The US corporate mainstream media has turned its attention back to Syria, where Russian-backed Syrian government troops have killed hundreds of civilians during weeks of air and artillery bombardment of the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. Outlets including CNN, NBC, Fox News and the New York Times have recently run headlines revealing how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Kremlin-backed troops are committing "atrocities" and "war crimes on an epic scale" as they "target everything that moves." The Times even ran a photo essay on the toys Eastern Ghouta’s children are clinging to for comfort during the ferocious attack.
A year ago, when US-led coalition air strikes were killing more Syrian civilians than attacks by Islamic State fighters or bombing by Russia, the US media was silent. By last summer, the US was killing more civilians than not only IS or Russia, but more than even Assad’s forces as well. This was never reported by any US corporate media outlet.
Something similar is happening again amid news of the shocking slaughter in Eastern Ghouta. During the month of February, US-led coalition air strikes killed at least 100 Syrian civilians, many of them children, in Deir Ezzor province, and the mainstream media has completely ignored the story. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based monitor group reporting on civilian casualties caused by all sides during the seven-year Syrian civil war, 129 civilians, including 83 women and children, were killed by coalition bombing last month. Airwars, another UK-based monitor, published credible reports of between 52 and 95 civilians, including 21 children, who were killed by US-led bombing in Deir Ezzor between February 19-28, roughly the same period as the Eastern Ghouta offensive.
The small town of al-Shafa on the Euphrates River has been hit particularly hard. Last November, Russian air strikes killed dozens of civilians in the town of 18,000 residents. On January 23, US bombs struck a hospital there, killing as many as 15 civilians, according to Airwars. On February 5, Airwars reported coalition warplanes returned to bomb the town, killing at least 17 more civilians. Local media reported as many as 59 men, women and children died in the strike.
Most recently, US warplanes bombed al-Shafa at least four times during the final week of February. Airwars reported at least eight civilians, mostly women and children, died when a school housing civil war refugees was struck on February 23. Two days later SOHR reported 25 civilians, again mostly women and children, were killed in coalition air strikes targeting IS fighters on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. On February 28, US warplanes returned to bomb the al-Kashma district of al-Shafa, with SOHR reporting 22 killed, mostly women and children. The death tolls from both the February 25 and February 28 attacks were expected to rise, as many of the dozen or more people wounded in each bombing were in serious or critical condition.
Many of the women and children killed in the late February air strikes were reportedly the wives and children of IS fighters in some of the last remaining areas controlled by the militant Islamist group. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to "bomb the shit out of" IS fighters and "take out their families," and since taking office the president has loosened rules of engagement meant to protect innocent civilians. Civilian casualties have subsequently soared; entire families were regularly killed as air strikes and allied local ground forces destroyed Mosul, Raqqa and other cities, towns and villages throughout IS-held areas of Iraq and Syria.
In addition to those two countries, civilian casualties have also spiked in Afghanistan, where air strike deaths soared 50 percent last year, in Somalia, where bombing is only part of the problem as US Special Forces troops have massacred men, women and children during "anti-terrorism" raids widely condemned as a form of state terrorism, and in Yemen, where a massive US-backed Saudi bombing and starvation campaign has killed thousands and where Navy SEALs gunned down terrified women and children fleeing for their lives in al-Ghayil last January. The Trump administration called the latter slaughter, in which 10 children and six women were killed, "very, very well thought-out and executed" and "highly successful."
US military commanders regularly claim they are waging "the most precise air campaign in history" and argue they always take great care to avoid harming civilians. However, the US has come under fire for failing to investigate the vast majority of air strikes in which civilian casualties have been reported. American officials have also struck a dismissive tone when discussing the subject. While announcing last May that the US was escalating the fight against IS from a war of "attrition" to one of "annihilation," Defense Secretary James "Mad Dod" Mattis – who earned the moniker during the atrocity-laden battles for Fallujah in 2004 – shrugged off dead children as "a fact of life in this sort of situation."
While the Pentagon officially accepts responsibility for killing around 800 Syrian and Iraqi civilians since former president Barack Obama launched the anti-IS campaign in August 2014, Airwars says at least 6,136 civilians have likely died in more than 29,000 coalition air strikes in Syria and Iraq over the past three and a half years. This has generated much international outrage and almost no US corporate media coverage. When United Nations war crimes investigators condemned the "staggering loss of life" resulting from US-led bombing and shelling of Raqqa during the fight to recapture the de facto IS capital last spring, very few mainstream media outlets bothered to report the story.
Nor have they reported the "staggering loss of life" resulting from US military action over the course of the 16-year anti-terrorism war in which at least hundreds of thousands and perhaps more than 1.3 million men, women and children in six majority Muslim countries have perished. Or the fact that since the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, the United States has killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force on the planet – by far.
Based in San Francisco, Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. His articles, blogs and op-eds, which focus on war and peace, human rights and social justice, have appeared in Digital Journal, Daily Kos, Business Insider and Yahoo News.
Read more by Brett Wilkins
- IHCHR: 11,800 Civilians Killed In US-Led Air Strikes in Syria, Iraq – February 22nd, 2019
- Why Must Ilhan Omar Apologize for Telling the Truth? – February 13th, 2019
- Elliott Abrams: A Human Rights Horror Show in Three Acts – February 1st, 2019
- Former Blackwater Guard Found Guilty of Murder for Role in Nisour Square Massacre – December 20th, 2018
- Afghan Officials: US Air Strike Kills at Least 30 Civilians, Including 16 Children – November 28th, 2018