NEW DELHI: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has estimated that United States-led forces have killed 553 militants and 32 civilians during a month-long campaign in Syria. 464 of those killed were Islamic State (IS) militants, 57 were members of the Nusra Front, and of the civilian casualties, six were children and five were women.

It is pertinent to note that the definition of a ‘militant’ makes the exact figures difficult to arrive at. The US administration assumes that military age males in strike zones are militants, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. Further, the local population is considered “guilty by association” and will be defined as a “militant” if they are seen in the company or in the association of a terrorist operative.

“Signature strikes” are also another example of indiscriminate killings being ratified as official policy. Individuals are targeted without any knowledge of their identity, if they are seen in engaging in what is deemed as “suspicious activity.” Suspicious activity is itself very loosely defined, prompting a senior State Department official to note that when the CIA sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp.

The US has thus far maintained that its military operation in Syria has not caused any civilian deaths, even though reports emerging from the ground differ.

Earlier in September, a video emerged that showed residents walking through their destroyed homes following a US airstrike, with the narrator of the video being heard saying, ‘“mass destruction of the civilian homes as a result of the strikes of the Western alliance on the civilians in the western Idlib suburbs… Look, it is all civilian homes.”

On another occasion, AP quoted the director of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, Rami Abdurrahman, on the casualties of a US airstrike a few weeks ago, saying, “They killed only civilians there, workers at the site. There was no ISIS inside.” The comment had referred to a strike that hit grain silos in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, which, as Reuters reported, may have been mistaken for an Islamic State base.

In another incident, on September 23 when the US first bombed Syria, at least seven civilians, including five children, were killed in the village of Kafr Deryan in northern Idlib province. "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, or that it unlawfully caused civilian loss disproportionate to the expected military advantage," Human Rights Watch had said in a statement.

In fact, at the end of September, the White House acknowledged that the strict standards President Obama imposed last year to prevent civilian deaths from US drone strikes will not apply to US operations in Syria and Iraq.

Further, the BBC reported that Syrian fighters backed by the US have indicated that the US-led coalition faces a backlash in Syria owing to its bombing campaign. Reports of civilian deaths resulting from airstrikes have brought people out on the streets in protest.

Although the US State Department lists 60 nations as part of its coalition against IS, it is the only western nation that is bombing Syria. Of the 60 nations, only 23 are involved in the military operation in Iraq and Syria, with western allies limiting themselves to the former.

(Source: The Global Post)