US-led air strikes indicate lack of coordination

US-led coalition air operations in Syria causing civilian casualties due to lack of coordination

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Photograph taken from Suruc district of Sanliurfa, Turkey, near Turkish-Syrian border shows smoke rising from Syrian border town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) following US-led coalition air strikes against ISIS

Updated Aug 22, 2015

The US-led international coalition, which includes the US, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates conducted its initial air strikes in Iraq on Aug. 8, 2014 against ISIS militants before extending its operations to Syria in September.

Since the start of the operations against the growing threat and territorial control of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, the military coalition has launched nearly 5,000 air strikes, 2,657 in Iraq and 2,289 in Syria causing the cost of US military operations to rise beyond $3.2 billion, according to figures released by US Central Command (CENTCOM).

The campaign against ISIS, known as Operation "Inherent Resolve" (OIR), involves a combination of air strikes to slow and ideally stop ISIS advances on the ground, in addition to a training programme to reinforce Iraq’s military forces.

The coalition air strikes are primarily aimed at attacking ISIS, but recent events indicate that they also targeted the town of Atma in northern Syria on August 11, an area controlled by an opposition faction, where many unarmed civilians reside

Atma is located in the province of Idlib, which was captured from Assad forces on March 28, 2015 by Jaysh al Fattah, group consists of many opposition factions.

An arsenal and a base belonging to Jaysh al Sunna, an independent Homs-based opposition fighting group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, was targeted by the US-led international coalition, causing nearby civilian homes to collapse.

“The strikes hit the Jaysh al Sunna weapons depot, which was also used to manufacture shells and rockets. There was a huge explosion after the strikes,” the London-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported.

“Residential buildings near the target were also struck,” the Observatory added.

Atma harbors one of the biggest refugee camps in Syria. Since October 2011, internally displaced Syrians who were not able to cross over to Turkey began to camp under olive trees due to the lack of facilities. A camp was built in the area named the Olive Tree Camp, which houses more than 28,000 people, according to the Maram Foundation.

US Senator John McCain said in a statement that “75 percent of the air raids against ISIS don't hit their targets, because there is no one on the ground to give them pointers.”

On May 1, 2015, more than 60 civilians, including seven children, were killed in air strikes conducted by the US-led coalition in Syria targeting the village of Bir Mahlei in the district of Aleppo, according to the SOHR.

The observatory branded the operation a “massacre,” claiming innocent people had become “casualties of the hunt for ISIS militants” and that the US along with the members of the coalition involved regularly under-report the civilian death toll of the air strikes.

Airwars, an independent investigative project that tracks the international war against ISIS, concluded in a report featuring a wide range of sources, including local media, witness reports, social media and video evidence, that since the launch of the anti-ISIS campaign between 459 to 591 civilians have reportedly been killed by US-led coalition air strikes.

In another incident, the US-led coalition air strikes claimed the lives of at least 50 Syrian civilians on December 28, 2014, who were imprisoned by ISIS militants due to disobeying their rules, according to an eyewitness and a Syrian opposition human rights organisation.

The civilians were being held in a make-shift jail in the town of Al Bab in northern Syria close to the Turkish border, when the building, called Al Saraya was leveled in an air strike.

Complications of US-Turkey cooperation

Recently, a joint plan by Turkey and the US to create a de facto “safe zone” in northern Syria emerged after both countries agreed to increase cooperation against the growing power of the ISIS insurgency.

Ankara allowed Washington to use the Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey last month, as the parties reached an agreement on the US-led anti-ISIS international campaign and pledged cooperation with one another in the wake of militant attacks in Turkey.

The strikes in Atma came soon after the initiation of the joint plan, rousing suspicions regarding US cooperation with Turkey in battling ISIS.

US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner stated that he was “not aware” of the air strikes on the village of Atma.

Answering a written question posed by Turkish Daily Sabah’s Washington correspondent, Ragip Soylu, OIR said that it can confirm that coalition air strikes on August 11 hit targets, including Atma, around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

The town of Atma is less than a kilometer away from Turkey’s Syrian border, and the targeted Syrian opposition group, Jaysh al Sunna, is not known to have ties with ISIS or the Al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

A Turkish government official, who spoke to on the condition of anonymity on Aug. 15 said “The US did not inform Turkey about the coalition air strikes that hit northern Syrian town of Atma,” near Syria's Turkish border.

The air strikes were carried out without the prior knowledge of Turkish authorities despite an agreement between the NATO allies to coordinate efforts in Syria and Turkey’s decision to allow the US to use the Incirlik Air Base in Adana Province.

“There seems to be a lack of coordination between the two sides,” said Kadir Ustun, the Executive Director of SETA Foundation in Washington DC.

TRTWorld and agencies