raqi President Barham Salih speaking in an interview that aired Tuesday with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. (Screengrab/CNN)
Iraqi President Barham Salih said Tuesday that the United States has no right to use his country as a launchpad for a strike against Iran.
Salih, in his interview with CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour, also talked about the adverse impacts his own country has felt as a result of U.S. imposed sanctions, stressed the need to prevent another war, and warned that tearing up the nuclear deal entirely “could be disastrous for the entire neighborhood as a whole.” Continue reading →
Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad were awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of their work to end sexual violence as a weapon of war. (Photo: European Parliament/Bundesministerium für Europa/Flickr/cc)
Two influential figures in the fight against sexual violence as a weapon of war were chosen as 2018’s recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.
Dr. Denis Mukwege was recognized for treating victims of rape, while Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who has spoken out about being held as a sex slave by ISIS, was awarded the prize for her work as a human rights campaigner following her experience. Continue reading →
On Saturday, the Defense Postreported that the U.S.-led coalition in Syria was building a 30,000-member “border force,” made up predominantly of Kurdish and Arab Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as well as some unspecified new recruits.
“The Coalition is working jointly with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to establish and train the new Syrian Border Security Force (BSF). Currently, there are approximately 230 individuals training in the BSF’s inaugural class, with the goal of a final force size of approximately 30,000,” CJTF-OIR Public Affairs Officer Colonel Thomas F. Veale told Defense Post. Continue reading →
When President Donald Trump took office in January, it was unclear whether the bombast from his campaign would translate into an aggressive new strategy against terrorism. At campaign rallies he pledged to “bomb the hell” out of the Islamic State. He openly mused about killing the families of terrorists, a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits violence against noncombatants.
Ten months into his presidency, a clearer picture is emerging. The data indicate several alarming trends.
According to research from the nonprofit monitoring group Airwars, the first seven months of the Trump administration have already resulted in more civilian deaths than under the entirety of the Obama administration. Airwars reports that under Obama’s leadership, the fight against IS led to approximately 2,300 to 3,400 civilian deaths. Through the first seven months of the Trump administration, they estimate that coalition air strikes have killed between 2,800 and 4,500 civilians.
Researchers also point to another stunning trend – the “frequent killing of entire families in likely coalition airstrikes.” In May, for example, such actions led to the deaths of at least 57 women and 52 children in Iraq and Syria.
The vast increase in civilian deaths is not limited to the anti-IS campaign. In Afghanistan, the U.N. reports a 67 percent increase in civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in the first six months of 2017 compared to the first half of 2016.
The key question is: Why? Are these increases due to a change in leadership?
Delegating war to the military
Experts offer several explanations.
One holds that Trump’s “total authorization” for the military to run wars in Afghanistan and against IS has loosened Obama-era restrictions and increased military commanders’ risk tolerance. Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations notes: “Those closer to the fight are more likely to call in lethal force and are less likely to follow a value-based approach.”
In other words, an intense focus on destroying IS elements may be overriding the competing priority of protecting civilians. Because Trump has scaled back civilian oversight and delegated authority to colonels rather than one-star generals, the likely result is higher casualties.
A second explanation points to the changing nature of the counter-IS campaign. The Pentagon contends that the rise in casualties is “attributable to the change in location” of battlefield operations towards more densely populated urban environments like Mosul and Raqqa.
This is a partial truth. While urban warfare has increased, Trump’s team has substantially escalated air strikes and bombings. According to CENTCOM data, the military has already used 20 percent more missiles and bombs in combined air operations in 2017 than in all of 2016. One notable airstrike in March, for example, killed 105 Iraqi civilians when U.S. forces dropped a 500-pound bomb in order to take out two snipers in Mosul. In fact, a Human Rights Watch analysis of bomb craters in West Mosul estimates that U.S. coalition forces are routinely using larger and less precise bombs – weighing between 500 and 1,000 pounds – than in prior operations. Finally, the urban battlefield explanation also does not account for increased civilian deaths in Afghanistan from airstrikes, where the environment has remained static for several years.
Pressure from the president
A third explanation of higher civilian casualties is that aggressive rhetoric from the president is inadvertently pressuring the military to take more risks and to deprioritize protecting civilians.
As former Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski observes: “If your leaders are emphasizing the high value of Raqqa and Mosul, while saying less about the strategic and moral risks of hurting civilians, it’s going to affect your judgment.” Words matter, especially coming from the commander-in-chief. In the face of such aggressive rhetoric, it should not come as a surprise that military officers feel encouraged – if not indirectly pressured – to take greater risks.
Unfortunately, the increased trend of civilian casualties is unlikely to diminish. In fact, signs abound that the White House is developing a new set of policies and procedures that will authorize more sweeping discretion to the military. In September, The New York Times reported that White House officials were proposing two major rules changes. First, they would expand the scope of “kill missions” and allow for the targeting of lower-level terrorists in addition to high value targets. Second – and more notably – they would suspend high-level vetting of potential drone attacks and raids.
Then, in 2016, Obama issued an executive order on civilian harm that established heightened standards to minimize civilian casualties from military actions, and required the public release of information pertaining to strikes against terrorist targets.
While the latest actions from the Trump administration stop short of reversing Obama-era restraints, they are unsettling steps in the opposite direction. For example, it appears for now that the White House will preserve the “near certainty” standard, which requires commanders to have near certainty that a potential strike will not impact civilians. But this could change over time.
