US-led air strikes targeting one of the last Islamic State strongholds in Syria have killed more than 60 civilians, local and international media and monitors report.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) initially reported that 41 civilians, including 10 children, were killed in strikes on a mosque and houses in al-Sousa village in Deir Ezzor province, eastern Syria on Thursday and Friday. However, on Monday SOHR reported the civilian death toll had risen to 63. The monitor group also said 22 IS militants died in the raid. The Syrian Foreign Ministry claimed 62 civilians were killed in the attack and called on the United Nations to "punish the aggressors."
Although last week’s air strikes have been widely reported by the international media, al-Sousa has been the target of at least dozens of coalition bombings during the anti-IS campaign. In one particularly deadly period in mid-July 2018, at least 60 and as many as 100 men, women and children were killed in attacks in and around the village, including as many as 58 civilians who died on July 12 when US warplanes bombed an ice factory being used as a shelter and at least two dozen more who were killed while attempting to flee the area on July 21.
A spokesman for the US-led coalition acknowledged bombing the mosque last week, claiming it was being used as a headquarters by IS fighters.
"Such Daesh misuse of the mosque is another example of their violation of the law of war and made the mosque a valid military target," US Army Col. Sean Ryan told reporters, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State. Ryan said 12 people, all of them militants, were killed in the strike and that the coalition investigates "all credible allegations of civilian casualties."
However, many credible reports of civilian deaths are never investigated, and when investigations are conducted they often rely upon remote drone footage or pilot observations rather than the type of on-the-ground probe needed to glean adequate information. US officials often deny, dismiss or deflect blame for civilian deaths, which number in at least the hundreds thousands – and likely well over one million according to some credible estimates – after over 17 years of nonstop war against Islamist militants in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya and, since 2014, Syria.
In the anti-IS campaign in Syria and Iraq, the UK-based monitor group Airwars says at least 6,575 and as many as nearly 10,000 civilians are likely to have died in coalition actions. A December 2017 Associated Press investigation of civilian casualties in the battle to liberate Mosul, Iraq from IS control found that the city’s civilian death toll was 27 times higher than the figure acknowledged by US military officials, with 9,000 to 11,000 civilians dying in Mosul alone.
Civilian casualties have soared during the administration of Donald Trump, who campaigned for president on promises to "bomb the shit out of" IS militants and kill their innocent families. Once in office, Trump loosened rules of engagement meant to protect civilians and in May 2017 Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis announced that the US was shifting from a war of attrition to one of “annihilation” in Syria and Iraq. Mattis raised eyebrows and ire by adding that "civilian casualties are a fact of life" that cannot be avoided in such a war.
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based author and freelance journalist. His work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights, is archived at www.brettwilkins.com.