After initially denying responsibility for scores of civilian deaths caused by American bombing in Mosul Jidideh on March 17, the senior United States commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, has acknowledged that the U.S. “probably had a role in these casualties.”
“Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside. The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser, who carried out field investigations in Mosul.
In a recent interview, Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the commander of United States Central Command, said new procedures have made it easier for commanders in the field to call in airstrikes without waiting for permission from more senior officers.
As a consequence, some groups contend that US coalition strikes are now causing more civilian casualties than strikes by Russia are causing in Syria. Russia was accused of war crimes for its bombing of Aleppo, Syria, last year. There have been more than 1,300 reports of civilian deaths in airstrikes in March alone, around three times as many as were reported in February.
Is this part of a trend? It sure looks that way. Just yesterday President Trump relaxed some of the rules for preventing civilian casualties when the American military carries out counterterrorism strikes in Somalia.
This new level of carelessness in conducting airstrikes is both callous and counterproductive. A strike supposedly aimed at the enemy which kills scores of civilians instead is an instant recruiting tool for ISIS. Not to mention wasteful, counterproductive and demoralizing for the United States and its allies. It’s also deeply immoral, in some cases veering extremely close, if not over, the line defining war crimes.
It’s just one more instance in which the new president’s “I don’t give a shit” attitude is producing widespread damage, this time producing a stark rise in innocent (and preventable, with more care taken) civilian deaths.