One senior official quoted in The New York Times article bluntly asserts that the latest changes are intended to make much of the “bureaucracy” created by the Obama administration rules “disappear.” As the White House dissolves the existing bureaucracy and relinquishes civilian oversight, Trump is embarking on a slippery slope that will potentially lead to major diminutions of civilian protection.
The current battle to take the Syrian city of Raqqa is emblematic of the stakes at hand. The U.S. is leading a punishing air war to soften IS defenses. In August, U.S. forces dropped 5,775 bombs and missiles onto the city. For context, this represented 10 times more munitions than the U.S. used for the whole of Afghanistan in the same month and year. The resulting civilian toll has been gruesome. At least 433 civilians likely died in Raqqa due to the August bombings, more than double the previous month’s total. Since the assault on Raqqa commenced on June 6, more than 1,000 civilians have been reported killed.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein cautions that the intense bombardment has left civilians caught between IS’s monstrosities and the fierce battle to defeat it. Zeid insists that “civilians must not be sacrificed for the sake of rapid military victories.”
Trump would be wise to heed this warning. Even as U.S. forces continue to turn the tide on IS, the trail of destruction left in the campaign’s wake is unsettling. The specter of massive civilian casualties will remain a rallying point for new terrorist organizations long after anti-IS operations conclude.
Reports indicate that in the past week, at least 170 civilians—including dozens of women and children—have been killed by the U.S.-led airwar in Raqqa, a Syrian city controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS). (Photo: @Raqqa_SL/Twitter)
As President Donald Trump expands the war in Afghanistan, which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday is partly inspired by “successful” tactics used in the war against the Islamic State (ISIS), Reutersreports that in the past week alone, more than 170 civilians were killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Raqqa, a Syrian city ISIS considers its capitol.
“The monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 42 people, including 19 children and 12 women, were killed on Monday in strikes that destroyed buildings where families were sheltering,” Reuters reports. The observatory claims this marks the single largest daily death toll since the U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of Kurdish and Arab militias, began their mission to capture Raqqa in June. Continue reading →
Generally speaking, people can be lumped into three main categories. The first category consists of the typical apathetic, celebrity-idol worshiping citizen who watched Miley Cyrus twerk on stage at the VMA Awards in 2013 and gossiped with his or her friends for a straight week afterward. This group buys this sort of nonsense as a source of entertainment. The second category is comprised of self-proclaimed academics who wrote overly-crafted opinion pieces claiming Miley Cyrus’ twerking – as one commentator put it – either “drew criticism from feminists for degrading her sex and from some pundits for ‘picking the pocket of black culture.’”
Then you have the third category – a lone, isolated group of individuals who pay zero attention to the celebrity world and realize that at the same time Miley Cyrus’ VMA stunt took full swing in the media, the Obama administration was attempting to bomb another sovereign nation into complete submission over unfounded allegations of chemical weapons attacks. As we now know, this military strike plan actually involved taking out Syria’s air defenses and air force, a strategy that would have required approximately 70,000 U.S. troops and led to countless Syrian deaths. Continue reading →
“A group of heavily-armed militants from a group linked to Isis have reportedly stormed a city in the Philippines and engaged in firefights with the national army.”
According to Reuters, Manila has mobilized attack helicopters and special police forces to drive these militants from the streets of Marawi City, which is located on Mindanao Island. Continue reading →
Civil defense team members and people try to rescue people who were trapped under the debris of a Mosque after an aerial attack on a mosque during prayer in the Cina village of Etarib district of Aleppo, Syria on March 16, 2017. (Photo: İbrahim Ebu Leys/ Anadolu Agency )
Scores of civilians, including more than 30 children, have been killed in recent days as an escalated air assault led by the United States continues in eastern Syria despite warnings from the United Nations over the careless and indiscriminate attacks.
An early morning airstrike in the town of Mayadeen on Friday killed more than “80 relatives of Islamic State (ISIS) group fighters,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights toldAFP. According to Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the monitoring group, this toll “includes 33 children. They were families seeking refuge in the town’s municipal building.” Continue reading →
Men load the bodies of people recovered from the rubble of a house in western Mosul. More than 200 are feared dead after what appears to be a U.S. bombing raid. (Photograph: Cengiz Yar)
The carnage continues. And appears to be growing.
With the war that President George W. Bush started and that President Barack Obama failed to end now in the hands of President Donald Trump, global outrage and condemnation was expressed over the weekend as details emerged over a U.S. bombing in Iraq that may have killed 200 or more innocent civilians, many of them children and families seeking shelter.
The aerial attack on homes and buildings in the city of Mosul, where Iraqi and U.S. coalition forces have been battling Islamic State (ISIS) forces for months, actually took on March 17 but as evidence of the destruction and deathtoll emerged, the Guardianreported Saturday it may turn out to be “one of the deadliest bombing raids for civilians since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.” Continue reading →
Though a number of U.S. soldiers were previously deployed to Syria under the Obama administration, the U.S. government has just sent an additional 400 troops to Syrian territory without congressional approval, without approval from the Syrian government, and without approval from the U.N.
Given the illegality of the move, the real question regarding the operation must focus on the motive. Why is the United States military, under a president who ran on a campaign of focusing less on wars abroad, sending more troops to Syrian territory? Trump supporters often argue this is to fulfill his campaign promise to defeat ISIS. Continue reading →