Civilian Casualties in US-led Attacks

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US airstrikes are causing increasing civilian casualties in the Middle East and the administration’s deepening ties with arms corporations, and more lenient rules of engagement are mainly to blame.

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Narration: Iraq, Yemen and Syria are among the Muslim countries where the United States is deeply involved in deadly military campaigns. The US military has in recent months stepped up airstrikes in these countries. The escalation has resulted in mounting civilian casualties. During his campaign, US President Donald Trump had rallied against America’s wars overseas. The US seems to have become more reliant on militaristic approaches since Trump took office this year. Trump’s decision to give a freer hand to his generals and his deepening ties with America’s military industrial complex are among the reasons blamed for the rise in the civilian death toll in the wars in the Middle East.

The increasing civilian death toll in Syria, Yemen and Iraq has largely been attributed to the rise in the number of airstrikes. The lethal air raids carried out by the US air force and other members of the US-led coalition have soared in recent months.

According to official data, American warplanes have dropped over 24-hundred bombs on Afghanistan this year. That’s up from 13-hundred last year. In Iraq and Syria, the U.S. military has already dropped well over 32-thousand bombs this year. The figure was over 30-thousand in 2016. And in Yemen, the U.S. air force has carried out more than 100 air raids in 2017, compared with 38 last year. The US military is meanwhile using larger bombs, sometimes disproportionate to the targets. Human Rights Watch has analyzed 380 bomb craters in Iraq. The HRW estimates that warplanes of the US-led coalition are now routinely dropping 500- and 1000 pound bombs. They are much bigger and apparently less accurate than the ones that had been used in the past. An instance was an airstrike that killed over a hundred civilians in Mosul back in March. Critics say, in that attack, the 500 pound warhead was far larger than necessary to take out two Daesh snipers who were hiding in the target building. Donatella Rovera, a Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International says

“Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside,”

The US military says it is doing its outmost to protect civilian lives in its Middle East wars. But the types of bombs used in the aerial campaigns speak louder than those pledges.

The Trump administration has already loosened the already lenient rules of engagement for the military. Under Trump, the military has been given greater authority to decide when to push the button. According to Micah Zenko, a senior expert with the Council on Foreign Relations, there is ample evidence that lower level officers can now call in air raids rather than a one-star general, as was required until this year. The White House argues that there should be less strict regulations in place to make air raids quicker and more efficient. But with the new freedoms for the US war machine, come new dangers, and higher risk of civilian fatalities.

SOUNDBITE [English] Richard Becker, A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition: “Loosening the rules of engagement will lead to even greater civilian casualties in airstrikes by the United States and its allies, and particularly by the United States which is carrying out most of the airstrikes inside of Iraq, in Yemen and Syria. So this is very very menacing. It portends even greater casualties. And most of those who are dying in these wars we know are civilians.”

Narration: Another factor blamed for the intensified U.S. air raids in the Middle East is the deepening ties between the White House and the US military industrial complex. The giant weapons manufacturing corporations have immense political leverage and dictate their will. That’s perhaps why America has dropped a record number of bombs under the Trump administration. The increase in the number of deadly airstrikes in Syria and Iraq mean booming business for the arms manufacturers.

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Narration: These corporations use the wars to showcase their latest products and find new customers worldwide. Some countries in the region like Afghanistan have become a testing ground for the military’s most advanced arms. Back in April the US used its most powerful non-nuclear bomb against an alleged Daesh hideout in Afghanistan. Many critics say the use of such weapon was unnecessary and warned about it environmental impacts. Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai was among those who voiced opposition to using such dangerous weapons in the country.

SOUDNBITE [English] Mike Jones, Author and Political Analyst: “The fundamental fact is that the deep state or the military industrial complex wants a war. They don't exist without the possibility of war. They want a war with Russia. Syria is the battle field now in the war with Russia, they want to expand it In Ukraine. So that's what's happening here. They have taken over Trump. He has become a figurehead who has no power, not even in directing the big overall plan for the war in the Middle East.”

Narration: Besides civilian casualties in US air strikes, a large number of people are killed by militant groups. Many of these extremist groups are committing horrific atrocities using weapons that have been funneled into Syria, Iraq and Yemen by America’s secret intelligence agencies and their affiliates. The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network has discovered that the U.S. Defense Department is spending heavily on secret programs to purchase Soviet-style weapons and ammunition in Europe. And it’s using misleading documents and complicated channels and procedures to conceal the fact that they are destined for the Middle East. Figures show the US has sent more than 700 million dollars worth of Soviet style weapons to Syria since September 2015. And that could reach 2-point-2 billion dollars by 2022. The administration of US president Donald Trump says Washington is backing groups that are fighting the Daesh terrorist group. But past experience, especially in Iraq and Syria, has shown that many of these US supplied arms ultimately end up in the wrong hands.

The US drone program is notorious for causing massive civilian casualties. It has drawn condemnation from the United Nations and rights groups. The program expanded under former US president Barack Obama. Reports say the high civilian fatalities in drone strikes had convinced Obama, toward the end of his term, to phase out the deadly air raids. But Obama’s successor is apparently taking an interest in the unmanned aerial vehicles. US president Donald Trump is reportedly seeking to boost the drone campaign once again. And that means the world should now expect even more people in the Middle East and Africa losing their lives or their loved ones. The Trump administration is reportedly considering changes that will further expand the CIA's authority to carry out drone operations in and out of war zones. Observers say the United States is highly unlikely to abandon its military campaigns around the world because the military industrial complex is too big and powerful to be stopped. And civilians, mostly in Muslim nations will have to pay the price for such endless militarism. 


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