As of the 23rd of October 2014, and according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, 32 civilians have been killed by U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria since their onset on September 23rd.
Given that it’s unlikely the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has documented every last death, there’s a reasonable possibility that the actual toll could be higher.
Some of these civilians may have been killed unlawfully. Human Rights Watch have documented how in Kafr Deryan:
‘US missile strikes . . . that killed at least seven civilians should be investigated for possible violations of the laws of war‘, and that ‘Witness accounts suggest that the attack on the village harmed civilians but did not strike a military target, violating the laws of war by failing to discriminate between combatants and civilians‘.
However, it’s a near certainty that Human Rights Watch’s call for an ‘investigation’ into these potential war crimes will fall on deaf ears.
The U.S. have been killing civilians for years in Afghanistan, for example, and as Amnesty International recently reported, these incidents:
go uninvestigated and unpunished. In the vast majority of cases, even where the available evidence suggests that killings were unlawful, family members of the victims have no means whatsoever of accessing justice.
There is no good reason to believe that things will be any different in Syria. Impunity for war crimes will be the norm.
As well as directly killing and injuring civilians, U.S.-led airstrikes have harmed them in other ways.
In late September in Manbij, wheat silos providing food for the surrounding population were bombed. In Raqqa, airstrikes lead to ‘an exodus’ as people fled the town in fear for their lives. And in general, as the International Committee of the Red Cross have reported, the strikes have made an already bad humanitarian situation worse.
You can expect the body count from U.S.-led air strikes to steadily rise over the course of the coming weeks, months and years – and U.S. military officials are openly saying that this is going to be a very long war.
The rate of civilian attrition is also likely to be higher in Syria than in countries like Afghanistan, given that, as CNN have reported:
New rules meant to temper the civilian death toll from unmanned U.S. drones won’t apply in the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the White House says.
The gloves, then, would very much appear to be off, and the blows being inflicted on Syria are likely to become heavier as the war progresses.
Supposedly, such zones would be intended to protect the displaced civilians within them from regime and ISIS depredations. That would obviously require a ‘coalition’ military presence on the ground, and a ‘no-fly zone’ in the air. Because they would ostensibly be designed to protect civilians, the idea of setting up ‘buffer zones’ has gained a bit of traction among elements of the human rights community.
The reality of them, however, would have nothing to do with protecting civilians. As The New York Times reported on October 9th:
While Turkey has largely described the plan in humanitarian terms — to protect refugees and also Turkey’s border — the argument made privately is that a buffer zone would quickly evolve into a place where moderate rebels would be trained to fight Mr. Assad’s government; in other words, a fledgling rebel state.
So wishful thinking aside, ‘buffer zones’ are in effect a means by which the war in Syria will be escalated, and tilted towards regime change. The ‘protecting civilians’ part is just propaganda designed to sell these zones to precisely the kind of liberal humanitarians who are now calling for them.
But people like General Carter Ham – who as head of AFRICOM oversaw the implementation of the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya – are under no illusions about what implementing a similar ‘no-fly zone’ in Syria would look like (and again, there can be no ‘buffer zone’ without a ‘no-fly zone’ to protect it):
We should make no bones about it. It first entails killing a lot of people and destroying the Syrian air defenses and those people who are manning those systems. And then it entails destroying the Syrian air force, preferably on the ground, in the air if necessary. This is a violent combat action that results in lots of casualties and increased risk to our own personnel.
So these nice, liberal, humane, clinical ‘buffer zones’ and ‘no-fly zones’ would actually be ‘violent combat actions’ that ‘entail killing a lot of people’ and that will ‘result in lots of casualties’. And this is the way the war in Syria could be headed.
Given that the current U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria were sold, at least in part, as a necessary measure to protect Syrian civilians from ISIS, it’s striking just how little attention state-corporate media have paid to the deleterious effects those strikes are having.
Nor will there be any sustained pressure from the state-corporate press to have potential war crimes – such as those committed in Kafr Deryan – investigated. Civilian killings and war crimes perpetrated by the U.S. et al are barely even news these days, let alone a cause celebre for ‘mainstream’ journalism.
And so the U.S. et al will just carry on killing civilians in Syria, and committing war crimes with impunity, while being allowed to claim a moral high ground that they simply have no right to occupy.