Report: 25 are dead after U.S. coalition strike in Syria

February 28, 2018

A U.S. airstrike has killed at least 25 civilians in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province, according to a human rights monitor operating in the region.

Despite exhaustive efforts by the U.S.-led coalition in Syria to avoid civilian casualties, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has confirmed that at least half of those killed by the airstrike were women and children.

A tragic loss

The tragic setback occurred as military commanders for the combined joint task force Operation Inherent Resolve focus on denying the Islamic State their last significant enclave in Syria.

Some of the heaviest fighting throughout the seven-year civil war has occurred in recent days between rebel militias and the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, prompting the United Nations to sponsor a resolution demanding a 30-days ceasefire so that civilians may evacuate the area.

The U.S.-led coalition continues to experience pockets of resistance from the Islamic State, but with help from a conglomerate of Syrian militias and Kurdish rebels, American air power has been focused on uprooting entrenched jihadist fighters from both sides of the Euphrates River in the east.

Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon responded to questions regarding the collateral damage occurring in the settlement of Dahra Alouni by noting that there is an ongoing investigation examining the airstrike.

“We take all allegations seriously,” Alouni said, “and as we always do we will put it into our civilian casualty assessment and we will publish the results of those on a monthly basis.”

Rules of disengagement

It is no coincidence that ISIS has experienced its most stunning and complete defeats during the Donald Trump administration. Former President Barack Obama described the Islamic State as the “JV” of terrorist organizations before handicapping his own ground commanders by declaring, “I want no civilian casualties. Zero.”

Obama lacked confidence in his military leaders and, thus, allowed politically-driven civilians to administer the war on their behalf. This overcautious and noncommittal strategy produced predictable results: it forced coalition air sorties to return to base without dropping a single bomb, while innocent civilians were slaughtered on the battlefield.

U.S. House Representative Ed Royce complained at the time that an unacceptable 75 percent of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria were denied under the Obama administration.

Referring to the Islamic State by the Arabic transliteration of their name, Daesh, military flight operations expert Scott Wolff explained why Obama erred by turning his military commanders into prisoners of their own rules of engagement:

Daesh has effectively used our own ROE against us since the outset. While aircraft are returning to their deployed locations with unused munitions, Daesh has slaughtered hundreds, if not thousands of non-combatants and laid waste of all types of structures and historical artifacts. The collateral damage and civilian casualties are staggering, regardless of the U.S. pilots’ inability to drop weapons on legitimate targets.

A new beginning

However, when Trump assumed the responsibility of commander-in-chief, he quickly reasserted military stewardship for the war against ISIS. This included a decision to empower generals with the authority to confirm or deny airstrikes, completing reshaping the pace and initiative or the war.

Although the coalition did not drop more bombs on targets in the region, the decision to return authority to the military served as a force multiplier, and ISIS began surrendering huge swaths of territory to advancing ground forces in both Iraq and Syria.

Still, Trump’s strategic vision for defeating ISIS came with a cost, and his critics are quick to point out that civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria soared by some 200 percent in 2017. However, these unfortunate deaths occurred in support of massive ground operations in both Iraq — where ISIS was effectively routed — and Syria, where the jihadist militants were forced to give up their capital in Raqqa.

A Pentagon official explained the sudden uptick in casualties at the time:

Despite U.S. strikes being the most precise in the history of warfare, conducting strike operations in the heavily-populated areas where ISIL hides certainly presents challenges. We are fighting an enemy who goes out of their way to put civilians at risk. However, our pilots understand the need for the tactical patience in this environment. This fight against ISIL is not the kind of fight from previous decades.

Respect for life

Although the rules of engagement have changed to allow U.S. generals to wage an effectively lethal counterinsurgency in Syria, the American commitment to preserving innocent life at all costs remains.

The loss of civilian life under a bloodthirsty Islamic Caliphate in Syria would far exceed that experienced from even the most aggressive air campaign targeting the tyrannical Islamist empire.

Without this context, it is easy to lose sight of the mission and the capacity for evil from the Islamic State.

America will continue to accomplish its strategic goals in the region while taking prudent countermeasures to reduce or eliminate the unnecessary loss of human life.

This is what separates the U.S. military from the Islamic State, and countless enemies before them.


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Benjamin Baird

Benjamin Baird is a senior staff writer for the Conservative Institute. He is a veteran infantryman of Iraq and Afghanistan with over 1000 days in combat and holds a degree in Middle Eastern studies from the American Military University. Ben is Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and has written for dozens of conservative publications, including The Daily Caller, American Spectator, American Thinker, New English Review and Jewish News Syndicate.