The latest news from the US-led war in Syria against the Islamic State, known as ISIS, ought to give Americans some pause about our intervention there. When the Obama administration stipulated that its modus operandi for the covert war of targeted killing—that there needed to be a “near certainty” no civilians would be killed (however poorly the policy is implemented)—didn’t apply to Syria, it raised eyebrows. A report by McClatchy on Wednesday indicates that not only are the civilian casualties mounting, but points to the US-led coalition, perhaps unwittingly, helping a Kurdish militia carry out ethnic cleansing and a possible war crime.
The first batch of civilian casualties came early on in the Syria campaign launched last September: while targeting a terrorist bomb maker, air strikes killed at least seven civilians, Human Rights Watch said at the time. As the sporadic bombings continued, civilian deaths slowly mounted; an opposition human rights group said in March that coalition forces had caused more than 100 civilian deaths in Syria. (Others have placed the number of confirmed deaths at around 60.)
Then, over one half-hour period last Thursday night, coalition-caused civilian deaths spiked: an initial report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said missile strikes in the village Bir Hamalli killed least 50 civilians from among the village’s 1000 inhabitants; the following day, it raised the toll to 64 confirmed deaths, including 31 children and 19 women. Yesterday, another rights group, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, corroborated the numbers, adding incredibly troubling details of how the attack was carried off.
Mousab Alhamadee of the indispensable McClatchy news agency tied together the Network’s release with his own reporting:
An activist, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity for his safety, told McClatchy last week that he suspected that members of the local Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG in the Kurdish language, which had worked closely with the United States during the fight for Kobani, had intentionally called in the strike to drive away Arab residents.
Alhamadee went on to note that the US military had confirmed a Kurdish role in intelligence gathering for the strike: the militia had—apparently incorrectly—“reported there were no civilians present in that location and that there had not been any civilians present for two weeks prior to the coalition airstrikes,” a US spokesman had said. (The Syrian Network reported that the village was under ISIS’s control, but that the jihadi group doesn’t have any bases there.)