White House exempts Syria airstrikes from tight standards on civilian deaths ~ With US Congress gone, Obama Reconsiders Attacking Assad
White House exempts Syria airstrikes from tight standards on civilian deaths
BY DANNY FRÖBERG ON SEPTEMBER 30, 2014
Amid reports of women and children killed in U.S. air offensive, official says the ‘near certainty’ policy doesn’t apply
The White House has acknowledged for the first time that strict standards [sic] President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from U.S. drone strikes will not apply to U.S. military operations in Syria and Iraq.
A White House statement to Yahoo News confirming the looser policy came in response to questions about reports that as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children, were killed when a Tomahawk missile struck the village of Kafr Daryan in Syria\’s Idlib province on the morning of Sept. 23.
The village has been described by Syrian rebel commanders as a reported stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front where U.S officials believed members of the so-called Khorasan group were plotting attacks against international aircraft.
But at a briefing for members and staffers of the House Foreign Affairs Committee late last week, Syrian rebel commanders described women and children being hauled from the rubble after an errant cruise missile destroyed a home for displaced civilians. Images of badly injured children also appeared on YouTube, helping to fuel anti-U.S. protests in a number of Syrian villages last week.
“They were carrying bodies out of the rubble. … I saw seven or eight ambulances coming out of there,” said Abu Abdo Salabman, a political member of one of the Free Syria Army factions, who attended the briefing for Foreign Affairs Committee members and staff. “We believe this was a big mistake.”
Asked about the strike at Kafr Daryan, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said Tuesday thatU.S. military “did target a Khorasan group compound near this location. However, we have seen no evidence at this time to corroborate claims of civilian casualties.” But Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told Yahoo News that Pentagon officials “take all credible allegations seriously and will investigate” the reports.
At the same time, however, Hayden said that a much-publicized White House policy that President Obama announced last year barring U.S. drone strikes unless there is a “near certainty” there will be no civilian casualties — “the highest standard we can meet,” he said at the time — does not cover the current U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
The “near certainty” standard was intended to apply “only when we take direct action ‘outside areas of active hostilities,’ as we noted at the time,” Hayden said in an email. “That description — outside areas of active hostilities — simply does not fit what we are seeing on the ground in Iraq and Syria right now.”
Hayden added that U.S. military operations against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Syria, “like all U.S. military operations, are being conducted consistently with the laws of armed conflict, proportionality and distinction.”
The laws of armed conflict prohibit the deliberate targeting of civilian areas and require armed forces to take precautions to prevent inadvertent civilian deaths as much as possible.
But one former Obama administration official said the new White House statement raises questions about how the U.S. intends to proceed in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, and under what legal authorities.
“They seem to be creating this grey zone” for the conflict, said Harold Koh, who served as the State Department’s top lawyer during President Obama’s first term. “If we’re not applying the strict rules [to prevent civilian casualties]to Syria and Iraq, then they are of relatively limited value.”
Questions about civilian deaths from U.S. counterterrorism operations have confronted the Obama administration from the outset, after the president sharply ramped up drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, resulting in sometimes heated internal policy debates.
Addressing the subject last year in a speech at the National Defense University, Obama acknowledged for the first time that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, adding: “For me and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live.”
Sources familiar with the new “near certainty” standard Obama announced at the time said that, as a practical matter, it meant that every drone strike had to be signed off on by the White House — first by Lisa Monaco, Obama’s chief homeland security adviser, and ultimately by the president himself. The policy, one source said, caused some Pentagon officials to chafe at the new restrictions — and led to a noticeable reduction in such strikes by the military and the CIA.
While the White House has said little about the standards it is using for strikes in Syria and Iraq, one former official who has been briefed on the matter said the looser policy gives more discretion to theater commanders at the U.S. Central Command to select targets without the same level of White House oversight.
The issue arose during last week’s briefing for two House Foreign Affairs Committee members and two staffers when rebel leaders associated with factions of the Free Syria Army complained about the civilian deaths — and the fact that the targets were in territory controlled by the Nusra Front, a sometimes ally of the U.S.-backed rebels in its war with the Islamic State and the Syrian regime.
But at least one of the House members present, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who supports stronger U.S. action in Syria, said he was not overly concerned. “I did hear them say there were civilian casualties, but I didn’t get details,” Kinzinger said in an interview with Yahoo News. “But nothing is perfect,” and whatever civilian deaths resulted from the U.S. strikes are “much less than the brutality of the Assad regime.”
