FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

‘Take Out Their Families’: Trump Fulfills Criminal Campaign Promise as Hundreds Die in Latest US-Led Syria Strikes

While campaigning for president in late 2015, Donald Trump promised a bloody escalation of the US-led war against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, vowing to “bomb the shit out of” IS militants and “take out their families.” Targeting terrorists’ wives, children and other relatives is a war crime under international law, but Trump doubled down on his promise and since taking office has presided over a dramatic increase in civilian deaths in six of the seven countries subjected to America’s open-ended war against terrorism. This increase has been most acute in Iraq and, most recently, in Syria, where hundreds of innocent civilians have died in US-led air strikes in recent months.

Although US and coalition forces are not deliberately targeting civilians, many — if not most — of those killed in the latest strikes have been women and children. According to local and international media and human rights monitor groups, at least 271 and possibly more than twice as many civilians have been killed in nearly 900 US-confirmed air strikes in Deir Ezzor province in October and November. The vast majority of these raids have been carried out by American warplanes; British, French, Dutch and other coalition members have also participated.

The UK-based monitor group Airwars and local and international media outlets report many victims of these recent bombings have been wives, children and other relatives of IS fighters. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported 32 IS family members, including 12 women and 13 children, died in a November 11 strike on Al Shaafa, while an attack on Al Kashma that same day killed at least 35 civilians, mostly women and children, according to Step News Agency and other outlets. Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) and local media reported that a November 15 attack on Al Boubardan killed 18 members of a single family, including 14 children and three women.

SOHR, Amnesty International and other monitor groups and media reported 36 relatives of IS fighters, including 17 children and 12 women, died in November 17 strikes east of Hajin. Free Deir Ezzor Radio later reported the civilian death toll from the attack had risen to 53. That same day, Airwars and local media said at least 12 and as many as 24 civilians were killed in another strike on Hajin.

Trump was apparently serious when he said in December 2015 that he wanted to kill IS fighters’ innocent relatives. At the height of the race for the Republican presidential nomination he said:

“When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

Shortly after taking office, Trump began loosening the military’s rules of engagement that were meant to protect innocent life. According to a Washington Post report, the president was unimpressed by the development of special CIA drone munitions designed to limit civilian casualties, and when watching video of a previous drone strike in which the agency delayed attack until the targeted militant walked away from a house with his family inside the president asked, “Why did you wait?”

The deliberate or indiscriminate killing of civilians is a war crime under Protocol Iof the Geneva Conventions and other international law including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In May 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis — a retired Marine Corps general who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” during the atrocity-laden 2004 battle of Fallujah, Iraq — announced that the United States was shifting from a policy of “attrition” to one of “annihilation” in the fight against IS. Mattis dismissed concerns about what such an escalation would mean for innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. “Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation,” he asserted. Mattis’ announcement came just weeks after what was perhaps the deadliest single US air strike in terms of civilian lives lost since the Vietnam war, an attack on the Jadida neighborhood of Mosul, Iraq that reportedly killed nearly 300 people.

US military and government officials claim to take great care to avoid harming innocent people. However, the US has been criticized not only for the alarming number of civilian casualties its forces have caused but also for undercounting and failing to investigate incidents in which civilians are killed and wounded. While Syrian government forces are responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths during that country’s seven-year civil war, Airwars estimates at least 6,716 and as many as 10,268 Syrian and Iraqi civilians are likely to have died in more than 30,000 US-led air strikes since former president Barack Obama launched Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-IS campaign, in June 2014. Russian air strikes have killed as many as 8,000 Syrian civilians, with Turkish bombing adding as many as 1,200 civilian deaths to the grisly toll, according to SOHR.

In the wider, unending 17-year US-led war on terror, the death toll is far higher. A recently-released report by Brown University’s Costs of War project estimates that the war has claimed more than half a million people — both combatants and civilians — in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone. In 2015, the US medical advocacy group Physicians for Social Responsibility released a study claiming a “conservative” figure of 1.3 million direct or indirect war deaths in those three countries, with the study’s authors adding that the real figure could “be in excess of 2 million.”

More articles by:

Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace. 

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail