Friday 24 March 2017

Letter to the Prime Minister on the Al Badiya school bombing

NOTE: See updates at end of post with follow up correspondence.

UPDATE: Human Rights Watch’s September 2017 report, All Feasible Precautions? Civilian Casualties in Anti-ISIS Coalition Airstrikes in Syria, deals with their investigation of this Coalition attack. See the section Attack on Badia School in Mansourah, March 20.

Syrian organisations in the UK have today written to the Prime Minister calling for the UK to investigate reports of Coalition responsibility for civilian deaths in al Badiya, and to review the priority the Coalition is giving to civilian protection.

PDF version here.

The Right Honourable Theresa May
Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

24 March 2017

Dear Ms May,
We were writing this letter about recent incidents in Syria when the shocking events at Westminster occurred, and we wanted before anything else to share the sense of grief and outrage felt across the community.

Without diminishing the tragedy of this event, especially for its victims, it also acts to strengthen our parallel concern for the loss of life arising from certain actions in Syria for which we feel the British government shares some responsibility. There are now credible reports of a Coalition airstrike on the al Badiya school, west of Raqqa, a shelter for many refugee families, with probably at least 50 civilians killed (mainly women and children) with many sources estimating significantly more.

This seems to be part of an emerging pattern of conspicuous disregard for civilian casualties in the current military campaign against ISIS. It includes the attack on the al Jina mosque last week that killed at least 50 civilians, and such incidents seem to be growing. The monitoring group Airwars estimates at least 2,700 innocent men, women and children have been killed in the Coalition’s anti-ISIS bombing campaign thus far.

We are writing to ask the British government to immediately investigate the responsibility for al Badiya, and for similar attacks, to make known its findings and, more broadly, to review the priority the Coalition is giving to civilian protection.

While many of these attacks are conducted by US forces, the UK is a major partner in the Coalition, with a British officer as deputy commander, and therefore carries joint responsibility for such actions. Moreover, we note that the Ministry of Defense has acknowledged that the RAF is conducting bombing operations in the Raqqa area.

We share the all-important aim of ridding Syria of the barbaric ISIS regime along with supporting the democratic opposition to the no less brutal Assad regime. But, unlike such regimes, we must not be indifferent to civilian lives and suffering; those who have lived under ISIS have suffered enough.

We urge the government to demand from the US the halt of the unacceptable loss of civilian life, which is in danger of becoming a distinguishing mark of this campaign.

Yours sincerely,

Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice in Syria
Yasmine Nahlawi, Rethink Rebuild Society, Manchester
Dr Sharif Kaf–al Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Malcolm Allen, Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Dr Amer Masri, Scotland For Syria
Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community in the South West
Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
Dr Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire

Top photo via Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.

Reply from Tobias Ellwood MP, Minister for the Middle East and Africa

26 April 2017

Dear Syria Solidarity UK,

Thank you for your letter of 24 March to the Prime Minister, about Syria. I am replying as Minister responsible for our relations with the Middle East.

Thank you for your message of condolence following the terrorist attack in London on 22 March. I appreciate your support.

All members of the Coalition do their utmost to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. Reports are taken very seriously and the results of any investigation are published. In the air strikes conducted by the RAF as part of the Coalition air campaign, we have found no evidence of civilian casualties.

We have a comprehensive strategy to defeat Daesh, working as part of the 68 member Global Coalition, in which we continue to play a leading role. The UK, as part of the US led Coalition, remains committed to the counter-Daesh campaign. But we are clear that defeating Daesh will need more than just a military effort. For there to be a genuine peace, Syria needs a transition to a new, inclusive, non-sectarian government. This is critical to being able to sustainably address the terrorist threat.

We remain convinced that long-term peace in Syria requires transition away from the Asad regime, and a political settlement which allows Syria to become a stable, peaceful state with an inclusive government with which we can work to tackle Daesh and other extremists. We support fully the Syrian peace talks taking place under the auspices of UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in Geneva. The Syrian High Negotiations Committee have demonstrated their commitment tothe political process by adopting a positive approach, agreeing an inclusive delegation and setting out moderate and pragmatic proposals. The regime and its backers must now show the same commitment to achieving a negotiated solution that can bring a sustainable end to this dreadful conflict.

