Moral Low Ground


Monitor: US-Led Coalition Killing the Most Syrian Civilians

F-15E Strike Eagles from the USAF 335th Fighter Squadron on a training mission. (USAF/Flickr Creative Commons)

For the second straight month, the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS) killed more Syrian civilians than IS, dictator Bashar al-Assad’s forces or Russian air strikes, according to a leading monitor group.

The independent Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reports 964 Syrian civilians were killed in May. US-led coalition forces reportedly killed 273 Syrian civilians last month, compared to 268 innocents killed by IS and other Islamist militants. Syrian regime forces and allied Iranian Shia militias are blamed for 241 civilian deaths, while Russian forces reportedly killed 13 people. Kurdish fighters killed 54 civilians. “International coalition forces have again killed more civilian that any other party,” SNHR said, noting 29 percent of all civilians deaths last month were attributed to US-led forces. The group added that “the actual number of victims is much greater than what is being recorded.”

In what was likely the deadliest incident in the nearly three-year US-led bombing campaign in Syria, more than 100 civilians — nearly half of them children — died in multiple coalition air strikes on central Mayadeen, Deir Ezzor province on May 25. Other mass casualty events last month included a May 14 air strike that hit a convoy of farm workers in Akayrshi, killing as many as 22 civilians, 12 of them women, and a May 15 air strike on an IS-controlled town near the Iraqi border that left 23 people dead.

Reports of civilian casualties have increased as US-backed Syrian fighters, including the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), advance deeper into IS-held territory in and around Raqqa. The independent UK-based monitor group Airwars has reported at least 140 and as many as 200 residents of Raqqa alone have been killed in just the first 10 days of June by anti-IS coalition forces. Airwars says a minimum of 3,962 to 6,187 civilians are likely to have died in coalition actions in Iraq and Syria since the beginning of the anti-IS air campaign in 2014.

On Wednesday, United Nations war crimes investigators condemned the “staggering loss of civilian life” caused by US and coalition attacks in Raqqa. Also on Wednesday, the international human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) voiced alarm over the use of incendiary white phosphorus munitions by US forces in densely-populated urban areas — a likely war crime under international law. “No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul and any other areas with concentrations of civilians,” HRW said.

Civilian casualties have soared since Donald Trump became commander-in-chief. Trump promised to “bomb the shit out of” IS fighters and “take out their families” while campaigning for president, actions that are war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and other laws. Since entering office, Trump has loosened rules of engagement meant to protect civilians in the war against terrorism. Speaking last month to graduating cadets at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the US is “accelerating the tempo” of the war against IS, in which the US is shifting from a policy of “attrition” to one of “annihilation.”

“Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation,” Mattis asserted.

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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