Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary, has admitted that on March 26th, a British airstrike killed a motorcyclist who rode into its path in Syria by chance. It is the first confirmation of a civilian casualty by UK forces in the fight against Islamic State.
The unintentional death, described by Williamson as “deeply regrettable”, was confirmed during post-strike analyses of drone footage and other imagery.
The official position of the Ministry of Defence until yesterday’s announcement had been that it had seen no evidence of UK airstrikes causing civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria.
A source within the US-led coalition against Isis, however, told the BBC that he had seen evidence that British airstrikes had caused civilian casualties “on several occasions”. “To suggest they have not, as has been done, is nonsense,” the source added.
The coalition has begun an investigation and will issue a report. The airstrike was by a Reaper drone, remotely operated by pilots in the UK or at an airbase in the United States.
The defence secretary admits that RAF jets and drones have conducted more than 1,600 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and Airwars, a group that has been monitoring civilian casualties, claimed it was likely that between 1,066 and 1,579 civilians had died in the fighting in Mosul. The US and Australia have accepted responsibility for civilian casualties. The coalition has admitted causing just over 350 civilian deaths in Mosul.
The deaths, in particular those of women and children, have helped to turn local populations against coalition forces and fuel insurgencies.
A Wimbledon reader sends news that Amnesty International has cited another civilian death: 68-year-old Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family’s fields with her
grandchildren in Waziristan, northwest Pakistan. ’Out of nowhere’, she was hit during a double drone strike led by the US. Mamana is one of hundreds of civilians accidentally killed by US drone strikes. Strikes that the UK has been playing a crucial part in.
Despite the lack of coverage in many newspapers and on TV bulletins, a petition has been set up, calling for the UK government to launch a full public inquiry into its role in the US’s expanding drones programme:
To join this call for a full public inquiry into Britain’s role in the US’s expanding drones programme, go to https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/uk-stop-helping-deadly-and-secret-us-drone-strikes
Instead of considering Fisk’s account, said to have been ‘seized on by opponents of western military action in Syria’, the Times’ focus was on damaging Fisk’s reputation; though winner of several international wards and seven times Press Awards Foreign Reporter of the Year.
Pearson Sharp, an experienced American journalist with OAN, gained access to Douma, where the US, France and UK alleged that Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians. Like Fisk, he found no evidence of such attacks. See the video here.
MSM has now thankfully seized on the ill-treatment of the Windrush generation and the Commonwealth summit to detract attention from this debunked ’atrocity’.
A patient explanation
ANDREW MARR SHOW, 15TH APRIL 2018 (starts 24 mins into the programme)
Extracts from BBC transcript
As a YouGov poll for The Times finds that only 22% support British airstrikes in Syria, with twice as many opposed, Andrew Marr says:
Can I put it to you there’s something slightly strange going on here.
AM: You are against the use of missiles against Syria under all circumstances, and out there public opinion is broadly speaking on your side.
You have a reputation for being a plain speaker in these subjects, can you not just say I’m against using missiles against Syria under all circumstances, it’s always wrong.
JC: I’ve made it very clear that the use of missiles anywhere has consequential effects. What is presented on media and is often fed in by defence departments all around the world is that it’s all surgical, clean all over.
Well, unfortunately the world isn’t quite like that. The longer term effects are of other people that are killed, are of other people that are affected by it, and of course ever since 2001 we’ve had all these wars.
We’ve had a growth of terrorism, we’ve had a growth of instability. Surely we’ve got to start looking at things in a different way.
People in Iraq, Libya and Yemen are desperate for strong and stable government. Theresa May is partly why they don’t have it, says Steve Beauchampé.
The General Election campaign has returned after last week’s brief hiatus and with it a volley of unedifying Conservative attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s historic support for a united Ireland and the Palestinian people, highlighting the most tenuous of links and associations.
Yet serious examination of Jeremy Corbyn’s activism shows him to have been on the right side of history and ahead of mainstream public opinion time and again, standing up for anti-racist and anti-apartheid causes, refugees and asylum seekers, gender equality, the LGBT community, environmental issues, animal rights and the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and self-expression long before such things gained widespread acceptance. Perhaps not surprising then that when you campaign in support of so many marginalised groups and outsider causes that you will from time to time encounter those whose frustrations and sense of powerlessness has led them to step outside of the law.
