Hitting what we aim at

As you may recall, three weeks ago the Obama administration declared that it did the math and its airstrikes in “non-war zones” like Yemen and Pakistan have only killed between 64 and 116 civilians since 2009. That this figure is considerably lower than any independent estimate apparently didn’t give the White House any pause. Trust us, they said, we have more information than anybody else, and you can ignore, for some reason, that we also have a vested interest in rigging our count to make this number as small as we possibly can. We’re just really, really good at hitting only what we aim at.

I bring this up in the context of reports earlier this week that US airstrikes near Manbij, Syria, killed at least 73 civilians whom the Americans “mistook” for ISIS fighters:

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, activists described coalition aircraft hitting a cluster of houses in the village of Tokkhar, where nearly 200 people had gathered to seek shelter as the frontline shifted towards their homes. Most of those inside were killed or injured.

“The death toll is 117. We could document [the identity of] 73 civilians including 35 children and 20 women. The rest of the dead bodies are charred, or have been reduced to shreds,” said Adnan al-Housen, an activist from Manbij.

He said around 50 injured survivors were rushed for treatment to the border town of Jarablus, where they provided details about the attack.

Ahmad Mohammad from the Syrian Institute for Justice, a Turkey-based group which monitors human rights violations, has also documented 73 victims, from at least nine families. UK-based monitoring group AirWars has recorded the names of a similar number of dead from several different sources.

Now, Syria is a “war zone” for the purposes of the administrations bullshit civilian casualty count, but airstrikes are airstrikes, and you’re either good at hitting the “bad guys” or you’re not. Granted, in this case it still seems like these aircraft hit the people at which they were aiming, it’s just that their aiming was catastrophically shitty. And if it’s shitty in Syria, there’s no reason to believe that it’s not also shitty in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Oh well. At least the airstrikes are going to continue. On the plus side, Washington is reportedly “reconsidering” support for one of its proxy rebel groups, the Nour al-Din Zenki Movement, and all it took for that to happen was for video to surface of one of that group’s fighters beheading a 12 year old boy. So that’s something.

In other Manbij news, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces yesterday reportedly gave ISIS fighters still in Manbij 48 hours to evacuate the city. Manbij is important because it’s ISIS’s last major corridor to the Turkish border, so it’s crucial both for the SDF to take it and for ISIS to keep it. If there’s been a response to the 48 hour deadline, I have yet to see anything about it.

Meanwhile, most attention in Syria is focused on Aleppo, which has been virtually encircled by Syrian government forces, putting its estimated 300,000-400,000 people under siege. Government troops were able to choke off the Castello Road, the last open passage into and out of rebel-held Aleppo, earlier this month, and rebel efforts to drive them back have failed. Aside from the implications for the rebellion were Aleppo to be taken by Bashar al-Assad’s forces, which would be considerable, this turn of events has also made Aleppo into one gigantic, slow-rolling humanitarian disaster, unfolding right before everyone’s eyes. Even government-held parts of the city are in a bad way, as stepped-up rebel attacks are causing large numbers of civilian casualties.


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