Moral Low Ground


Mattis: More Civilians Will Die In US ‘Annihilation’ of Islamic State

Defense Secretary James Mattis said the Trump administration was shifting from “attrition” to “annihilation” tactics in the fight against Islamic State. (Photo: USGLC/Flickr Creative Commons)

Defense Secretary James Mattis said the US will escalate its bombing campaign against Islamic State, adding that civilian deaths are an inevitable result of the Trump administration’s policy of “annihilation” of the militant group.

Speaking on Sunday to graduating cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, Mattis — a retired Marine Corps general who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” while commanding the atrocity-laden battle for Fallujah, Iraq in 2004 — said American forces are “accelerating the tempo” of the war against IS, in which the US is shifting from a policy of “attrition” to one of “annihilation.”

“Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight to return home to North Africa, to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa,” Mattis said. “We’re not going to allow them to do so. We’re going to stop them there and take apart the caliphate.” He warned that it would be “a long fight” and that innocent men, women and children would inevitably die.

“Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation,” Mattis asserted. “We’re not the perfect guys, but we are the good guys. And so we’re doing what we can [to avoid harming civilians].”

Perpetrators of Islamist terror attacks have long cited US killing of innocents as a primary motivating factor. Salman Abedi, the leading suspect in the May 22 bombing outside an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in Britain that killed 22 people, reportedly carried out the horrific attack to avenge the deaths of innocent people killed by US air strikes in Syria. Mattis referenced Manchester in his speech, but only as justification for keeping up the fight against IS.

Mattis insisted that “the American people and the American military will never get used to civilian casualties.” However, there has been little to no coverage in the US corporate mainstream media — especially on cable and network television news — of the dramatic increase in civilian deaths since Donald Trump became commander-in-chief. While campaigning for president, Trump vowed to “bomb the shit” out of IS fighters and kill their families, a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Since entering office, Trump has loosened rules of engagement meant to protect civilians in the war against terrorism. As US forces assist Syrian rebels in the fight to capture Raqqa, the de facto IS capital in Syria, and aid Iraqi allies in the battle for Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, civilian deaths and injuries have soared.

According to the independent monitor group Airwars, US-led coalition bombing killed more Syrian civilians in the period April 23 to May 23 than air strikes carried out by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The previous month, US air strikes reportedly killed more Syrians than either IS or Russian forces, which have been fiercely bombing Islamist insurgents and innocent civilians alike in support of Assad. In what is likely the deadliest incident in the nearly three-year US-led bombing campaign against IS fighters in Syria, at least 106 civilians, including 47 children, died in multiple strikes on the town of Mayadeen last week.

In Iraq, thousands of civilians have been killed or wounded by US-led and Iraqi air and artillery strikes on densely populated neighborhoods of Mosul and other cities and towns. At least 278 residents of the al-Jadida neighborhood of besieged West Mosul died in a March 17 air strike on home where hundreds of terrified civilians sought shelter from the fighting. As is the case in so many coalition air strikes, many of the victims were women and children.

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 3,681 to 5,849 Syrian and Iraqi deaths attributed to the coalition by Airwars. This disparity is partially explained by the fact that Pentagon does not investigate most reported civilian casualties attributed to the coalition.

The vast majority of the more than 400,000 Syrians killed during the country’s six-year civil war have died at the hands of Assad’s forces. However, in the wider war against terrorism waged incessantly by the US since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, at least hundreds of thousands and perhaps more than 1.3 million people have been killed in more than half a dozen predominantly Muslim nations.

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.

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