US Likely Buried Details of Syrian Airstrikes Over Shame of Causing Civilian Deaths, Experts Say
22:45 GMT 14.11.2021 (Updated: 16:46 GMT 08.01.2023)
© Flickr / Martin Jones
On Saturday, the New York Times published an in-depth look at a series US airstrikes that killed at least 80 people, including up to 64 women and children, near Bāghūz, Syria, on March 18, 2019. The US Central Command, which oversees US air operations in Syria, has since responded to the report and, for the first time, confirmed that it took place.
As the public learns more about the previously unreported US airstrikes in eastern Syria, a number of questions have been raised about the report's timing, the actual casualty count, and possible procedural violations by US military leadership.
Dr. Michele Groppi, a Defense Studies Department lecturer at King's College London and president of ITSS Verona, told Sputnik that it is likely that there was a combination of "overwhelming evidence" and "internal dissent" from personnel who wish to keep the armed forces accountable.
"Generally speaking, when something like this happens, it is because there is a lot of overwhelming evidence," Groppi said in a statement. "There are internal calls within the armed forces for the truth to come out."
The report also comes amid increased US military scrutiny by mainstream media outlets, noted Sami Hamdi, head of the International Interest, a political risk analysis group.
Hamdi highlighted that media coverage of US military actions has intensified following the "chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan" in August.
Since then there has been increased media scrutiny of the US August 29 drone strike that killed Zemari Ahmadi and 9 members of his family in Kabul, Afghanistan, the political analyst said.
"And despite attempts by the US military to justify their actions, the media scrutiny resulted in the matter being referred to the Senate and resulted essentially in the Pentagon having to come out and admit that they had made the mistake that they had killed that family by accident," Hamdi said of the Kabul drone strike.
Like the August drone strike, the US failure to immediately admit responsibility in the March 18, 2019, airstrikes in Syria will likely impact the American public's perception of the armed forces.
Gene Tate, an evaluator tasked with the case for the inspector general’s office, told the NYT that he believed that he had been forced out of his job after raising concerns about the Pentagon leadership's handling of the 2019 strikes. He noted that the higher-ups "seemed so set on burying this."
Groppi and Hamdi both suggested that the US most likely chose to bury the situation out of natural embarrassment for their error.
"However, especially in a number of Western militaries, this is illegal," qualified Groppi.
While there may be "a tendency to maybe twist or tweak facts," the truth will ultimately come out, he added.
Hamdi pointed out that the situation is particularly humiliating for the US military in Syria because "the US has sought to present Russia and Iran as the evil powers, while it sought to present itself as a knight in shining armour, as a saviour of democratic principles."
14 November 2021, 01:11 GMT
CENTCOM has claimed that they were only able to identify four civilians and 16 Daesh fighters among the 80 killed in the strikes. The force claimed it could not rule out the possibility that the remaining 60 individuals - all women and children - were also militants.
"The reason for this uncertainty is that multiple armed women and at least one armed child were observed in the video, and the exact mixture of armed and unarmed personnel could not be conclusively determined," according to CENTCOM in a statement to the BBC. "Likely, a majority of those killed were also combatants at the time of the strike, however, it is also highly likely that there were additional civilians killed by these two strikes."
While some argue that civilian casualties have been reduced by technology, such cases raise questions about US forces' attempts at harm reduction.
"I don't think it is necessarily a priority to limit civilian casualties, whether it's for the US or indeed any army that is operating in the region," Hamdi told Sputnik. "I do think that some steps are taken by the US Army and primarily to ensure that there are no PR disasters that might impact the ability of the White House to maintain its military abroad."
Groppi contended that even if you have the legal grounds to strike a target, you'd likely harm civilians. He said that it is up to armies to find a balance between using surgical airstrikes and putting boots on the ground.
"But as far as now, we're still confronted with civilian casualties and, unfortunately, some even potential attempts to cover this up," Groppi said.
As for the continued illegal presence of the US in Syria, Hamdi noted that, in recent years, there has become a resignation that both Iran and Russia have "rescued" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I do think the US military presence has been winding down in recent years and will continue to wind down in the years to come more or perhaps even in months to come," Hamdi said.
Groppi expressed doubt about the US ending its presence in Syria anytime soon. He said that while there is a pivot to Asia and the Pacific theater, the US has regional stability obligations to honor.
*Daesh (aka ISIL, ISIS) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia and other countries.