Tag Archives: Syria civilian casualties

How the World Looks Like in 10000 Air Strikes

Amnesty International researchers visited 42 Coalition air strike sites across the ruined city of Raqqa, Syria and interviewed 112 civilian residents who had survived the carnage and lost loved ones.   The accounts detailed in the report, ‘War of annihilation’: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, leave gaping holes in the Coalition’s insistence that their forces did enough to minimize civilian harm….

“IS’s brutal four-year rule in Raqqa was rife with war crimes. But the violations of IS, including the use of civilians as human shields, do not relieve the Coalition of their obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. What levelled the city and killed and injured so many civilians was the US-led Coalition’s repeated use of explosive weapons in populated areas where they knew civilians were trapped. Even precision weapons are only as precise as their choice of targets.”

Shortly before the military campaign, US Defence Secretary James Mattis promised a “war of annihilation” against IS.   From 6 June to 17 October 2017, the US-led Coalition operation to oust IS from its so-called “capital” Raqqa killed and injured thousands of civilians and destroyed much of the city….Residents were trapped as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, supported by the Coalition’s relentless air and artillery strikes. IS mined the escape routes and shot at civilians trying to flee. Hundreds of civilians were killed: some in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge; and others as they tried to flee.

US, British and French Coalition forces carried out tens of thousands of air strikes and US forces admitted to firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive on Raqqa. US forces were responsible for more than 90% of the air strikes…

Amnesty International is urging Coalition members to investigate impartially and thoroughly allegations of violations and civilian casualties, and to publicly acknowledge the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives and destruction of civilian property in Raqqa…They must disclose the findings of their investigations, as well as key information about the strikes necessary for assessing their compliance with international humanitarian law. They must review the procedures by which they decide the credibility of civilian casualty allegations and they must ensure justice and reparation for victims of violations. They also have a responsibility to assist with gruelling demining and reconstruction work under way in Raqqa in a more meaningful way than at present.

Excerpts Syria: Raqqa in ruins and civilians devastated after US-led ‘war of annihilation’, Amnesty International, June 5, 2018

Getting Rid of the Hornet’s Nest: Syria


Tensions between Russia and the United States are coming to a head over the civil war in Syria. Washington has suspended bilateral talks with Russia to end the five-year old war. Moscow has suspended an agreement to destroy 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium that was reached during the year 2000, using especially harsh rhetoric. Meanwhile, Syrian regime forces—with the backing of Russian airpower—are continuing to mount a fierce attack on the partially rebel-held city of Aleppo with Washington seemingly powerless to influence events on the ground….Among the four options that may be under consideration [in the United States] are a no-fly-zone, safe zones, attacking the Syrian air force and arming the Syrian rebels with additional weaponry. But each option carries with it significant risk of escalation or blowback.
While the United States has the capability to defeat Russian and Syrian regime air forces and air defenses, which is necessary to establish a no-fly zone or safe-zone, or to destroy the regime’s airpower, there are several risks from a legal and military standpoint. The legal problem comes from the fact that the United States is not technically at war with the Syria, nor is there a UN resolution authorizing American forces to operate inside that nation… [On the contrary] Russia is invited in by the legitimate regime.

A no-fly zone or safe zone would require U.S. combat aircraft to intercept and possibly shoot down Russian and Syrian warplanes entering into the area designated by Washington and its allies…. [But] It is highly unlikely that any U.S. President would be willing to risk war against a nuclear-armed power with only four months left in office in a conflict with few—if any—vital American interests at stake. The Russians know that and might not be willing to back down in the event of an air-to-air confrontation with American forces because too much national prestige—and even Mr. Putin’s personal prestige—would be on the line. Thus, such an encounter could escalate in unpredictable ways…

A worse option still would be for the U.S. military to attack the Syrian air force and its bases directly since it would an overt act of war against Syria—even more so than a no-fly or safe zone. As Secretary Kerry pointed out, without a U.N. Security Council resolution, the United States does not have legal grounds to go to war. But moreover, the military difficulties with directly attacking Syrian forces are more problematic.