As regards Irish republicanism Corbyn’s attempts to achieve conflict resolution through dialogue may at times have been naive, but were his actions so dissimilar to the approach adopted around the same time by MI5 and later by John Major, both of whom ultimately realised that a decades-old conflict, whose death toll was inexorably rising, could not be won solely by military means?
But whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s peripheral rôle in the republican cause has been (and continues to be) pored over and examined by his opponents half a lifetime later, the record and judgement of Theresa May with regard to much more recent UK military interventions requires equally forensic scrutiny given her claims to be a fit and proper person to lead Britain.
And frankly, history’s judgement on this aspect of Theresa May is unlikely to be generous. After first being elected an MP in 1997, she voted in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq (having already supported the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in the frenzied post-9/11 atmosphere). Like so many of her colleagues on the opposition Conservative benches at the time, May failed to hold the Blair government to account despite the widely expressed caution of many experts over both the reasons for going to war and the lack of a post-conflict plan to stabilise Iraq. Instead, May limply and dutifully gave her support.
What followed for Iraqis has been almost fifteen years of societal breakdown throughout large parts of this once architectural, cultural and scholastic gem of a nation, with swathes of land occupied until recently by Islamic State and a fracturing of the country along religious, sectarian and tribal lines in a way that will be hard, if not impossible, to heal.
By 2011, and as the then Home Secretary in the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government, Theresa May backed the Anglo/Franco-led military action in Libya, which despite its billing as merely creating a no-fly zone to protect civilians and rebel fighters, mainly located in the east of the country, quickly escalated into regime change, culminating in the overthrow and lynching of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Again, as a senior government minister Theresa May ignored warnings that historic tribal divisions, the absence of a strong and stable government or a long-term strategic plan would quickly fracture the country.
Six years on and Libya exists in little more than name only. There is no central government, armed militias and feudal warlords hold considerable power, whilst every international Islamist terror group of substance now boasts a flourishing branch office in the country from where they increasingly export their murderous ideologies. And every month, if not every week, scores of desperate migrants, people who long ago lost all control of their lives, drown off the Libyan coast whilst seeking something better than the hell that their lives have spiralled into.
Learning nothing from history and the consequences of her own actions, in August 2013 Theresa May supported Prime Minster David Cameron’s unsuccessful attempt to persuade MPs to back UK air strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The absence yet again of a coherent post-conflict strategy was sufficient for Labour leader Ed Miliband to refuse his party’s support to Cameron, who narrowly lost a House of Commons vote on the issue. The main beneficiaries of such an intervention, with its intention to downgrade Assad’s military capabilities (if not to remove him from power), would likely have been the plethora of extremist groups engaged in the Syrian civil war, principal amongst them the then nascent Islamic State.
Since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has continued the supply of British made weapons and military expertise to Saudi Arabia for use in its war crime-strewn bombing campaign in Yemen, a campaign which has killed countless numbers of civilians and is fast creating yet another failed state in the region.
Iraq, Libya and increasingly Yemen: countries where British military interventions have created power vacuums swiftly filled by a combination of anarchy, lawlessness, violence and economic depravation, with catastrophic consequences and relentless, unending misery for millions of civilians.
Theresa May supported each and every one of these military interventions. Jeremy Corbyn opposed all of them. So whose judgement would you trust?
May 29th 2017
Written for The BirminghamPress.com
A brief reference on Radio 4’s Today programme (12.04.17) led to an online search. The most prosaic and well-referenced account was found in the Guardian:
In 2009 – the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria – Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter’s North field, contiguous with Iran’s South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets – albeit crucially bypassing Russia.
(Ed: It was also reported in Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News that Moscow rejected a Saudi proposal to abandon Syria’s president in return for a huge arms deal and a pledge to boost Russian influence in the Arab world, diplomats told AFP.Turkey’s desire for Qatari gas was recorded in 2009 in an article in United Arab Emirates’ National News. Saudi pipeline above right)
An Agence France-Presse report claimed Assad’s rationale was “to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe’s top supplier of natural gas”. Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 – just as Syria’s civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo – and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines. The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a “direct slap in the face” to Qatar’s plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladimir Putin* that “whatever regime comes after” Assad, it will be “completely” in Saudi Arabia’s hands and will “not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports”, according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action
It is alleged that the U.S., the Saudis and Qataris are using Al Qaeda and other groups to conquer a strip through Syria so that U.S. companies such as Halliburton will be able to place pipelines there, to convey Saudi oil and Qatari gas to be marketed in Europe by U.S. firms such as Exxon.
