By Danny Mejia ’18
America continues its war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq leaving behind a trail of civilian casualties that have spiked since President Trump has taken office.
Vice News reported on March 30, that Airwars, a British monitoring group, recorded a total of 1,472 civilian deaths in March of this year in both Syria and Iraq. The number of casualties bypassed the previous record for civilian deaths which stood at 613 and made March the deadliest month for civilians.
This uptick in casualties may be associated with the increased effort to attack ISIS from multiple fronts, as US military officials claim according to the New York Times. However, it could also be a result of the Trump administration relaxing Obama-era rules that prevent civilian casualties. In fact, Airwars officials claim that while the civilian casualty rose almost sixfold in Syria during March, their records show a slight decrease in the number of airstrikes that hit its intended target.
It may seem far fetched to think that the Trump administration is playing fast and loose with innocent lives that are already suffering in the midst of this war but the countless stories of civilians dying because of a US airstrike say otherwise.
According to The Guardian misdirected airstrikes at Mosul, northern Iraq caused an explosion that killed at least 150 civilians sheltered in the basement of three houses.
The New York Times claimed that on March 21, 30 Syrians were killed in an airstrike that hit a school that displaced people had taken shelter in. This came a week after 49 people died from a US airstrike in Aleppo, Syria which residents said hit a mosque filled with hundreds of people who gathered for a weekly religious meeting. A few weeks later, an airstrike would also kill 18 allied Syrian fighters on April 11.
Looking beyond the Airwars report, one can also begin to see a new aggressive pattern of US involvement in areas outside Iraq and Syria that began once Trump took office.
Only five days after his inauguration, President Trump signed off on the now infamous Yemen Al-Qaeda raid of January 29 which killed a Navy SEAL and at least 23 civilians including nine children according to Vice News.
This botched raid was the result of a Pentagon request that President Trump granted which identified three provinces in Yemen as areas of hostilities and loosened the battlefield rules.
President Trump made a similar decision on March 29, when he signed a directive giving the US military the power to conduct counterterrorism airstrikes in Somalia that target the Al-Qaeda affiliated group, Al-Shabab. According to ABC News, this declaration allows the US to conduct airstrikes if there is a “reasonable certainty” that no civilians will be harmed. This is a less stringent rule compared to the “near certainty” standard set by the Obama administration in his 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance.
What makes matters worse is the fact that Somalia is currently dealing with a prolonged drought that, along with internal conflict and famine, has caused a major humanitarian crisis while aid workers struggle to deliver assistance. Future US airstrikes will only make it more difficult to provide aid and may cause widespread anti-American sentiment that pushes Somalis to become terrorist recruits.
Meanwhile, the US just recently made a huge arms deal with Saudi Arabia valued at $110 billion. The New Yorker claimed that on May 20, the US agreed to supply Saudi Arabia with US-made tanks, planes, helicopters, ships, bombs, and other weapon systems which will ultimately be used in Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The deal is raising eyebrows since the US has agreed to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons the Obama administration stopped supplying in December of last year in response to the funeral hall bombing in Yemen’s capital that killed at least 140 people.
The Trump administration is ignoring the history of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition that has unlawfully hit schools, hospitals and homes since the country began a military campaign against the Houthi rebels in March 2015.
Furthermore, the International Committee of the Red Cross recently claimed that 19 million Yemenis are suffering from a shortage of essentials in what appears to be a humanitarian crisis. The crisis is reportedly caused by the lack of access to Houthi-controlled areas where Saudi Arabia’s coalition have destroyed key buildings, airfields and ports.
However, the arms deal not only threatens Yemenis but it may also prove to be a recruitment tool for terror groups.
In an article published on Huffington Post on May 20 Senator Chris Murphy states, “ as we speak, millions of Yemenis are being radicalized against the country they blame for the civilian deaths: the United States. By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more — not fewer — civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.”
The US should reconsider its role in the Middle East and in areas like Somalia. America has been fighting terrorism ever since 9/11 but to no avail. Despite ISIS losing more and more ground as allied forces push forward, by carelessly killing civilians, supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia and designating Somalia as an area of hostility, terror groups will benefit every time a US airstrike or US-made bomb drops on innocent lives and their community.