A recent report published by the Washington Kurdish Institute reveals the impact Turkey’s military presence in northern Syria has on civilians, including the extent of casualties, the effect on women and children, geographic locations of worst affected areas, and the compounding lethality of drone attacks in comparison to traditional artillery.
The comprehensive study authored by Cameron Sterling and Yousif Ismael examines incursions into the Kurdish regions in Syria since Turkey launched operation Euphrates Shield in 2016. Findings show significant harm to both civilians and military personnel.
The report outlines how, despite formal agreements reached with the United States and Russia in 2019, Turkey has continued to find justifications to maintain hostilities against the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East of Syria (AANES). In particular the research focuses on civilian casualties resulting from Turkish and aligned armed factions’ attacks on AANES-controlled areas from early 2020 to August 2023.
The data sources of the study include Airwars, the Rojava Information Centre, and various press outlets, with verification by the Washington Kurdish Institute. It is emphasised in the report that the focus of the study is on Kurdish regions, excluding casualties caused by Turkish border guards, military casualties within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and casualties within the Syrian Regime forces.
Key findings of the report include:
Total killed and wounded civilians:
The report finds that Turkish military activities, including airstrikes, artillery fire and the use of small arms, have caused significant civilian casualties in AANES-controlled areas, killing 114 people, and injuring 348 since 2020. The authors note that these findings contradict international commitments and pose a serious challenge to the well-being and rights of civilians.
Impact on women and children:
The attacks have affected all segments of the population, including more vulnerable groups. Children account for 34 percent of civilian deaths and 18 percent of injuries caused by Turkish strikes. Women constitute 21 percent of deaths and nearly 11 percent of injuries.
Turkish attacks have been concentrated in Raqqa and Hasakah (Heseke) provinces, targeting densely populated areas with large civilian presence along the Turkish-Syrian border.
Shift to drone attacks:
One notable revelation from the report is on Turkey’s increasing use of drone strikes, which were expected to be a less lethal alternative to traditional artillery. The study highlights that rather than providing a safer approach, drones have led to a steady increase in civilian harm.
The report concludes that Turkey’s actions contribute to destabilisation in the region and hinder the fight against ISIS. Turkey’s operations in northeast Syria exacerbates displacement and migration crises, particularly affecting Kurdish communities. Additionally, Turkey’s activities inadvertently strengthen adversaries of the US, including the Assad regime, Iranian militias, and Russia, which undermines efforts to stabilise the region.