Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian – 2016-07-24 01:07:56
Battles for Syria | July 14th -17h 2016 | Aleppo city
US Insists Airstrikes Against
Syria’s Manbij Will Continue
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 22, 2016) — With growing disquiet among their allies over a Tuesday morning flurry of airstrikes that killed scores, and potentially hundreds, of innocent civilians around the Syrian city of Manbij, the US was facing calls from its own allies within Syria to immediately suspend their air campaign for the sake of an investigation.
US officials, however, insist that’s not going to happen, with Army Col. Christopher Garver insisting that the US airstrikes against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria will continue unchanged despite the reports of huge civilian casualties.
It’s perhaps unsurprising, as the US rarely reacts to their most glaring blunders with actual policy changes, instead doubling down and offering a series of blanket denials and flimsy excuses for what happened, and spurning any suggestion of a change being necessary.
Col. Garver is already crafting excuses, insisting today that Manbij is a special case because of “the strategic importance of the city,” and accusing ISIS of forcing the civilians into the line of US fire “as a propaganda tool.”
While the US has often made similar claims that enemies are intentionally trying to get civilians killed in US attacks, US policy seems only too willing to oblige, and in Manbij alone the US is racking up such a horrendously large civilian death toll that the rebel force they’re supposedly supporting, the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), is said to be facing a growing number of fighters threatening to leave just because they don’t want to be seen as affiliated with the US.
Adding to the sense that this is just business as usual, Col. Garver warned that preliminary investigations into the killings could take quite a bit of time, and even then it’s uncertain if it will lead to a “formal inquiry.”
Most incidents of human rights groups confirming US forces killing civilians in Iraq and Syria never get that far, with the Pentagon simply writing them off as “not credible” and never counting them in their minuscule official toll.
US Says Airstrikes on Syrian City
To Continue Despite Civilian Deaths
Spencer Ackerman / The Guardian
NEW YORK (July 22, 2016) — The US will not pause airstrikes in Syria despite appeals from opposition activists after what appears to be the worst US-caused civilian casualty disaster of the war against the Islamic State.
Anas Alabdah, president of the Syrian National Coalition, has called on the US to suspend its airstrikes until it performs a thorough investigation into the attack near the contested northern city of Manbij on Tuesday that Syrian activists say killed at least 73 civilians â€“ and possibly more than 125.
Alabdah, in a statement, insisted on “accountability” for those responsible for the devastating airstrike, “revised rules of procedure” for future strikes, and warned that continuing the aerial bombardment would deliver the hard-fought region back into the hands of Isis.
More strikes at the moment will drive Syrians “further into a spiral of despair and, more importantly, will prove to be a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations,” Alabdah said.
The US has launched at least 12 airstrikes since the destruction in the village of Tokkhar, according to a daily tally released by the military. Asked by the Guardian if the military will pause airstrikes, Army Colonel Christopher Garver, chief spokesman for the US military command in Iraq and Syria, replied: “No. Operations continue against Daesh,” another name for Isis.
Manbij is currently one of the most important pieces of terrain for the US in the entire war, a place described by US secretary of defense Ashton Carter as a pivotal way station to Isis’s capital of Raqqa — and, from Isis’s perspective, a corridor from Raqqa to the outside world through Turkey.
Garver, in a Friday briefing, described the weeks-long fight for Manbij as “very intense”, with Isis reinforcing its positions toward the center of the city as the US’s ground force proxies have taken approximately the western half of it and pressure it on multiple sides.
“The fight in Manbij is different than what we’ve seen in Fallujah, what we’ve seen in Ramadi, and what we’ve seen in some of the small towns in Qayyarah,” Garver said.
The intensity of the fight, he said, reflected the strategic importance of the city and was complicated by the presence of civilians Isis was sending out “towards the lines, trying to draw fire, so they can use that either as a propaganda tool or in some way get a benefit” from instigating civilian deaths.
“As Daesh falls back in, this is a fight like we haven’t seen before, and one that could be a tough fight and take a while longer to clear everything out,” Garver said.
He also indicated that an investigation into the civilian deaths might be similarly protracted. The military command is still conducting a preliminary credibility assessment, with a recommendation on pursuing a formal inquiry — or not — due in early August. Any such inquiry will likely to take months to complete, declassify and publish.
As he did immediately after the strike, Garver suggested that any civilian deaths might have been attributable to Isis placing noncombatants into the line of fire as human shields or “mixed in or among the Daesh fighters”.
While emphasizing the information he had was preliminary, Garver said the airstrike on Tuesday occurred after Syrian opposition fighters on the ground observed a convoy with a substantial numbers of Isis fighters “who appeared to be readying for a counterattack against SAC [US-aligned Syrian Arab Coalition] troops in the area, and a strike was called in on Daesh. The strike was against both buildings and vehicles.”
Garver said the US did not have a clear picture on the civilian death toll, saying “internal” sources were “concerned about between 10 or 20”, preliminarily, though he referenced what he called “kind of a wild speculation toward 73” dead civilians in the press.
Yet the UK-based group AirWars, which tracks the airstrikes, provided the names of approximately 73 people, grouped by their families, whom local reporting indicated were dead in the airstrikes. Its tally of the dead ranges from 73 civilians to 203.
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