US involvement in Syria to prolong war, cause forgotten civilian casualties

May 30,2018 – JORDAN TIMES –

Monday was the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day in the US, a day of commemoration originally set aside following the country’s devastating civil war.

In the small town of Ashland, Oregon, people memorialised US war dead with ice cream, backyard barbecues and traffic jams. Only veterans and their families thought seriously about the dead, wounded and the mentally traumatised, particularly among those who have fought recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Elsewhere, bargain hunters flocked to Memorial Day sales, while parades and events were held. In some communities, the focus was on soldiers killed in George W. Bush’s unending “war on terror”, which has given rise to terrorism that has engulfed Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and slain uncounted and undocumented thousands of civilians. Nevertheless, for the vast majority of US citizens, war simply does not exist. War does not touch their lives because no one they know dies or is maimed in body or spirit in war.

During the country’s first century, 683,000 US military personnel were killed, with the civil war accounting for 91 per cent of the fatalities. Another 626,000 died during both world wars and subsequent wars. It is notably that, in the listing of conflicts made by the US Army Military History Institute, there is no information on fatalities among US antagonists, particularly since a certain number of deaths took place during wars against native tribes and wars of aggression and interventions conducted abroad. Among the countries affected were Mexico, China, the Philippines, Haiti, Russia, Nicaragua, Korea, El Salvador, Lebanon, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and, most recently, Syria and Yemen.

This partial listing of countries where Washington has intervened militarily demonstrates that from its earliest days, the US was an imperial power determined to extend the reach of its armed forces across the globe. Today, the US exercises its external power largely through 800 military bases in 70 countries and nearly 200,000 troops deployed in 150 countries.

By contrast, Britain, France and Russia combined operate a total of 30 bases and dispatch far fewer troops to foreign countries.

The most prominent ongoing US military interventions have taken place in Afghanistan and this region, which have been justified by the post-September 2001 “war on terrorism”. The first US assault took place in Afghanistan that November. Since then, some 2,500 US troops have been slain, while the deaths of 31,000 Afghan civilians have been documented. Today, the resurgent Taliban holds half the country and the killing continues.

The second unfinished US war has been conducted since March 2003 in Iraq, where 4,424 US troops have been killed. The US military stated from the outset that it did not count Iraqi war dead, either combatants or civilians. This task has been left to outsiders relying on morgue and hospital records and newspaper reports. Iraq Body Count puts the documented figure for civilians at 181,507-203,625. Other estimates are far higher: the true figure could be 600,000 or even more than a million. While Daesh-held pockets of territory have been cleared from Iraq, Daesh guerrillas continue to harass the Iraqi military and carry out attacks on civilians. The war against Daesh is far from over.

Since US troops were deployed in Syria in 2014, there have been only four declared US fatalities. Since 2011, the overall number of Syrian deaths ranges from 350,000 documented by the Britain-based, opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. It says the figure is more than 500,000 if undocumented fatalities are factored in. These tallies include both civilian and combatant deaths, the latter accounting for at least 60 per cent. Syria is currently divided between government-held territory, 65 per cent, US-surrogate-controlled territory, 25 per cent, and US and Turkish protected takfiri-dominated areas in the north, north-west and south.

From March 2015, the US has played a key support and logistics role in the Saudi-prosecuted war in Yemen, which has killed thousands, although the toll has remained at 10,000 over the past few years. There have been no US military personnel killed.

In all these conflicts, the US toll — if there is one — is a fraction of the body count among civilians, whose deaths are regarded as necessary “collateral damage.” When setting estimates of civilians killed during the US-backed Iraqi and Kurdish offensives against Daesh in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, these were far below guesstimates made by human rights bodies.

There are no memorial days for the innocents who die in theatres of war, where the US plays a major part in the fighting. This practice was set during the wars the US army waged against US native tribes attempting to defend their lands and way of life against larger and better armed forces.

Although Donald Trump has proclaimed he intends to withdraw the 2,000 US troops from Syria, he has deepened US involvement in that country, making it more likely that reinforcements will be sent. His aim is to counter the Russian and Iranian military and paramilitary presence in that country. The US now occupies about 25 per cent of Syria’s territory through its Kurdish surrogates in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). In February, US war planes attacked a column of Syrian troops and Russian contractors advancing on a SDF base in eastern Deir Ezzor province, killing a large number of personnel and warning both Damascus and Moscow that restoring Syrian sovereignty was not, at least not yet, a possibility.

US ally Turkey, which has territorial ambitions in Syria, has also occupied stretches of territory in the north of Syria and the US has warned Damascus that its army would elicit US retaliation if the Syrian military were to attack Daesh, Al Qaeda and other taqfiri forces in the south around Daraa and the Golan, where Israeli troops have been in action.

Creeping US involvement in Syria is certain to prolong the war and cause endless civilian casualties, who will not be counted accurately, documented or remembered and memorialised.

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