it added.
The U.S. began conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in October 2014 as part of what came to be known as the Joint Combined Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve. The campaign was created in response to lightning gains made across Iraq and Syria by ISIS, a notoriously brutal and powerful offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. The ultraconservative Sunni Muslim group managed to overpower local forces and expanded its self-proclaimed caliphate across nearly half of the two countries.
The group's lines of defense began to collapse in Iraq as it was targeted by the country's armed forces, Kurdish militias, majority-Shiite Muslim militias backed by Iran and U.S.-led airstrikes. In Syria, U.S. airstrikes assisted the local Kurdish forces and some Arab insurgent groups in taking on the jihadists, while a 2015 Russian intervention allowed Syria's embattled military and its allies, including Iran-backed militias, to retake large parts of the country lost to ISIS and other anti-government groups in the wake of a 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad have also been criticized for reports of high civilian casualties incurred by their joint air campaigns.
When Trump came into office in January, U.S. forces had already begun major offensives to help local allies dislodge ISIS from two of its most important cities. Since then, the Iraqi government has declared ISIS defeated in Mosul, by far the largest city to fall into the jihadists' hands, and the Syrian Democratic Forces, a mostly Kurdish alliance of Arabs and ethnic minorities, has beaten ISIS in about half of its de facto capital of Raqqa. As the two campaigns became increasingly urban, civilian casualties increased substantially. In last month's report, Airwars said that about 80 civilians were killed per month under Obama and that that figure had risen to 360 under Trump by July.
Other monitoring groups have also criticized the increasingly deadly consequences of the U.S.-led intervention against ISIS. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group with ties to the exiled Syrian opposition, said Monday that coalition airstrikes had escalated in the past week, killing 167 people, with at least 42 dead reported from a single airstrike that day.
"Such massacres only add to the deteriorating humanitarian situation of civilians in ISIS-controlled areas in Raqqa city, where death became inevitable awaiting even those who try to flee along with their families to areas far from the doomed city," the group wrote.