Dozens of innocent civilians fleeing in terror, watching family and friends die in the destruction of a mosque in Al-Jina, Syria, just outside the embattled capital city of Aleppo. Elsewhere in Syria, dozens wept as they watched fellow civilians murdered in the midst of a burning school in the Raqqa province, which was just destroyed by a bomb. Women and children suffer and die, as airstrikes obliterate a compound in Yemen.
Destruction happens regularly throughout the Middle East, as innocent civilians – including women and children – along with homes and places of worship are systematically annihilated. These actions have turned areas of Iraq, Syria, and Yemen into apocalyptical wastelands. And at whose hands does this devastation take place? Isis, Al-Qaeda, oppressive Middle Eastern governments? Wrong.
The answer is the United States’ government and its draconian military force.
To say that all of this violence and suffering is completely our fault isn’t accurate – nor is it the point. Every drone strike, gunshot, and action of our military costs American money and potentially American lives. This means that military action should be used only when necessary, justly, and should be effective in its goal.
The slaughtering of innocent civilians, thousands of miles from our borders, with the goal of possibly removing terrorist threats, calls into question all of those things. It calls into question the necessity, the humanity, and the effectiveness of these campaigns.
This wouldn’t be the first time U.S. involvement in the Middle East is questioned, but under the new administration it now appears to be under even greater scrutiny. The reason for this is the elevated level of brutality in U.S. actions of late. And with President Trump’s recent budget proposal seeking $603 billion for defense spending (a 10% increase), the scorched earth campaign of air strikes doesn’t seem likely to slow down any time soon.
With troops deployed in such volatile locations as Syria and Iraq, along with an air campaign in Yemen, the U.S. is ramping up its Middle Eastern military influence with a crusade that includes the killing of civilians. A bevy of domestic scandals exist under the new administration, but what U.S. forces are engaged in across the Middle East is nothing short of tragic.
The U.S. is fully responsible for becoming entangled in these various conflicts. Take Yemen as an example – our involvement there is based on ties to Saudi Arabia, which led to our support of an assault against Yemeni rebel groups, including the Houthis, who the Saudi government believe threaten the Saudi/Yemeni border.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “American military planners are using live intelligence feeds from surveillance flights over Yemen to help Saudi Arabia decide what and where to bomb, U.S. officials said.”
With an increasing battle for control of the country being fought between Houthis rebels (among other military factions loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh) and pro-Hadi government forces, significant speculation has been raised about whether or not Shia-led Iran has been supporting the Houthis. With the pro-government forces representing Sunnis and the Houthis representing Shias, the country appears to be a tool in a developing proxy-war.
Iranian officials deny involvement in funding or aiding Yemeni rebel groups. The U.S. military, however, claimed to have intercepted arms shipments from Iran to Yemen in March 2016, saying it was the third time in two months this had occurred.
All this chaos has led to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS taking full advantage and seizing land in the south, making it easier for the U.S. to justify its involvement. It also makes for extreme confusion about exactly who we’re fighting.
The U.S. government originally indicated we were simply supporting Saudi Arabia in protecting its borders. To accomplish this, we were combating Houthis. Then Iran became a potential factor, followed by al-Qaeda and ISIS. Now, it seems we’re fighting multiple forces without being able to pinpoint who is fighting who.
Both AQAP and ISIS are fighting each other, along with the Houthis. All three are fighting government forces backed by the Saudis. Saudi Arabia may be fighting Iran, though it’s not entirely certain if Iran is actually involved. The U.S., originally battling Houthis, now are fighting al-Qaeda, ISIS, and maybe Iran.
And who takes the brunt of this bloody civil war? Civilians do. From a population of 27 million, 2 million have been displaced, 14.4 million have no access to safe water or sanitation, and 17 million are considered food insecure. According to the UN, 4,773 civilians had been killed, with 8,272 more injured, as of March 26. It’s a major humanitarian crisis – a massacre in which the U.S. government appears to be increasing its role.
How did we get ourselves involved in this horrific mess? Through ties to shady foreign entities. If not for our allegiance to Saudi Arabia, we would have little business paying attention to this conflict. According to the UN, the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for 13 civilian casualties per day. Though the Saudi government is well known for its cruelty and has funded various terrorist groups, including ISIS, the U.S. government still conducted $110 billion dollars in arms deals with this foreign ally. We then turn a blind eye to the Saudi government’s crimes and, in the case of Yemen, participate in them.
