Why are we pretending casualty numbers given for US and Russian airstrikes by staunchly oppositionist groups are equally credible?
According to Airwars.com just in the month of March US jets have killed between 1,800 and 3,500 civilians in Syria and Iraq. That is a staggering number. So staggering that Airwars notes they have "not been seen" since "the worst Russia’s brutal air campaign in 2016".
Indeed, Airwars claims that for three months in a row now the US has killed more civilians in Syria and Iraq than the Russians have.
Except here is a problem. While the number for innocents killed by US bombs is an interesting and valuable information, the comparison with the Russians is not.
The reason for that is simple. Airwars gets most of its information from people who favor an expanded US air war in Syria, but are hostile to Russian involvement there.
On its methodology page Airwars explains where it gets its Syria information from:
A key resource for information on reported casualties from airstrikes is the Syrian Network for Human Rights which tracks civilian deaths through a network of local sources.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also tracks casualties of airstrikes and other volent incidents. Additionally other local monitoring groups like the Violations Documentation Center and Raqaa Is Being Slaughtered Silently regularly report on airstrike fatalities, while international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also issued reports on civilian casualties of Coalition, Russian and Assad regime airstrikes.
Three key organizations Airwars relies on are pro-opposition outfits notorious for their pro-rebel and anti-Assad bias. Particularly the Syrian Network for Human Rights and Violations Documentation Center, but also the slightly more measured Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch is a liberal interventionist beast and a tool of US foreign policy, and Amnesty International is rabidly anti-Syrian and pro-interventionist as well.
Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently is another anti-Assad (and therefore anti-Russian) outfit which wants wider US involvement in Syria.
The idea you can take numbers for US and Russian victims offered up by these organizations and compare them is bizarre.
Of course, Airwars states it does not rely on any one source exclusively, instead it makes sure to cross references them. But since all the outfits it draws from share the same obvious sympathies it might as well not bother. Taking a SOHR report and confirming it with a SN4HR report isn't any kind of double checking.
Now, tolls from these organizations on the number of victims of US bombing are interesting. That is because they are staffed by oppositionists many of whom likely favor expansion of US air war. Namely they want US to start hitting the Syrian government and army.
As such they do not have an incentive to wildly exaggerate the numbers. To the contrary, they have every incentive to not sensationalize carnage brought about by US bombs.
This is how SOHR titled its summary of US bombing on September 22nd 2016:
The International Coalition completes its second year of intervention in Syria, killing more than 6200 persons, including 611 Syrian civilians
And this is how SOHR titled its summary of Russian bombing eight days later:
About 10000 person have been killed by the Russian warplanes in the first year of their massacres in Syria
Funny. US completes a year of "intervention", Russia a year of "massacres". The Russian title leads with the number of people slain, the US title appends them at the end as an afterthought. There is no way this is an non-biased organization.
And why would it be? SOHR relies for its information on a network of opposition activists. It's safe to say many of them detest the Russian air war to prop up Assad, but are hoping to see USAF in action against him.
That is all very human and very understandable but it also means their American and their Russian numbers are in no way the same thing and in no way comparable. The latter are much more likely to be bogus, the former much more likely to be true.
That does not mean the number of innocents killed by Russians is necessarily the lower number. I have no idea how many civilian deaths Russian bombs have caused. For all I know they could have caused even more deaths than the likes of SOHR have reported.
But it is absurd to pretend their Russian and American numbers are equally credible and can be compared with one another on a month to month basis.
For the record I think it's outright criminal that neither the Russian nor the US military are expending any effort at all by to find out how many innocent civilians they are killing. All the more convenient for them so they can more easily gloss over and minimize the suffering they inflict.
The two air forces are urgently in need of a relentless watchdog to track their butcher's bill and call them out on it. To the detriment of justice, Syrian victims, and George Soros, who should really be getting more for his money, Airwars sadly falls short.