The UK will continue to do all that we can to ensure that a long-term, lasting solution is found to resolve the current crisis in Syria. And in the meantime, we will maintain all efforts to help those people affected by it.

Yours sincerely,
Tobias Ellwood MP
Minister for the Middle East and Africa

From Together For Syria organisations to Tobias Ellwood, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa

15 May 2017

Dear Mr Ellwood

Re  civilian casualties of Coalition airstrikes

We write to thank you for your letter of 26 April last, in response to ours to the Prime Minister of 24 March, expressing concern  about the sharp increase in civilian casualties caused by Coalition airstrikes in Syria. We asked the Government to investigate in particular the bombing of a refugee shelter in Al Badiya, near Raqqa.

You assure us that the Coalition does its best to minimise civilian casualties, and that investigation results are published. To date we have not seen any such report of Al Badiya. We are very concerned at the revelation that the Coalition only has two staff dedicated to investigating reports of civilian casualties.

You say that there have been no civilian  deaths caused by the RAF. But we repeat that the UK is part of a Coalition and has joint responsibility for its operations. This remains the case despite 95% of such airstrikes being conducted by the US.

We stated in our letter of 24 March that the most recent casualty figures represent a pattern of mounting civilian casualties, since the beginning of 2017. We provide here a link to a document which illustrates that pattern from January to March 2017.

Airwars data indicate that although casualty figures are somewhat lower in April than in March, the disturbing pattern continues.

We therefore repeat our earlier request that you ensure that incidents are investigated as they occur, and that you demand from your partners in the US a halt to this unacceptable loss of life.

We would be grateful for a response which provides an account of your actions to date, and the outcome/s.

Yours sincerely,

Bronwen Griffiths, Syria Solidarity UK

Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House

Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society

Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria

Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria

Dr Mohammad Alhadj Ali, Syrian Welsh Society

Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria

Dr Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire

From Operations Directorate, Ministry of Defence


Ministry of Defence
Main Building
London SW1A 2HB
United Kingdom


Our Ref: TO/2017-05-19TO93943

26 May 2017

Bronwen Griffiths, Syria Solidarity UK
Mohammad Tammp, Kurds House
Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
Amer Masri, Scotland4Syria
Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria
Dr Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice For Syria
Dr Mohammad Alhadji Ali, Syrian Welsh Society
Dr Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire

Dear All,

Thank you for your email of 15 May to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in which you raised concerns about civilian casualties. Your email has been passed to the Ministry of Defence.

You asked the Government to investigate the bombing of a refugee shelter in Al Badiya, near Raqqah. The details given do not match any attack carried out by RAF aircraft. As such, we cannot carry out an investigation; we do not have the details of the strike nor the aircraft which are alleged to have caused it.

You may find the following link useful: it details all air strikes carried out by the RAF:

If you have queries specifically related to an investigation conducted by one Coalition member, I would advise you to address your query to that nation.

It is not true to say that, simply by taking part in the Global Coalition, the UK has joint responsibility for all operations carried out by Coalition members. The UK is operating as just one of 69 members of the Global Coalition: the procedures of the Coalition are that each nation will handle evidence of civilian casualties according to its own national policies. The UK is not responsible for airstrikes carried out by other Coalition members and the UK Government will not comment on the responsibilities of other nations and the conduct of their operations.

In answer to your point about the number of Coalition staff perceived to be responsible for investigating incidents of civilian casualties, you will wish to note that every allegation that has sufficient information associated with it is reviewed by a team at the Combined Joint Task Force HQ. If it were deemed necessary, an investigation would be opened to ascertain the details of the incident. When such an investigation is stood up it is given the proper resources; the most recent Coalition investigation was conducted by a team of 12 experts.

There is no evidence that the RAF has been responsible for civilian casualties to date. As operations to liberate western Mosul and Raqqah have intensified, the RAF continues to provide precision close air support to ground forces engaged in difficult urban combat. It will be clear that we take great care to plan missions in a way which will minimise the risk of civilian casualties, through rigorous targeting processes. But that risk can never be removed entirely. Our aircrew can and do refuse requests to drop weapons if they have concerns about the risk of causing any collateral damage.

Yours sincerely,

Operations Directorate