The Civilian Casualties of the Wars (II)


BERLIN/MOSUL/DAMASCUS (Own report) - According to a documentation, at least 300 civilians have been killed in Syria during US led Anti-IS Coalition airstrikes - with the involvement of German soldiers. The human rights organization Amnesty International presented the documentation on eleven of these air raids yesterday. The total number of civilian casualties caused by the airstrikes since the war on IS was launched in September 2014, can be expected to be much higher - up to 1200, according to observers. And this does not even include the number of casualties from western raids on Iraq, or the casualties that can be expected during neither the recapture of Mosul that has recently been started nor the forthcoming recapture of Raqqa. The German military is involved in preparing these airstrikes with reconnaissance flights and in-flight refueling. Whereas German politicians are reacting with indignation to casualties in East Aleppo from Russian airstrikes and calling for sanctions, no such demands are raised regarding the western Anti-IS Coalition.

Bombed and Shelled

US-led Anti-IS Coalition airstrikes have killed at least 300 civilians in Syria alone, Amnesty International reported. In its report, published yesterday, the human rights organization documented eleven airstrikes between September 23, 2014 and July 28, 2016, which the US military claims killed only one civilian. In the airstrike on the al-Tukhar village, near Manbij, on July 19, 2016 alone, at least 73 civilians were killed, including 27 children. On July 28, 2016, airstrikes on a public market in al-Ghandoura near Manbij killed at least 28 civilians including seven children. A double-tap on the village of Ayn al-Khan in al-Hasaka governorate during the early hours of December 7, 2015, killed 40 civilians, including 19 children. Several survivors of the first airstrike were immediately mowed down by the crew of a helicopter gunship. The attack was carried out despite the fact that combatants of the Syrian Kurdish YPG had explicitly warned the Anti-IS Coalition of civilians in the area. Amnesty International's report suggests that the Anti-IS Coalition forces failed to take the necessary precautions or even knowingly ignored warnings of harm to civilians.[1]

No Model

Amnesty points out that the total number of civilians killed in airstrikes could be much higher than the 300 documented casualties. The independent organization “Airwars," monitoring the Anti-IS Coalition's airstrikes, indicates that the number of civilian casualties between September 23, 2014 and August 2016 could be between 800 and 1,200. Syrian human rights organizations arrive at similar calculations.[2] And this does not even include the number of casualties during western raids on Iraq. Because of the high quantity of civilian casualties in Syria, there is great concern about the Anti-IS Coalition's recently launched military offensive to liberate Mosul, Amnesty writes: More than 200 Syrian civilians are believed to have been killed in Anti-IS Coalition airstrikes during the offensive to recapture the Syrian town Manbij, and Manbij, with its original 75,000 inhabitants, is significantly smaller than Mosul, with a current population of nearly 1.5 Million.[3] It is unknown how many civilians had been killed in late 2015, during the recapture of the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Observers note that most of the over 400,000 inhabitants had fled Ramadi, leaving only a few thousand still in the city. In any case, 80 percent of the city has been destroyed by airstrikes and other bombings. A US Army officer admonished that Ramadi was not liberated, but simply destroyed. The goal of U.S. strategy should be to drive IS out of Iraq "while there is still something of western Iraq left to save." In any case, the battle over Ramadi is "no model" for future conquest.[4]

In the Air Force Headquarters

As before, it remains unclear what role the German officers are playing in preparing and executing mortal air strikes on civilians. Attacks in Syria, as well as in Iraq, are being coordinated from the US military's tactical air force headquarters (Combined Air and Space Operations Center, CAOC ) at the US base Al Udeid, about 30 km southwest of the Qatari capital Doha. The German Bundeswehr has 8 officers stationed there, whose particular job is to coordinate and monitor the flights of German “recce tornado" reconnaissance jets and of German Airbus A-310 MRTT tanker aircraft. It is alleged that the German officers at Al Udeid receive at least a "deep insight into the operations management" of the air strikes. Besides, they ensure that the units executing the air strikes are provided the necessary reconnaissance data,[5] which is indispensable in waging an air war. In addition, German soldiers aboard AWACS aircraft will soon be controlling Syria and Iraq's airspace. German soldiers are also contributing to the current battle for Mosul.

Authorized Killings

However, there has been no protest about the Pentagon having systematically subverted civilian protection standards. Back in the spring, it was reported that the more aggressive approach to combating IS has led Washington to accept the risk that more civilians could be killed.[6] Initially, the authority to approve targets, when there is the risk that civilians could be killed has been shifted from the headquarters of U.S. Central Command to the commander of the combat troops. Subsequently, the amount of permissible civilian deaths has been augmented for individual air strikes. Previously, official authorization for risking the lives of individual civilians was only granted case by case, however now these authorizations have begun to be granted, even if the possible civilian casualties of a single air strike could be ten. This is explicitly in regards to the planned retaking of cities conquered by IS, such as Raqqa, according to the report.[7]

Double Standards

German politicians were indignant about the number of civilian casualties in airstrikes in Syria - that is, solely about cases of Russian airstrikes in Eastern Aleppo. The Chair of the German Bundestag’s Foreign Affairs Committee Norbert Röttgen (CDU) demanded consequences be taken for the Russian bombings: "It would be a scandal to let these most serious war crimes go without consequences or sanctions."[8] Chair of the Green’s parliamentary group Katrin Göring-Eckardt demanded that the German government "initiate a process for imposing new sanctions against Russia for its barbaric course of action in Syria."[9] Numerous other German politicians have expressed similar views. However, in Berlin no consequences are being demanded for the US-led anti-IS coalition airstrikes’ documented civilian casualties, not even for the upcoming battle for Mosul, where similar massacres could result. Through their reconnaissance and refueling missions, German soldiers could be preparing also the groundwork for these air strikes.

Media Reports as Study Material

The western politicians and media’s double standards recently provoked angry remarks from the award-winning British Middle East correspondent, Patrick Cockburn. The situation in Mosul is very similar to East Aleppo, he says. The two cities are under the control of a few thousand jihadis, who prohibit inhabitants wanting to leave - estimated by the UN at 50% in Aleppo - from going. Both cities are besieged and under attack. Whereas, the jihadis in Mosul are - rightfully- accused of misusing the civilians as "human shields," and therefore held responsible for the ensuing deaths, the jihadis in East Aleppo are considered "rebels" and the Russians are blamed for the deaths of civilians being held captive. Cockburn continues his comparison of the two cities and concludes that the bias is "extreme” in western media. It will be "a rewarding subject for students looking at the uses and abuses of propaganda."[10]

[1] USA must come clean about civilian deaths caused by Coalition air strikes in Syria. 26.10.2016.
[2] Amnesty International: Appendix: Cases of suspected civilian casualties in US-led Combined Joint Task Force attacks in Syria since 23 september 2014.
[3] USA must come clean about civilian deaths caused by Coalition air strikes in Syria. 26.10.2016.
[4] John Ford: Ramadi is No Model For Fighting ISIS. 18.01.2016.
[5] See Im Luftwaffenhauptquartier.
[6], [7] Tom Vanden Brook: New rules allow more civilian casualties in air war against ISIL. 19.04.2016.
[8] CDU-Politiker fordern Sanktionen gegen Russland. 07.10.2016.
[9] Katrin Göring-Eckardt: Der Druck auf Assad und Putin muss wachsen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 15.10.2016. See Spiel mit dem Weltkrieg.
[10] Patrick Cockburn: Compare the coverage of Mosul and East Aleppo and it tells you a lot about the propaganda we consume. 23.10.2016.