Is this the real reason for wholesale slaughter and destruction?
*Guardian link failed- alternative source inserted.
This is the title of Peter Hitchens’ latest article found after hearing a reference on Radio 4.
He asks readers to:
- consider first that early on Friday morning the United States Navy launched 59 cruise missiles on behalf of Al Qaeda;
- note that the President of the United States did not even bother to pretend that he was seeking United Nations cover for what he did;.
- note next that in the same week our Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a duty visit to pay homage to the medieval despots of Saudi Arabia, who kindly buy our warplanes and bombs and are currently using them to savage effect in Yemen
- and that President Trump was playing host at the White House to the head of Egypt’s military junta, General el-Sisi, whose security forces undoubtedly massacred at least 600 protesters (probably many more) in the streets of Cairo in August 2013.
- Then mark that the pretext for this bizarre rocket attack was an unproven claim that President Assad of Syria had used poison gas.
Yes, an unproven claim. No independent western diplomat or journalist can gain access to the scene of the alleged atrocity, and what information we have is controlled by Al Nusra.
Another question from Hitchens (left): “Is the gassing of children (undoubtedly a horror) so *much* worse than the other atrocities which the USA knowingly tolerates among its clients in the Middle East, or indeed excuses as collateral damage in such places as Mosul and Ramadi?” The brutality of Sisi and the Saudis is beyond doubt. They didn’t use gas, but our leaders’ outrage at Assad’s alleged gas attack looks a little contrived if they keep such company.
What happened to the rules of evidence? Many people have written, spoken – and now acted – as if the charge was proven. Why the hurry?
Assad is currently winning his war against Islamist fanatics, with conventional weapons. He had finally got the USA to stop demanding his dismissal: “Five days before the alleged attack – five days! – America’s UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, announced: ‘Our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out’ . . . He knows that the use of poison gas is the one thing that will make the USA intervene against him. They have said so.
“So why would he do such a thing, and throw away all his victories in a few minutes? It makes no sense of any kind”.
Hitchens points out that the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, alias the Al-Nusra Front, the Syrian ‘opposition’ which we in the West have been supporting for several years . . . is the local franchise of ‘Al Qaeda’.
Al-Nusra is the Saudi-backed group which seeks the removal of Assad as leader of Syria controls the area where the alleged gas attack took place, and controls all the information coming out of that area. He describes atrocities they have committed and continues. “This is the group whose aims the USA is now supporting, and backing with cruise missiles”.
The only big difference he can see between Al Qaeda and Islamic State is that we drop bombs on Islamic State. And that therefore, in effect, we are dropping these bombs on behalf of Al-Nusra/Al Qaeda.
Hitchens believes, “The once-wealthy and powerful West is bankrupt and increasingly at the mercy of people who have begun to demand something in return for their trade and their loans. It is all very sordid, and bodes ill for the future”. He ends:
“I would mind it less if we admitted what we were doing, rather than pretending these wretched events were some sort of noble act”.
British politicians: stop shouting adjectives, banging drums and dropping bombs (Jenkins) and exert unrelenting international pressure for a negotiated settlement (Corbyn)
“It is a war crime to disable, maim or poison a victim by chemical or biological means, yet it is permissible to blow them to bits. Dropping chlorine evokes howls of horror. Dropping bunker busters does not. Cluster munitions, the most horrible of delayed action weapons, remain in the arsenals of NATO armies”.
Paul (left) wrote: “Fair enough, and of course I agree that the war mongering these last two days, particularly by the BBC, is shocking indeed. But to equate CW with other munitions is to miss the point that they are expressly illegal, and we have to be building up stronger humanitarian law piece by piece and defending strongly those pieces already in place”.
The editor replied: “Yes, I think Jenkins could have made a valid point just by referring to conventional bombs”. After checking on the illegality of cluster bombs she asked Paul, “Did US ever sign this?”
