Moral Low Ground


At Least 106 Syrian Civilians — Including 47 Children — Killed in US-Led Air Strikes on Mayadeen

Dozens of children and babies are among the hundreds of civilians killed in US-led coalition and Iraqi air strikes and shelling in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks, mostly in and around Mosul and Raqqa. (Photo: Iraqi Spring Media Group)

In what is likely the deadliest incident in the nearly three-year US-led bombing campaign against Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria, 106 civilians — including 47 children — died in multiple strikes on a town in Deir Ezzor province.

The Los Angeles Times cites the independent UK-based monitor group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which reported US-led coalition air strikes pounded central Mayadeen, located along the Euphrates River about 27 miles (44 km) southeast of Deir Ezzor, on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Agence France-Presse reporter Maya Gebeily tweeted that 132 civilians died in coalition raids on Mayadeen over three days, with 15 people killed on Wednesday, 37 killed on Thursday and 80 killed on Friday.

SOHR director Rami Abdul Rahman told the Times the victims were relatives of IS militants residing in Mayadeen’s municipal building. A local activist said the strikes also targeted a nearby hospital converted into a residence by IS militants. “The forklifts are still removing the rubble and finding corpses in the area,” the activist, who identified himself only by his first name Khaled for fear of reprisals, told the Times. “The fire after the strike was so powerful that it spread to school buildings nearby. They only managed to put it out today.”

Rahman said the vast majority of victims were women and children. “In these two days alone, coalition airstrikes on the city of Mayadeen killed 47 children, and the rest of the victims… the vast majority were women,” he told the Times. “By what right does the coalition kill women and children, even if they are family of Islamic State fighters?”

While campaigning for president, Donald Trump vowed to “bomb the shit” out of IS militants and “take out their families” — a war crime under the Geneva Convention. Since Trump became commander-in-chief, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of Syrian and Iraqi civilians killed in US-led and Iraqi air and artillery strikes as coalition forces engage in fierce urban fighting to recapture cities including Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest, and Raqqa, the de facto IS capital in Syria. According to the UK-based journalistic monitor group Airwars, US-led bombing killed more Syrian civilians than dictator Bashar al-Assad’s air strikes in the period from April 23 to May 23, the most recent studied.

The US military acknowledged bombing Mayadeen but as is usually the case Pentagon officials would not admit responsibility for the civilian deaths. “Coalition forces work diligently and deliberately to be precise in our airstrikes,” Col. Joe Scrocca, a US Army spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters. “Coalition forces comply with the law of armed conflict and take all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians.”

Scrocca said the US goal “has always been for zero civilian casualties.” However, since the start of the anti-IS air campaign in 2014, Airwars says between 3,681 and 5,849 Iraqi and Syrian civilians have died in US-led or Iraqi government attacks, although the vast majority of the more than 400,000 Syrians killed during the country’s six-year civil war died at the hands of Assad’s forces. In the wider US-led war against Islamist terrorism, death toll estimates range from the hundreds of thousands to over 1.3 million. Since the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan to end World War II, the US military has killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world, by far.

The US has increasingly been criticized not only for killing large numbers of innocents but also for denying responsibility for some of its air strikes and for dramatically undercounting civilian casualties. Survivors of US-led bombings accuse the US military of lying about the number of civilians it kills. According to the Pentagon, air strikes have killed 352 Syrian and Iraqi civilians since the US-led coalition intervened in the Syrian civil war in 2014. This is far lower than the low-end death figure of 3,681 reported by Airwars. This disparity is partially explained by the fact that Pentagon does not investigate most reported civilian casualties attributed to the coalition.

The Mayadeen strikes came just hours after United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein strongly condemned the US-led bombing of civilians. “The same civilians who are suffering indiscriminate shelling and summary executions by ISIL (IS) are also falling victim to the escalating airstrikes, particularly in the northeastern governorates,” Al Hussein said. “Just because ISIL holds an area does not mean less care can be taken. Civilians should always be protected, whether they are in areas controlled by ISIL or by any other party.”

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