Civilians Killed Sparking Criticism
Erbil, Iraq — American air strikes in Syria have prompted a wave of protest across the country as the US broadens its mandate from targeting Islamic State (IS) targets to other groups within the country. At the same time, there is no sign of strikes against the Syrian government.
Over the last week American strikes have hit targets in Aleppo and Idlib provinces that the US say are part of a terror network with plans to conduct attacks on American soil. The almost unknown Korasan group, affiliated with the popular Al-Qa’ida-linked Nusra Front group was targeted in the first round of strikes and since then additional Nusra Front affiliates have been added to the list.
"These countries have done a despicable act that will put them on the list of those targeted by jihadist forces all over the world,” a Nusra Front spokesman told The Media Line. "It's not a war against the Nusra Front, it's a war against Islam.” He was referring to air strikes against Nusra Front targets, some of which are said by local residents to have killed civilians, including women and children in areas with any IS presence.
A strike in Kafr Deryan, in Idlib province last week that killed at least two men, two women, and five children has prompted Human Right Watch to call for an investigation.
“The US government should investigate possible unlawful strikes that killed civilians, publicly report on them, and commit to appropriate redress measures in case of wrongdoing,” Nadim Houry, the deputy Middle East and North Africa director said.
For most Syrians the broadening of the US mandate, combined with the lack of action against the government of Bashar Al -Assad, who has been responsible for tens of thousands more civilian casualties than IS, has aroused suspicion about the motives of the coalition of countries who have pledged to fight the extremist Islamist group.
“This means this is war against Islam, not ISIS,” Abu Yusuf, a moderate Muslim from Aleppo and supporter of the Liwa al-Tahwid bridgade told The Media Line.
Last week, protests in Syria took place in 40 places across the country, something not seen since the early days of the revolution in 2011. Since then, nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions have fled Syria.
Protestors reclaimed revolutionary slogans, replacing 'Bashar' with 'America' as they wielded signs and changed "down with America'. Even Kafranbel, the town famed for its colourful protest posters, mostly addressed to western audiences, has come out in support of the Nusra Front.
Targeting the Islamic state without focusing on the Al-Qa’ida-linked group was always going to be a hard sell to the US congress as the 'war on terror' has focused on the threat posed by the jihadist movement for many years. However, on the ground in Syria, the Nusra Front has broad popular support and provides some of the best equipped and most disciplined fighters against both the government and the Islamic State. Targeting them weakens the rebel movement and the increasing civilian casualties in areas where there is no IS presence has angered local people and moderate rebels groups alike.
Moderate rebel brigades, some of whom have received American weapons, have turned against their former allies after the strikes. The Harakat Hazzm brigade, which was reported to have received US TOW missiles, spoke out against intervention. Even the Syrian Kurdish brigade, the YPG, have expressed their annoyance that the strikes have not targeted IS positions around besieged Kobane with enough force to prevent the city falling to the group. IS has consolidated its frontline positions in the region with fighters and military hardware moved from areas targeted by strikes, in order to prevent losses.
Syrian analysts say the US-led intervention cmae too long after it was needed and without coordination with those on the ground. They say any impact the American air strikes are having on the Islamic State are being heavily countered by the damage their doing to morale and support elsewhere in the country.