Moral Low Ground


US-Led Air Strike Kills 33 Civilians Sheltering in Syria School

At least 33 civilians died in an air strike on a school sheltering displaced Syrians near the de facto Islamic State capital of Raqqa. (Photo: Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered/Twitter)

A US-led air strike on a school sheltering dozens of families seeking refuge from the horrors of Syria’s 5-year civil war has killed 33 innocent civilians, according to a leading monitor group.

CBS News reports the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said it believed the US-led coalition carried out the strike near the village of al-Mansoura, west of the Islamic State’s de facto capital city of Raqqa, on Monday. The human rights group Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered said the school was sheltering around 50 families when it was hit. Both groups are credible sources for civilian casualties caused by all sides in the Syrian conflict.

“We can now confirm that 33 people were killed, and they were displaced civilians from Raqqa, Aleppo and Homs,” SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman told Agence France-Presse. “They’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble until now. Only two people were pulled out alive.”

“The massacres committed by [the] US-led coalition in Raqqa is unacceptable,” Raqqa Is Being Silently Slaughtered tweeted following the attack. “The international community must intervene to stop this.” The group also tweeted that 101 civilians have been killed in 123 US-led coalition air strikes between March 9 and March 21.

In what has long been a familiar practice throughout the ongoing 15-year war against Islamist terrorism — which has killed at least hundreds of thousands and, according to some experts, more than 1.3 million civilians, the US military has denied killing civilians in the al-Mansoura strike. “We have no indication that an air strike struck civilians near Raqqah as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims, however, since we have conducted several strikes near Raqqa we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation,” US Central Command (CENTCOM) told the Independent.

CENTCOM recently said it was investigating a March 16 US air strike targeting al-Qaeda militants in Al Jinah, in Aleppo province, that killed 49 civilians in a mosque during evening prayers. The US initially denied striking the mosque. “We did not target, nor did we strike a mosque. We targeted an al-Qaeda gathering across the street from a mosque,” a US military spokesman said.

The US-led coalition recently admitted it has killed at least 220 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the air campaign against Islamic State militants in 2014. However, human rights and monitor groups say the actual civilian death toll is much higher, with the independent UK-based group Airwars claiming at least 2,400 innocent men, women and children have been killed by coalition air strikes. Airwars claims 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. More than 400,000 Syrians have been killed since the insurgency against longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad erupted in 2011, with millions more displaced, creating Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.

“Although the Coalition takes extraordinary efforts to strike military targets in a manner that minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, in some incidents casualties are unavoidable,” a CENTCOM spokesperson said.

The recent surge in US-caused civilian deaths comes as the Trump administration 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. US Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Joseph Votel recently 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.

Many observers fear the spike in civilian deaths since President Donald Trump took office will continue, as the president has promised to “bomb the shit out of” IS and kill the innocent families of suspected militants. “You have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump said in December 2015.

Last week, the Trump administration said it was moving ahead with plans to make it easier for the military and Central Intelligence Agency to target enemy forces with drones, even if it means more innocent people will be killed. Changes include declaring more places “areas of active hostilities” and granting military and CIA forces greater autonomy to launch strikes without presidential approval in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. “Some of the Obama administration rules were getting in the way of good strikes,” a US official briefed on the changes told NBC News.

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.

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