In Syria, the U.S. is deeply entrenched in the deadliest conflict that the 21st century has seen. Arising from a peaceful “Arab spring” protest, the conflict began with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad quashing protestors and causing a faction of his military to form the Free Syrian Army. Their intended goal was to topple the Assad government, an effort that slipped Syria into an all-out civil war.
What got the U.S. involved? Well, accusations of Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people led former President Barack Obama to respond.
He decided that “the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” saying, “I’m confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.”
He would do so by training Syrian rebels, funding the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and later deploying troops. Throughout the conflict, rebel groups began to split and it became unclear who was an anti-government fighter or who was a terrorist. Ultimately, all this confusion and conflict led to the development of the Islamic State of Iraq in Syria (ISIS), when an al-Qaeda faction in Iraq led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi split from al-Qaeda.
Russia began its campaign of bombing in September 2015, with a goal of defending the Syrian government from terrorist groups. It not only bombed ISIS, but also U.S.-backed rebels.
Turkey, fearful of the development of a Kurdish state (Kurdistan) on its border with Syria, backed Assad in fighting the Kurds. The Kurds opposed Assad, wishing to develop their own state. Iran has also backed the Assad government and fought against rebel fighters. Saudi Arabia, in turn, has helped the U.S.-backed rebel groups.
This remarkably complex situation has evolved to pit Assad, Russia, and Iran against the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, with the development of ISIS making it increasingly hard to tell what anyone is actually fighting for. Is our enemy Assad? ISIS? Russia?
With so many civilian casualties on the hands of U.S. forces, it almost appears we’re fighting innocent women and children.
In April 2016, the UN estimated that the civilian death toll now exceeds 400,000. In fact, civilian fatalities rates are so high now that Airwars.org (a non-profit that monitors death tolls) estimates more than 2,500 civilians have been killed by the U.S.-led coalition. As of December 2016, 4.81 million Syrians had fled and 6.3 million were displaced within their country.
All this civilian bloodshed and suffering at our hands, for a conflict that we initially had no part in – and now, we’re not even sure who we’re fighting.
Elsewhere in the region, a U.S. defense official recently claimed that America would deploy about 200 troops to the city of Mosul to continue the battle against ISIS. This is an increase that will add to an already volatile situation within Iraq’s second largest city.
Since the development of ISIS, the U.S. has taken great care to fight back against its attempted expansion across Iraq. After seizing Mosul, outmanned ISIS forces were driven out by the U.S. and Iraqi forces in January. This was seen as a coalition victory, but the city would soon be a hotbed again, when what was soon revealed to be a coalition airstrike took out 200 civilians in a residential area in western Mosul. Apparently, the target had been a sniper who were said to have been hiding among civilians.
“When we got there, we heard women and children screaming under the rubble,” said a 55-year-old man named Zaidan.
Forty eight-year-old Rakan Sukur helped recover bodies from the rubble, stating, “You can’t imagine how I suffered to find these… there were pieces [of bodies] there, too.”
The intended target, ISIS commander Harbi Abdel Qader, managed to escape.
Radwan Ataallahs summed up the insanity by saying, “They killed most of our neighborhood for one ISIL member and they didn’t even get him. I don’t understand it.”
This scene isn’t rare for the citizens of Iraq, particularly in Mosul. The U.S.-led coalition has accounted for myriad tragedies in its needle-in-a-haystack-esque search for ISIS leaders. According to Airwars.org, 2,831 civilians have been killed by the coalition.
So … here we are today, a powerful nation that on a more-or-less daily basis bombs civilians who reside far from our borders. All of this suffering is for a fight against targets that seem impossible to strike, and that very possibly pose no imminent threat.
This aggressive Middle Eastern policy isn’t being defused under President Trump, with the announcement of several hundred troops being deployed into Raqqa, Syria and 240 more being sent into northern Iraq. When asked about his plan for ISIS, our President has said he’d “bomb the hell out of them.” It appears that in fighting against terror, we’ve actually begun our own terror campaign.
I’ll leave with a thought from Bashar Abdullah, a resident of the “New Mosul” neighborhood, who lost more than a dozen family members in the March 17 attack.
“Iraqi and American forces both assured us that it will be an easy battle, that’s why people didn’t leave their houses,” Abdullah said. “They felt safe. How could they have used this much artillery on civilian locations?”
Though fair, his question won’t be answered for some time.