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Killing civilians in Iraq and Syria

Trump administration has shifted from extermination to annihilation in its war against Islamic State

Edward Hunt | FPIF 

File photo. Iraqi soldiers pose with an Islamic State militant flag in Fallujah, Iraq after forces re-took the city center after two years of IS control
File photo. Iraqi soldiers pose with an Islamic State militant flag in Fallujah, Iraq after forces re-took the city center after two years of IS control

The ongoing effort of the United States to eradicate the by aggressively launching airstrikes against targets that include non-combatants is causing significant harm to in and

Estimates of from airstrikes range from the hundreds to the tens of thousands. Although the U.S. government says that it has killed 603 in airstrikes since the start of military operations in 2014, the monitoring group Airwars estimates that airstrikes have killed at least 4,500 civilians, including nearly 1,000 children.

Some of the strikes have been horrific. One attack in last March killed at least 100 and injured countless more. “Dozens of Iraqi civilians, some of them still alive and calling out for help, were buried for days under the rubble of their homes in western after American-led airstrikes flattened almost an entire city block,” The New York Times reported.

Officials in Washington deny any wrongdoing. They insist that they are taking every precaution to protect They also argue that they are not intentionally killing civilians, despite the fact that President promised during his presidential campaign to go after When it comes to terrorists, “you have to take out their families,” said.

argue that cannot be avoided. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of coalition forces, said during a press conference last March that result from the fog of war. “And this is why it’s not a war crime to accidentally kill civilians,” Townsend said, in a misinterpretation of the law.

Still, U.S. officials know that they are responsible for killing in and For over the past year, at least, they have been deliberately striking targets that they know will result in

Clear evidence emerged in January 2016 after U.S. forces bombed a site in a civilian area of that the (or IS) had been using to store money. “U.S. commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 from the airstrike due to the importance of the target,” CNN reported.

Around the same time, officials in the administration loosened restrictions designed to limit According to a report by USA Today, administration officials granted military officials permission to strike targets that came with higher probabilities of “Before the change,” USA Today reported, “there were some limited cases in which were allowed.” With the change, “there are several targeting areas in which the probability of 10 are permitted.”

For others, U.S. military forces were still dealing with too many restrictions. Upon entering office, President moved to implement a more aggressive military campaign. “We have not used the real abilities that we have,” said. “We’ve been restrained.” Expanding the administration’s program of exterminatory warfare, which by that point had already killed about 60,000 IS fighters, decided to implement what administration officials call “annihilation tactics.” According to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, “directed a tactical shift from shoving out of safe locations in an attrition fight to surrounding the enemy in their strongholds so we can annihilate

The administration’s tactical shift has had significant consequences for By surrounding targets to annihilate them, coalition forces have been killing far more in and It “appears that the number of has risen in recent months,” The Los Angeles Times reported in April. The New York Times agreed, reporting in May that the “number of killed in American-led airstrikes in and spiked this year.” Earlier this week, The Daily Beast provided additional confirmation, reporting that “all parties agree that casualty numbers are steeply up.”

Military officials recognize the consequences of their actions. “We’re not perfect,” Lieutenant General Jeffrey Harrigian, the commander of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, commented during a press briefing last May, when asked about from airstrikes. Commander Townsend has even suggested that are inevitable. Undoubtedly, “will get caught in the crossfire,” Townsend said earlier this month. “will get hurt. will get killed.”

Still, U.S. officials continue to insist that they are not to blame. They characterize as accidents or mistakes. In other words, they keep shifting the blame elsewhere, just as Townsend did when he once again blamed the fog of war. The entire situation is “sad and it’s an unavoidable part of war,” he said.

But are not unavoidable. They are not mistakes. For the past year, have been a direct result of U.S. policy. By embracing policies that allow for civilian casualties, officials in both the and administrations have permitted U.S. forces to kill Indeed, U.S. officials are ensuring through their actions and policies that in and will continue to die.
Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.

First Published: Wed, July 26 2017. 08:49 IST