Thursday, January 12, 2017

In Defense of the Syrian Observatory: about civilian casualties in Syria

Göran sent me this (I cite with his permission):  "I read your post on the Syrian Observatory and its suspicious statistics on Syrian war casualties. In this case, concerning the number of Islamic State fighters killed in a US raid on Deir ez-Zor.
I agree that this lone guy in the English countryside, with his secretive brotherhood of informers, on each and every side of the front lines, is simply not credible. The problem is who is credible?
You may be correct in your assessment of this specific incident. But this does not reflect the general tendency of SOHR. I haven’t found any clear signs of political agenda or bias in SOHR statistics. Apart from this early practice of counting Syrian rebel combatants as “civilians”. Mr. Abdel-Rahman’s sympathies are clearly on the opposition side. Yet his numbers consistently undermine many main themes of opposition propaganda.
When the Syrian regime (presumably) launched the Sarin gas attack 2013 on the Damascus eastern Ghouta suburbs, SOHR statistics showed only 502 deaths, about a third of the official American assessment. Abdel-Rahman commented: "America works only with one part of the opposition that is deep in propaganda."
We are often told that Russian air raid are solely focused on civilian targets (especially schools and hospitals) and conscientiously avoid hitting the Islamic State organization.
Not so, if we are to believe SOHR statistics. Since September 2015, 10,340 people have been killed in Russian air raids. 62 % of the casualties were combatants, almost equally distributed between rebels/islamists (3,068) and IS (2,887). The 38% civilian casualties presumably include both collateral damage and the Russian deliberate targeting of hospitals and schools.
We are also told that the Syrian army has collapsed and it is now mainly foreign “sectarian” militias doing the fighting for the regime side, while the opposition remains mainly Syrian.
Not so. According to SOHR statistics more than 90% of regime fatalities last year were Syrians (either army or domestic militia), while only 9% were non-Syrians, and that includes Palestinians. Only 1% regime side fatalities 2016 belonged to Hizballah.
On the opposition side (including rebels, islamists, Kurds and the IS), however, 62% of the killed last year were non-Syrians.
We are further told that the majority of the victims in the Syrian war are civilians.
Not so, according to SOHR. Of the total 49,742 killed in the Syrian conflict last year, only 27% were civilians and less than 10% were women or children. Which of course is terrible enough. But I would be surprised if any independent estimate of civilian casualties of an Israeli or American war has ever been this low.
According to SOHR statistics from the last month of the fighting in Aleppo city (Nov-Dec), a total of 993 were killed in east Aleppo, due to ground fighting, shelling and air bombardment, 45% of which were civilians. 56% were combatants from both sides. 130 were killed by rebel shelling of west Aleppo, 100% of which were civilians. Not a single combatant was killed. 

 Fatalities in Syria 2016
13 617
2 885
1 855
8 877

Total rebels
21 467
   Syrian rebels
8 170
   Foreign fighters
13 297

Total regime
14 192
  Syrian army / militia
12 886
  Foreign pro-gov't fighters
1 306


49 742