In June of this year, the U.S. led a campaign to retake the city of Raqqa from ISIS fighters while the Russian and Syrian militaries were also attempting to do the same thing. In the first week of fighting, U.N. war crimes investigators warned that the U.S. had already killed 300 civilians from air strikes alone in that seven day period.
Rather than heed that warning, the U.S. has continued the same strategy of pounding Raqqa into the ground despite the likelihood of civilian casualties. Pentagon chief James “Mad Dog” Mattis has dismissed this horror as a mere “fact of life” — a very easy decision to make when the fighting doesn’t concern one’s own relatives. Not to mention that Donald Trump relaxed the rules surrounding air strikes earlier this year, meaning military generals on the ground (including Iraqi forces, for example) can call in airstrikes from the ground with zero oversight.
The result, the Intercept reports, is that entire families are being massacred by U.S.-led air strikes.
“We have seen incidents in which entire families have been wiped out. The scale of things is increasing significantly,” said Alex Hopkins, a researcher at AirWars.
According to Hopkins, there has been a “worrying increase in the rate of mass casualty incidents” in recent weeks, and disproportionate numbers of children are being reported killed in U.S.-led air strikes.
As the Intercept noted, Raqqa is home to very few die-hard ISIS supporters who are fighting to the death to defend its de-facto capital, whereas an estimated 160,000 civilians remain trapped in the crossfire of the city’s fighting.
The Intercept also spoke to witnesses and activists by phone who explained incidents of widespread civilian deaths at the hands of U.S. air strikes. These activists oppose ISIS and are based in Raqqa, according to the Intercept, and their identities remain confidential.
“The planes hit the street where he [father] was walking to go home. There were no ISIS members or headquarters in that street, my father was only 50 meters from home. I wished that he had hurried home that night, but he was too old and it took him time,” one activist said of his father’s death in June.
Drawing on research from Amnesty International and Airwars, the Intercept describes many other instances in which entire families were wiped out:
“For instance, a coalition airstrike in Raqqa City on August 14 killed a mother, Nahla Hamoud Al-Aran al-Shehab, and her three children, Marwa, Ahmed, and Mariam. Three days later, another strike killed 30 members of the al-Sayer family, including several children. On August 21, yet another attack killed eight members of the Al-Aliwi family, internally displaced refugees who had previously fled from fighting in their home city of Palmyra.
“Amnesty International researchers also visited a farmhouse in the Hukumya-Salhiya area northwest of Raqqa, where 14 people were reportedly killed in a coalition attack before the campaign to take the city officially began. Amnesty found fragments of GPS-guided American munitions, and judged that ‘from the pattern of destruction there seems little doubt that the house was destroyed by air strikes.’” [emphasis added]
In its most recent report, Amnesty International also explains a scenario in which one Syrian lost her mother, sisters, nephews and nieces “for no reason at all.”
“The planes were circling all night, and we could not even approach the house to get the two injured children out from under the rubble until the following day,” said another member of the family who witnessed the attack. “The bodies were in shreds. We recovered body parts hundreds of meters away.”
Up until the beginning of June, the U.S. only had two personnel investigating casualties in Iraq and Syria full-time. As the Intercept notes, the U.S. military rarely conducts interviews with survivors and regularly discounts the majority of reports on civilian deaths as “non-credible.” This makes it incredibly difficult to verify the exact number of civilian deaths, but it also demonstrates America’s shockingly non-existent commitment to international law. The U.S. military may boast that it takes the utmost care to protect civilians, but are we just supposed to take their word for it?
One should also bear in mind that when Amnesty International releases evidence condemning a U.S. arch rival, such as Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the U.S. government jumps all over it. When the tables turn, suddenly these reports of civilian deaths are “non-credible.”
And make no mistake – as horrifying as the terror being inflicted on Raqqa is, what is occurring in Raqqa right now is not taking place in isolation. The U.S. is delivering this disturbing criminality all over the world. In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition, which is armed, trained, and protected by the United States and the United Kingdom, is doing the exact same thing.
A recent airstrike in Yemen saw an entire family murdered; only one four-year-old girl survived. The New York Times reported the story with the headline “Young Yemen Girl Is Sole Survivor After Airstrike Topples Her Home.” The word “topple” suggests an NFL sports-like scenario. In comparison, when reporting on Russia’s bombing of Aleppo in 2016, the New York Times regularly used terms like “scorch” and “brutal,” words that were conveniently not employed this time around.
Just days ago, the Saudi-led coalition struck a hotel near Yemen’s capital, killing at least 60 people with two dead bodies hanging from the upper floor. These kinds of attacks seem to be occurring daily, and no target is off-limits for the coalition.
The U.S. has already been warned that its support for the war in Yemen could attract serious legal consequences, and despite this, Yemen is clearly not the only location where the U.S. is rolling out this criminal strategy.
One of Trump’s campaign pledges was that he would not only bomb the shit out of ISIS via attacking their oil fields but that he would kill their families too. Even if every single family member documented above was related in some way, shape, or form to a member of ISIS, these acts are still legally and morally repugnant and should be condemned in the strongest terms. As such, the only evidence at hand shows these civilians were completely innocent, which makes their deaths wholly inexcusable — particularly when they occur on such a large scale.
Unfortunately, one can’t rely on the mass media or governmental institutions to do their job and hold their militaries to account, especially when the media is more concerned with what Trump tweets as opposed to how many hundreds of children he is killing in the Middle East.
In that regard, it is probably quite time for the media to review its priorities.
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