More data on the effects of Russian airstrikes in Syria
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Russian airstrikes in Syria have thus far killed 3,049 people. Of this number 1,015 have been civilians, with more than 200 being children.
I expect that Russian officials would vehemently deny that their airstrikes have killed this many civilians. They probably would counter that the statistics are greatly overstated so as to discredit their military intervention in Syria. However, I suspect these numbers are more or less accurate.
Firstly, the SOHR is an organization that has been reporting on the casualties resulting from the Syrian Civil War. Many of the reports of ISIL’s atrocities have been by the SOHR, and I see few people doubting these reports, so if we accept their reports on ISIL, why should we automatically discount their reports on Russian airstrikes? Of course the SOHR may have their own biases and agenda, and they may not be overly fond of Russia’s intervention in Syria, but they appear to be as reputable as any other source cataloging effects of the Syrian Civil War.
Secondly, the Russian military and its leader Vladimir Putin do not strike me as the type of people to be overly concerned with collateral damage. Official Russian spokespeople may say that Russian forces are doing everything in their power to avoid civilian casualties and that any reports of such casualties are just American or Sunni misinformation. But such public relations is just propaganda to mask the reality of what Russia is doing in Syria so as to obtain favorable public opinion for Russia’s intervention in Syria.
If one really has trouble believing that Russian airstrikes may be causing civilian casualties in Syria, just look into Russia’s wars in Chechnya, in which Grozny was leveled to the ground by Russian forces with little concern for the civilian inhabitants of the city. So if Russia forces had little concern for civilians in Chechnya, why would it be any different for Syrian civilians?
With this in mind when Putin decided to militarily intervene in Syria, many Westerners welcomed this development, not because they thought Putin would go out of his way to limit civilian casualties, but because they believed he would show no mercy to ISIL and other jihadi groups. In other words, Putin would not be concerned with winning the hearts and minds of Syrians, just with smashing his enemies.
Finally there have been reports that Russia has been indiscriminately bombing areas in Syria, whether it be Raqqa following confirmation that ISIL downed Metrojet Flight 9268 or Latakia province in response to the killing of an ejected Russian pilot by Turkmen rebels. With all this in mind, it seems reasonable to accept that around 1,000 civilians have been killed by Russian airstrikes (frankly I am surprised the number is not higher).
There is one more thing that I would like to focus on pertaining to the SOHR report. It was also reported that 2,032 rebel fighters have been killed by Russian airstrikes. Of that number 893 have been ISIL fighters, which amounts to 44% of total rebel casualties from Russian airstrikes.
What is interesting about this statistic is that the Americans have been consistently denigrating Russia’s efforts against ISIL, most recently saying that only 30% of Russian airstrikes target ISIL in Syria. However, America’s claims are not supported by the SOHR data, as 44% of rebel casualties are suffered by ISIL. Furthermore, Russia is also targeting Jabat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliated extremist group, so if we include al-Nusra’s casualties (which are not specifically given, but I suspect are significant) with those of ISIL’s it is probably safe to assume that this amounts to over 50% of rebel casualties due to Russian airstrikes. As such US claims that the majority of Russian airstrikes are not against extremist rebel groups are absurd.
Ultimately the SOHR report on casualties caused by Russian airstrikes in Syria serves to illustrate the misinformation of both Russia and America. The former says that their bombing campaign has minimally harmed civilians and the latter promulgates that Russia is minimally targeting ISIL. Based on the SOHR report both claims are called into question, which is not surprising as both Russia and America are waging an information war against the public to influence what they believe.