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‘If US aerial bombings don’t kill Raqqa citizens, ISIS snipers will’

‘If US aerial bombings don’t kill Raqqa citizens, ISIS snipers will’
The Pentagon appears willing to accept a number of civilian casualties as it is pursuing high-value targets. But it is unconscionable to be doing aerial bombing in very densely populated city areas, says former Pentagon official Michael Maloof.

In Syria, the battle for what was once considered Islamic State's de-facto capital is taking a horrendous toll on civilians caught in the crossfire.

The UN estimates dozens of civilians are being killed on a daily basis.

“The UN estimates that an average of 27 people are being killed in Raqqa, every day,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council Wednesday.

RT: Is it that shocking that civilians are dying during a military operation on the scale of Raqqa? Could things get worse than nearly 30 civilians killed a day? How horrified and shocked should we be?

Michael Maloof: I think very shocked and from the time that Kirby said that we’ve had a new administration and they have relaxed the rules a great deal. I think the Pentagon has made a determination that they can accept a certain number of civilian casualties if they are going after high-value targets. But it is just unconscionable to be doing aerial bombing in very densely populated city areas. It is just crazy, and they know there will be casualties, and yet they are willing to accept that. They are not saying anything. If the Pentagon is confronted about it, they just defer and say we will investigate and you never hear another word again. This is not the way you do it. We are not in a total war situation as we were in WWII and the way that this is being conducted is a guarantee for civilian casualties in a very high number. They are basically caught between a rock and a hard place: if the aerial bombing doesn’t get them, then ISIS will snipe at them. It is a terrible development. I think this needs to be publicized more. You never hear anything like this, at least that I can recall in the mainstream media. We are not talking about this. And yet these casualties are occurring on a daily basis at very high numbers, and that is just unacceptable.

The battle for Raqqa started about three months ago, and if it’s like 30 people on a daily basis, then we are talking about 2,500 to 3,000 civilians dead. That is about 1/10 of the population that remains over there. It is really a shocking figure. Only recently the coalition that is led by the US has issued a report whereby they claimed that only about 624 civilians died since they started operations three years ago against ISIS.  There is a huge mismatch between what the reality is and what this coalition is saying. Nobody is talking about it. And people probably do not recognize the tragedy that is taking place and unfolding over there. - Ammar Waqqaf, director of Gnosos, a British think tank that focuses on crises in Syria and the Middle East, to RT

RT: The Raqqa operation has been ongoing for almost a year now. What could have been done in that time to minimize civilian casualties? Why would the coalition forces take this route? Is this the path of least resistance? Does that mean that it minimizes the chances of suffering casualties in their own troops? Is it cheaper?

MM: Both. Both to expedite and to minimize casualties of troops on the ground. When they call in airstrikes on buildings, we have no idea what is in that building. Then they go ahead and launch bombs on that building, but it could be a four-story building full of civilians. They are not taking the necessary precautions. And as we saw in Ramallah and other places – they were doing more door to door and house to house. But in Mosul as well they were doing a lot of aerial bombing. So, clearly a decision has been made just to expedite – to do this in a very swift fashion and try to minimize the number of civilian casualties, assuming, of course, that there will be some. And that is the way they are proceeding.

When the Syrian Army finally liberated the eastern part of Aleppo, there was a lot of talk in the media about massacres that were taken part over there. Suddenly, they were caught by surprise because only when the Syrian Army reached the final one-square kilometer in which the militants were entrapped did we hear about all these rape issues and killing of women and children. But anyway we understand that there were like tens of thousands of those civilians who were actually trapped in Eastern Aleppo who fled to the government side.  And I think most obvious example and most famous was Omran Daqneesh whose images at the back of an ambulance shocked the world. He turned out to be later to have fled with other civilians to government-controlled areas for safety. Apparently, they were taken hostage for two or three years by those militants. You have to get right information and this is not going to happen until you have people and sources on the ground. It is not about aerial monitoring from drones and everything. People need to believe that you are coming to help rather than coming to destroy. - Ammar Waqqaf, director of Gnosos, a British think tank that focuses on crises in Syria and the Middle East, to RT.

RT: Is the danger going to create problems for future generations?

MM: The children themselves…Some of them may be going to school. Some who have escaped may be going to school, but the trauma of what they have been through is going to come back and they are going to remember those aerial bombers. They are going to remember who did it. And we basically are building a new generation of ISIS fighters or extremist fighters as they get older, and then they realize what happened and the impact. The post traumatic syndrome, if you will, kicks in, and that is going to affect them for the rest of their lives.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.