Source: Michael Isikoff / Yahoo News
Obama Reconsiders Attacking Assad
Sometimes bad ideas die slowly. It was only one year ago that Obama announced he would bomb the Syrian government, only to change his mind at the last minute. Now the same fetid war talk is sprouting fresh roots in the ever-fertile U.S. military. Various media outlets reported that Obama might “enforce a no fly zone in Syria to protect civilians from the Syrian government.”
This just weeks after the U.S. public was told that ISIS was the reason the U.S. military was now in Syria. The 2014 media sound bites mimic the 2013 scare tactics, copying the “humanitarian motives” behind the push towards war with the Syrian government. For example, in 2013 The New York Times blandly discussed the “no fly zone” option:
“To establish buffer zones to protect parts of Turkey or Jordan to provide safe havens for Syrian rebels and a base for delivering humanitarian assistance would require imposing a limited no-fly zone and deploying thousands of American ground forces.”
Fast forward to September 27th 2014, where The New York Times published an article called, “U.S. Considers No Fly Zone to Protect Civilians,” where we read:
“The Obama administration has not ruled out establishing a no-fly zone over northeastern Syria to protect civilians from airstrikes by the Syrian government…Creating a buffer, or no-fly zone, would require warplanes to disable the Syrian government’s air defense system through airstrikes.”
A no-fly zone would also require that the U.S. prevent the Syrian air force from flying over Syrian airspace by destroying Syrian fighter jets, i.e., full scale war with the Syrian government and possibly its allies. This last part is always left out, so as to not anger the American public.
Under international law no country has any legal right to carve out a “buffer zone” within another country, even if the no-fly zone was actually well intended. For example, even Canada cannot legally create a buffer zone in Ferguson, Missouri to protect civilians from police violence.
The Syrian government is not bombing random civilians near the Turkish border; they are attacking ISIS and its ideological cousins. These are the same groups that Obama says that he’s waging a war on.
Do civilians die when Syria attacks with bombs? Yes, which is one reason that a lot of popular anger is channeled towards the government in these areas, the same way that anger is now mounting against the U.S. bombings that kill civilians in Syria.
If Obama truly wanted to target ISIS he would have included Syria, Iran, and Russia in his anti-ISIS “coalition.” These nations were excluded because Obama’s coalition is the exact same one that only months before was a U.S.-led coalition against the Syrian government. The grouping maintains its original purpose but puts on a new shirt to fool a media that’s content with surface explanations.
But as soon as the newly dressed U.S. coalition started bombing ISIS, various “partners” announced, unsurprisingly, that Assad was “the real problem.” Obama’s Gulf state monarchy partners never had the stomach to fight ISIS, because they and the U.S. are primarily responsible for its growth, as countries like Qatar dumped money and extremist fighters into the arms of ISIS. Qatar recently reiterated that the Syrian government was the “main problem,” not ISIS.
When Obama announced his strategy to fight ISIS, he snuck in a plan to further invest in the Syrian rebels, whom politicians claimed would be used against ISIS. But these rebels are rebelling against the Syrian government, not ISIS.
Obama even discussed his intent at the UN to use the Syrian rebels against the government:
“…America is training and equipping the Syrian opposition to be a counterweight to the terrorists of ISIL and the brutality of the Assad regime.”
The public talk of a no-fly zone is accompanied by no explanation as to the possible repercussions, including the real danger of an even larger regional war that would likely kill an additional hundreds of thousands and create millions more refugees.
Any U.S. attack on the Syrian government would likely happen sooner than later. The “coalition” of Arab monarchies has lost its patience. The members of this coalition blindly followed Obama into attacking Syria a year ago and were enraged that the president backed out. Saudi Arabia protested by refusing a seat at the UN Security Council.
Obama’s regional follower-allies have invested in an expensive war for three years and have taken on millions of Syrian refugees, creating a destabilizing effect across the region among nations already politically fragile. These shaky regimes cannot support — and would not survive — another three years of war as they wait for Obama to deliver the Syrian deathblow. They demand decisive action, and soon.
History is already condemning the U.S.-led destruction of multiple civilizations in the Middle East, reducing the once-functioning and modern nations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria to dysfunction and chaos, where millions of people flee violence and lose their dignity to the hopelessness of refugee camps. Funding rebels or imposing no fly zones in an already-demolished region will inevitably create more war and backlash.