Verifying Russian Airstrikes… vs. Verifying Casualties

Verifying Russian airstrikes in Syria with Silk, two months on by Eliot Higgins.

From the post:

As British forces join a growing list of countries conducting bombing campaigns across Syria, tracking who exactly is bombing where and why is becoming increasingly difficult. Just yesterday, differing groups of activists reported strikes had killed 32 fighters in ISIS-controlled territory, but there were conflicting reports as to who had launched them.

Some governments have been open in releasing footage of strikes or posting videos to YouTube, making them verifiable by independent investigators. But not all have been accurate in their description.

On October 5th, Bellingcat launched a crowdsourced effort to identify the locations shown in Russian Ministry of Defense airstrike videos, using the Checkdesk platform to identify the locations of the airstrikes and adding the data generated to a publicly available Silk database.

Readers of the Bellingcat website examined videos of Russian airstrikes in Syria posted to YouTube by the Russian Ministry of Defence, and scoured satellite imagery of Syria to match locations in the video with publicly available maps to verify if the claimed targets were all they purported to be.

As the database of claims and videos grew, Bellingcat team members double-checked any matches and updated the status of videos to either “False” or “Verified”. The details of the videos were then added to the Silk database, and updated as more videos were posted online by the Russian Ministry of Defence.

The verification of Russian airstrikes project is important because:

…it showed that with free tools, volunteers, and a bit of effort, it is possible to challenge the narratives presented by governments and militaries using their own evidence, in a way that is transparent and open to all.

True to challenging some government narrative but not all such narratives.

Consider the secrecy shrouded “investigations” into civilian deaths by the U.S. military as reported in Civilian deaths claimed in 71 US-led airstrikes on Isis by Alice Ross.

From Alice’s post:

The US-led coalition’s bombing of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has been described as the “most precise ever”, faces allegations that civilians have been killed in 71 separate air raids.

A spokesman for US central command (Centcom) disclosed the claims to the Guardian. Many of the claims have been dismissed, but he said 10 incidents were the subject of fuller, formal investigations. Five investigations have been concluded, although only one has been published.

To date, the coalition acknowledges civilian deaths in a single strike: in November 2014 a US strike on Syria killed two children, a Centcom investigation published in May found. Centcom said it will only publish investigations where a “preponderance of evidence” suggests civilians have died.

Monitoring groups questioned how thorough the investigations were.

The international coalition has carried out more than 6,500 strikes since last August. Lt Gen John Hesterman, the US commander who leads the international air campaign against Isis in Iraq and Syria, described the campaign in June as “the most precise and disciplined in the history of aerial warfare”.

Centcom outlined details of the reports of fatalities in response to questions about one of its internal documents on the investigations being obtained by journalist Joseph Trevithick of the blog War is Boring, which gives details of 45 strikes alleged to have caused fatalities.

None of the participants in the war against the Islamic State are being “transparent” in any meaningful sense of the word.

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