In the two months since Donald Trump took office, U.S. airstrikes have killed an astonishing number of civilians in the Middle East.
Over the weekend, the U.S. government confirmed that it launched an airstrike in Mosul, Iraq, which killed as many as 200 Iraqi civilians. Rescue workers on Sunday told the Washington Post that they had removed over 100 bodies from the ruins of one house, and they are still working to clear the rest of the neighborhood.
The attack took place on March 17, but it took the U.S. government a full week to acknowledge it. “An initial review of strike data from March 16–23 indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces, the Coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties,” read a Pentagon statement on Saturday.
Details about the attack are still emerging, and the military has said it is investigating. But it’s not just Mosul. U.S.-led attacks in Syria in the last two weeks—one in Mansoura, a rural area of Raqqa, and another in Al Jinah, a village in western Aleppo —killed at least 79 people.
In Mansoura, an attack on March 22 hit a school, according to Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a group of activists and journalists who monitor the conflict there. At least 30 people died.
— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) March 22, 2017
On March 16, U.S. officials said they targeted a building in Al Jinah where al-Qaeda members were meeting, but residents said a mosque without any political affiliation was struck and innocent civilians died. At least 49 were killed in the attack.
Reports have shown a dramatic uptick in the number of civilian casualties due to airstrikes since Trump took office. Airwars, a British-based NGO that monitors strikes in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, found that over 1,200 people were allegedly killed this month alone.
“Precision simply means your bomb or missile got where it needs to go. [The war] has gotten to a point where 500 to 1,000-pound, sometimes 2,000-pound, bombs are hitting densely populated neighborhoods,” Chris Woods, head of Airwars, recently told Al Jazeera, noting that even when an airstrike is defended as precise, there are still often civilian casualties.
Equally important, as The Intercept noted, Airwars data shows that while the number of civilian deaths has increased, the number of airstrikes has been lower so far this month, “strongly suggesting that the U.S. military has become even more reckless about civilian deaths under Trump than it was under Obama,” according to The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald.
Trump promised to deliver a plan to defeat ISIS in his first 30 days as president. He broke this promise, but that clearly hasn’t stopped his interest in increasing U.S. military involvement in the region.
Earlier this month, news reports said the government was considering sending up to 1,000 troops to northern Syria. Several hundred U.S. marines were deployed to Syria a week before that announcement. On Monday, the U.S. military announced it will send 200 troops to Iraq in the battle for Mosul.
None of this is surprising. Trump is quite hawkish, and was an early supporter of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and the 2011 invasion of Libya (though he later claimed to have opposed both all along). During his campaign, Trump showed little regard for civilian casualties or international law. He advocated the use of torture, promised to kill the families of ISIS members, dismissed the Geneva Convention, and even said he would consider sending 20,000–30,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East. His administration has also threatened Iran and assumed a bellicose posture toward the country.
Just days into office, Trump approved a deadly raid in Yemen that killed a Navy SEAL and at least 30 Yemeni civilians.