Moral Low Ground

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‘Bomb the Shit Out of Them’: Civilian Deaths Soar Under Trump

Numerous children were reportedly killed by US or US-backed Iraqi forces during a March 4 attack in the Al Mahatta neighborhood of western Mosul. (Photo: Iraqi Spring Media Group)

As United States military forces and their coalition partners intensify the war against Islamist militants in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan under President Donald Trump, civilian casualties — and Muslim outrage — are soaring.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump blasted the Obama administration — whose drone and other air strikes killed at least hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya — for “fighting a very politically correct war.” In contrast, Trump said he would “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State (IS), including killing women, children and other noncombatants.

“I’d blow up every single inch, there would be nothing left,” Trump said in November 2015. “We’ll get Exxon[Mobil] to come in there and in two months… I’ll take the oil.”

“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said in December 2015. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”

Within days of taking office, Trump authorized a boots-on-the-ground Special Forces raid targeting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants in Yakla, Yemen that went horribly wrong, resulting in the deaths of US Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens and as many as 30 civilians (the Pentagon says 4-12). Among the dead were many children and babies, including Nawar al-Awlaki, the 8-year-old American daughter of the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, Nawar’s 16-year-old civilian brother, was killed in a separate Yemen drone strike two weeks later.

Na al-Awlaki, 8, was among the many civilians killed in the first major raid of Donald Trump’s presidency in Yemen.

Even as he blamed his generals for Owens’ death, President Trump called the botched Yemen raid “highly successful,” claiming it “generated large amounts of vital intelligence” — an assertion refuted by at least 10 US government officials briefed on the details of the mission.

Two weeks later, at least 18 civilians, almost all of them women and children, were killed in a US air strike targeting Taliban fighters in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

A month after the horrific events at Yakla, US helicopters and drones were back. According to residents, US forces carried out “indiscriminate shelling” of the area on March 2-3, killing numerous civilians, including Ahmed and Mohammed al-Khobze, two brothers, ages 10 and 12. Pentagon spokesperson Capt. Jeff Davis said US forces carried out more than 30 strikes in 36 hours, exceeding the 32 confirmed drone strikes in Yemen all of last year. Over the past two years, US-backed Saudi Arabian aerial bombardment has killed thousands of Yemeni civilians, with more than a third of Saudi attacks hitting civilian sites.

The UK-based monitoring group Airwars says as many as 370 civilians have been killed in at least 11 coalition attacks in and around Mosul, Iraq where US forces are fighting with Iraqi troops attempting to recapture the war-torn nation’s third-largest city from IS fighters. While it is extremely difficult to confirm this figure, details from specific attacks have been corroborated. One of the deadliest incidents occurred when the IS-run Omar al-Aswad mosque, in the al-Faruq district of the old city center, was repeatedly bombed, destroying it as well as nearby homes. The mosque was being used as a shelter for families displaced by the fierce fighting. Ninevah Media Center reported more than 80 civilians were killed or wounded, while Mosul Eye put the number killed at “more than 50.”

According to Airwars, on March 2, several outlets — including IS media —  reported 20 civilians were killed in a coalition bombardment in the Shifa neighborhood of western Mosul, while another west Mosul strike, this one in the Nabi Sheet neighborhood, reportedly killed 14 civilians from three families. Two days later, coalition attacks in western Mosul’s Al Mahatta neighborhood reportedly left another 36 civilians dead, including numerous children. The deadliest reported incident in Mosul involving coalition forces to date occurred on March 5 during an attack on a government compound in the Dawassa neighborhood in which as many as 130 civilians were reportedly killed. The following day, dozens of Iraqi police and security officers imprisoned by IS were reportedly killed in coalition air strikes near Mosul’s main train station.

Meanwhile in Syria, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said 30 civilians, including six women and eight children, were killed along with six IS fighters in US-led coalition air strikes in al-Matab, an IS-controlled village in the north near Raqqa, on Thursday. More than 400,000 Syrians have been killed, and millions more have been displaced, since a rebellion by disparate insurgent groups (later including IS) erupted against dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2011. The majority of Syrian civilian deaths have been caused by regime forces, who have allegedly used chemical weapons in their desperate, Russia-backed bid to cling to power.

The Pentagon has admitted its forces have killed hundreds of civilians since the US began bombing IS targets in 2014, but human rights and monitor groups accuse Washington of dramatically underreporting the number of Iraqi and Syrian civilians killed during the war. According to Airwars, US and coalition air strikes are now killing more Syrian civilians than Russian bombings, although Russian-backed Syrian ground troops are killing far more civilians than their coalition counterparts.

The recent surge in civilian deaths comes as the US announced it will deploy a Marine amphibious task force to Syria to provide artillery fire support and other assistance aimed at ousting IS from its de facto capital of Raqqa. On Wednesday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Joseph Votel said even more US ground troops would be needed to support the assault on Raqqa, and that more American forces are needed to assist their Afghan counterparts who have lost territory to the Taliban.

More than 15 years of endless US war spanning much of the Earth from South Asia to the Middle East and North Africa have taken an extremely heavy toll on innocent life there. Estimates of the number of people killed during the ongoing 15-year US-led war against Islamist terrorism range from the low hundreds of thousands to over 1.3 million. Since the end of World War II, US military forces have killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world, by far.

Some of the recent victims and survivors of US bombs and bullets thirst for vengeance. The Intercept reports that following the latest US air strikes, villagers in Yakla, Yemen aren’t calling for the the traditional tribal practice of monetary compensation for victims’ families. Instead, they’re calling for revenge. “If they come back, tell them to bring their caskets,” one tribesman said of the Navy SEALs. “From now we are ready for any fight with the Americans and the dog Trump.”

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