While Donald Trump gets attention by saying outrageous things, what has largely been unnoticed is that he has rapidly escalated the bombing attacks on targets in Syria with a corresponding increase in the number of civilian casualties. Murtaza Hussain of The Intercept writes about a report from Human Rights Watch about the most recent killings of civilians in two attacks.
Investigators who visited the sites and interviewed locals and survivors found that the strikes had caused huge numbers of civilian deaths. The documentation adds to a drumbeat of criticism about a U.S. air campaign in Syria that has already been accused of inflicting massive civilian casualties in support of ground operations against Islamic State by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The attacks documented in the report include a March 20 airstrike that targeted a school housing displaced people in the suburban town of Mansourah, outside of Tabqa, as well as another strike that hit a packed marketplace in Tabqa City two days later. Investigators from Human Rights Watch visited the sites of both attacks this July and collected the names of at least 84 civilians who had died in the bombings, including 30 children [My emphasis-MS]. While witnesses who spoke to investigators acknowledged that ISIS members, along with their families, had been around the areas of the bombings, they also said many civilians were nearby who had no connection to the group.
In the case of the March 22 marketplace bombing, huge numbers of people who had been lining up to buy bread at a local bakery were killed by an airstrike in an attack that may have been targeting a few ISIS members sitting in a nearby internet cafe. While the U.S.-led coalition has acknowledged carrying out the March 20 attack against the school, which it claimed had targeted a suspected weapons storage facility, it has said that it is still assessing the circumstances surrounding the marketplace bombing.
In a Time interview earlier this month, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. military officer during much of the coalition effort against ISIS, praised the Trump administration for having “freed us up a bit to prosecute the war in a more aggressive manner.” During his campaign, President Donald Trump had repeatedly promised to wage U.S.-led wars more brutally, including by deliberately targeting noncombatants and re-instituting a policy of torturing terrorism suspects.
For those of us old enough to remember Vietnam, this looks wearily like a rerun of the US policy of “destroying a village in order to save it”, the idea that the presence of some targets that the military thinks is legitimate is sufficient justification to launch attacks that results in massive destruction and the killings of innocent people. For those who haven’t seen it, I strongly recommend viewing the searing Academy Award winning 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds that shows what happens when the US military attacks the civilian population of another country.
Here’s the trailer for that must-see film.