The United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps could easily annihilate Syrian and even Russian air defenses—and airpower—inside Syria. Moscow—even with the fearsome capabilities of its S-400 air and missile defense system—is not able to defeat the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors, which are able to fly inside zones protected by those system and defeat them. In fact, defeating advanced air defenses is one of the Raptor’s primary missions. Nor would Russian Su-30SM or Su-35S Flankers survive long against the Raptor, which was specifically designed to counter advanced next-generation Soviet fighters that ultimately never materialized….

[But] Russia might not limit its retaliation to just American and NATO forces in Syria. Given Moscow’s arsenal of Kaliber-NK cruise missiles and long-range bombers and submarines, the Kremlin has options to strike back across a huge geographic range. It is not outside realm of the possible that Russia would hit back at U.S. bases in Qatar, United Arab Emirates or Turkey using long-range precision-guided cruise missiles. The Russian Black Sea fleet and the Caspian Sea flotilla can easily hit such targets. Then there is Moscow’s formidable bomber fleet which can target the continental United States itself….

It might be prudent to exercise restraint before launching a new war—against a nuclear-armed power—that the American people don’t necessarily want to fight. That’s especially true in a conflict where the lines are blurry and there are no clear-cut good guys—where even so-called “moderate” rebels backed by the U.S. government are beheading children.  Under such circumstances, the best policy for the United States might simply be to leave well enough alone—there is simply no need to stick our fingers into yet another hornet’s nest.

Excerpts from Dave Majumdar, Why the United States Should Exercise Restraint Before Launching A New War in Syria, National Interest, Oct. 3, 2016

Tips and Tricks of Chemical Weapons Stockpilers: Syria

Wounded civilians arrive at hospital Aleppo, Syria, 2012. Image from wikipedia

On April 22, 2014 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) declared that 86.5% of all chemicals and 88.7% of the most deadly “Priority 1” substances on a revised list, such as sulphur mustard and precursors for sarin, a nerve gas, had been boarded and removed from Syria. Since early April six consignments have been delivered to Latakia (Syria’s port) , a “significant acceleration”, according to the OPCW, after a long gap when very little had happened.

The next destination for the chemicals is a container terminal at Gioia Tauro in southern Italy, from where most of it will transfer to an American ship, the MV Cape Ray, which is equipped with two mobile hydrolysis units for neutralising the stuff. The Cape Ray, now in Spain, will then head for international waters with a ten-country security escort, and begin its work. Rear-Admiral Bob Burke, director of American naval operations in Europe and Africa, says that if the sea is fairly calm it should take about 60 days of round-the-clock processing to neutralise the chemical agents, making it just possible that the June 30th deadline for destroying all Syria’s chemical weapons will be met. Some worries linger, however.

The first is continuing disagreement between Syria and the OPCW over the destruction of production and storage sites. All the weapons-producing equipment inside has been smashed, but the Syrians are arguing only for “destruction by inactivation”, which means just locking some doors. But Michael Luhan of the OPCW says that while there is no definition for destruction of such structures in the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), in OPCW “common law” it has come to mean “taken down to the foundations”. A compromise may be possible, but there is a danger of setting a bad precedent.

Second, Dina Esfandiary of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London says that a mechanism for future “challenge” inspections, something OPCW has never previously done, will be needed if Syria is to be certified as entirely free of chemical weapons. It remains possible that the regime has hidden stocks, which on past form it might use—and then blame the rebels for. The status of one chemical-weapons site, in an area the regime claims is too dangerous for removal operations, remains “unresolved”, says Mr Luhan.

Reports earlier this month that helicopters dropped bombs filled with industrial chlorine gas on the rebel-held village of Kfar Zita, injuring and terrifying dozens of civilians, suggest that the regime has not changed its ways. The attack was reported as a rebel atrocity on Syrian TV before it had even happened, says Ms Esfandiary. The use of chlorine gas is hard to prove. It is not banned under the CWC and it does not linger, making the extraction of evidence from soil samples almost impossible. That is one reason why no signatory to the convention has asked the OPCW to investigate. However, if use with intent to maim or kill could be established, it would be a clear breach of the convention. A further requirement of the convention is that signatories give a full history of their chemical-weapons programme, accounting for the scientists who worked on it and other countries that may have assisted it (in Syria’s case, probably Russia and Egypt). But Ms Esfandiary doubts that, with the architect of the programme still in power, the regime would reveal anything that might incriminate it in the killing of more than 1,000 people by sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on April 21, 2013, a war crime for which it still denies all responsibility. Eliminating Syria’s

Chemical Weapons,  Getting There, Economist, Apr. 26, 2014, at 45.

