U.S. probes new “civilian fatalities” in Syria

December 4, 2021 - 17:56

TEHRAN - The United States has triggered further controversy after acknowledging an airstrike it launched on Friday may have led to more civilian casualties in Syria.

The U.S. Central Command has launched an investigation after the attack carried out with an American MQ-9 Reaper drone against an alleged al-Qaeda member in Syria’s northwest “may have killed civilians.” That’s according to a spokesman for Central Command. 

Recently, Washington has been announcing more investigations into civilian casualties as a result of its airstrikes over fears the news will be reported by the media or even leaked to the media. As it happens a local news network reported casualties in Southern Idlib from an air raid just hours prior to the U.S announcement. The speed of the American acknowledgment of possible civilian fatalities suggests a strong link to the news report and that civilian fatality are indeed more than likely to have occurred. 

Moreover, the fact that the Pentagon has refused to publish the name of the alleged terrorist individual it claims to have targeted also speaks volumes and indicates Washington is offering a different narrative to what it had reported. It may also suggest the intended target, who might or might not have been a terrorist, has not neutralized as claimed. Washington says the target was supposedly an al-Qaeda terrorist leader whose death will “disrupt the group’s operations and their ability to plan attacks.” Critics argue that all the indications are this was a botched operation as the U.S. rarely intervenes in Idlib where terrorists have been holed up in the only province that is not under Syrian government control. On the contrary, the U.S., along with Israel, has been accused of helping the terrorist militants operating in the North-Western province. The U.S. presence in Syria itself is illegal as it has not received a mandate from the UN to operate militarily in the country nor an invitation from the Syrian government. 

In a statement, U.S. central command said an initial review of the strike indicated the possibility of civilian casualties. A spokesman claimed "we abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them, the possibility of a civilian casualty was immediately self-reported to U.S. Central Command. We are initiating a full investigation of the allegations and will release the results when appropriate."

Critics argue that all the indications are this was a botched operation as the U.S. rarely intervenes in Idlib. The administration of Joe Biden has been suffering some major PR setbacks over the past few months leading to a sharp decline in the U.S. President’s popularity.

The attack on Syria’s North-Western Idlib province has some similarities to previous American operations. It’s not the first time Central Command has used alleged terror targets as an excuse after killing civilians; as the U.S. military has lately come under increasing sharp scrutiny. For example, in late August, as the U.S. chaotically withdrew from Afghanistan, an airstrike killed at least 10 civilians, including seven children. The American military’s handling of the drone strike in the Afghan capital Kabul led to widespread l condemnation. It did not acknowledge that any civilians had been killed only after media reports began raising serious doubts about Washington’s account of the strike. The Defense Department has yet to hold anyone accountable following an internal American investigation that found "execution errors" led to what Pentagon officials called a "tragic mistake.” In other words, a major intelligence blunder. 

But how many U.S. intelligence blunders has the international community witnessed? 

You can go back many decades or the invasion of Iraq or the more recent extensive and explosive New York Times investigation of a U.S. airstrike in Syria conducted in 2019. The report found that F-15 warplanes dropped a 500-pound bomb on a large crowd of women and children huddled against a riverbank. The report says “as the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors.” Despite killing around 70 civilians and an army legal officer flagging the airstrikes as a possible war crime; the U.S. military at every step took measures that concealed the horrific attack from the public. 

Only after the New York Times report published its months-long probe, did an acknowledgment come of potential civilian casualties and the immediate opening of an investigation after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a review. The Pentagon meanwhile, only recently admitted that the bombs dropped had killed civilians. In mid-November 2021, U.S. Central Command acknowledged for the first time that the previously undisclosed airstrikes in 2019 killed multiple civilians, including women and children.

But what if there was no publication of a New York Times investigation into what has been described as terror attacks. How many other airstrikes have been covered up because of multiple civilian casualties? Is it the case that only after media reports and media investigations are published that the U.S. launches an internal probe? Austin says he is "committed to adjusting our policies and our procedures to make sure that we improve” and that "leaders in this department should be held to account for high standards of conduct and leadership."

But Austin is the Secretary of Defense; he is that leadership, which raises another important matter. The Pentagon says reviews are being held into the New York Times investigation which was later acknowledged by the Pentagon. Experts argue that the problem lies with Washington conducting its own internal investigations. If there is to be serious accountability into what is more than likely war crimes then they must be investigated by a foreign investigative committee. In an ideal world that would involve something like a team of experts arriving from The Hague. The chances of that happening are not slim; they are close to zero and critics would argue that is because America sees itself as above the law. 

It’s one rule for the United States and another for the rest of the world. This imperialistic view of the world that Washington sees itself must end. U.S. airstrikes in West Asia and Africa must be done in a transparent manner among the international community because the harm they are causing strongly outweigh any good. The Pentagon claims it has conducted tens of thousands of airstrikes over the past few years, but that number could range into the hundreds of thousands because nobody is exactly counting. Even with a single casualty, from drones or from warplanes targeting a member of a single-family, it is the easiest and fastest method that turns ordinary people into extremists who later go on to join terror groups. 

Washington claims to be fighting terrorism, but its campaign of airstrikes in West Asia and beyond is having the opposite effect. Some
analysts have argued that is actually the desired goal that the Pentagon is trying to achieve. 

And that would explain the rise in terrorist groups in West Asia. More terrorism means more instability in the region and that benefits the U.S. in more ways than one. From maintaining a military presence in the region by ironically and allegedly fighting terrorism all the way to selling weapons and making a considerable amount of profit for the industrial-military complex.  

This American air campaign, which was never rubber-stamped for approval by any UN resolution, saw an uptick during the era of former President Barack Obama. During his tenure drones were increasingly relied upon (instead of warplanes or ground troops) to quietly enter a country, attack, and depart without leaving any traces of evidence of the perpetrators.


 

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