In Syria Covert Action with an Arab-Turkish Face

In Washington, the National Security Council is said to be preparing a “presidential finding”, an executive order authorising covert action [in Syria], as a policy option, but it is not clear whether the White House would take the risky step of signing it.  “It would leak in an instant and it would be radioactive,” said Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in the region. “They [the Obama administration] have no idea of what to do now. They don’t want to be behind the ethnic cleansing of the Alawites, and it would have an explosive effect in Lebanon.” Assad is from Syria’s minority Alawite sect.

Britain and France both secretly sent special forces to train Libyan rebels last year but look unlikely to repeat the tactic in Syria. In the Libyan case, France supplied weapons, Britain non-lethal equipment. Military personnel from the tiny Gulf state of Qatar played the biggest outside role, and contingents from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan were involved.  Any outside involvement in Syria would also have “an Arab face”, said a former British intelligence officer.

The most significant outside player would probably be neighbouring Turkey, which already hosts the opposition Syrian National Council and allows a safe haven for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), whose lightly armed fighters are in action against regime forces.  Emile Hokayem, Middle East analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, said: “Whether the Turks are confident with that role, and how overt or covert it is, are key considerations.”  Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, declared he would push for a new initiative in the wake of the security council “fiasco”, and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davotuğlu, is due in Washington on Wedesday to discuss it with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, although no details have been disclosed.  Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Ankara’s preferred option would be regional support for limited Nato operations, including a “safe zone” for the rebels and a humanitarian corridor. “Turkey is beyond the point of no return,” he said. “It has burned its bridges. The longer Assad stays in Syria, the worse it is. Turkey has bet heavily on regime change.”

The Qataris are also in favour of some sort of limited military intervention. Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Centre, said: “After the security council, the momentum is shifting towards talk of a buffer zone, or safe zone, and people here are talking seriously about it. But the Qataris would want the US and EU on board.”

The establishment of any kind of safe zone would involve the destruction of Syrian air defences and that would require US military participation, something Washington has ruled out for the time being. Although Hamid pointed out that similar declarations were made by the Obama administration before the Libyan intervention.

Meanwhile, foreign participation is likely to come in the form of covert backing for the FSA. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are rumoured to be financing the rebel force, but Baer said the FSA was having problems smuggling heavy and sophisticated arms into the country.  “They would like to get things like surface-to-air missiles,” he said, “but they are not being allowed across the borders in Turkey or Jordan. There is a lot of this stuff being sold at the arms markets in Libya.”

Hokayem predicted support for the FSA would now increase, but warned that a lack of co-ordination between the Gulf states risked leading to the rise of competing militias.  One analyst, Marc Lynch, commented: “I expect calls to mount for the provision of weapons to the Free Syrian Army, or for that to simply happen without fanfare … But nobody should be fooled into thinking that this is a panacea: arming the weaker side in a fully fledged, internationalised civil war is much more likely to produce a painful stalemate than a quick, decisive outcome.”

Jordan, whose intelligence service is considered the best in the Arab world, is watching developments in Syria through the eyes of tribes that straddle the border. It could also train and supply the anti-Assad rebels, but only if that mission were “subcontracted” to it by the far wealthier Gulf states.  Efforts to persuade the fractured Syrian opposition to close ranks are likely to take precedence over any clandestine activity, not least because an EU arms embargo bans any weapons supplies.

Ben Barry, an IISS military expert, said any assessment of the FSA would conclude that its most urgent need was for secure communications. Its fighters used mobile phones with Syrian numbers, which were easily monitored by the government, he said. Anti-tank weapons and night-vision goggles would help boost its performance against superior regime forces.  In past conflicts in the area, arms smuggling routes have often run through Kurdish areas, but Syrian Kurds have not allowed weapons throught to the opposition so far.

Ian Black and Julian Borger, Search for Syria strategy focuses on stiffening fragmented opposition, Guardian, Feb. 7, 2012