He replied, “No, I don’t think the US is a signatory. It certainly hasn’t ratified” and continued:
“I was on Russia Today yesterday saying that the best response for the Russians now would be to strengthen their call for a UN Security Council meeting and present all the evidence they have that the chemical weapons attack was not a Syrian air force one … or to come up with further evidence for their current explanation.
“The worst aspect of the cruise missile attack was the way it by-passed the UN Security Council and was illegal and is a major step in the direction of unilateralism and flagrant use of force.
“There are plenty of conspiracy theories going around, but the consequences are that Russia will no longer tolerate US aircraft over Syria and will strengthen the S300-400 systems that appear to have shot a majority of the 59 cruise missiles out of the sky.
“… and I see that Russia is sending its own missile destroyer into the Med today”.
Will parliament stand firm again?
*The British American Security Information Council (BASIC) works to address security challenges by building confidence in a shared, sustainable security agenda. We work in both nuclear weapon and non-nuclear weapon states, with a specific expert focus on the UK, US, Europe and the Middle East.
Unjust – and unwise
Anne emails, “Of course what happened in London was terrible but my concern is over its reporting” – or, in a link sent by Andy, “over-hyped coverage”.
She compared it with the lack of emotive language in The Independent’s coverage this week of a white supremacist charged with stabbing of a 66-year-old black man in Manhattan. The NYPD said that the young suspect has a deep-seated hatred of black people and had travelled from Maryland to New York to target and kill black men. Was he not a terrorist? But he was not described as such.
No buildings were flood lit, no sensational description of the killings was given
Then she pointed out that 30 were killed in Syria due to US air attack on a school earlier this week and last week at least 46 people, most of them civilians, were killed and dozens more injured in an air strike on a mosque in Aleppo.
http://www.siasat.com/news/syria-33-dead-us-led-coalition-air-strike-1157431/ (March 23rd report)
Some lives are more equal than others . . .
The recommended article by Simon Jenkins (below, right) had a more pragmatic concern. It opened: “Wednesday’s assault was a crime. The last thing we needed was our politicians and media hysterically exaggerating it . . . The over-hyped coverage of the Westminster attack will only encourage others”.
Far more are killed & injured by cars (Andy now adds, gov stats: “There were 24,620 people killed or seriously injured in the year ending June 2016 – not much outrage there”).
He cited the ‘normal’ mode of reporting deaths by knifing in London each year, usually by those who are enraged or mentally deranged, adding “Yet more are run down by cars” and pleads:
“Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster.”
“Wednesday’s assault different was instantly subjected to an avalanche of supposition and speculation . . . Without a shred of evidence, and no “claimed responsibility”, the airwaves and press were flooded with assumptions that it was ‘Isis-inspired’. It was squeezed for every conceivable ounce of sensation and emotion”. Jenkins wisely recommends that even if this had indeed been “terrorist” act and not that of a lone madman, the way to react is to treat it as a crime:
- Don’t speculate when you know such speculation will cause alarm.
- Don’t let Downing Street summon Cobra and drag the home secretary back from foreign parts.
- Don’t flood central London with hundreds of men with machine guns.
- Don’t have the police issue interminable empty statements
- Don’t fill pages of newspapers and hours of television and radio with words like fear, menace, horror, maniac, monster.
- Don’t let the mayor rush into print, screaming “don’t panic”.
- Don’t have the media trawl the world for pundits to speculate on “what Isis wants” and “how hard it is to protect ourselves from attack”.
- Don’t present London as a horror movie set.
- Don’t crave a home-grown Osama bin Laden.
- And don’t pretend you are “carrying on as usual” when you are doing the precise opposite.
After referring to the money and jobs lost by this week’s reckless coverage, the liberties the cabinet will curtail, or the million-pound contracts the security-industrial complex will squeeze from terrorised civil servants and ministers, Jenkins ends:
“The actions of the authorities and the media in response to Wednesday have ramped up the hysteria of terror. This was ostensibly a random act by a lone player without access even to a gun. To over-publicise and exaggerate such crimes is to be an accomplice after the act. London’s response to the Westminster attack is an open invitation to every crazed malcontent to try it again”.
When it comes to the Middle East, George Osborne seems as confused as ever suggests Steve Beauchampé.
The final reflections:
Syria, for all of its horrors, is not the West’s fight and to imply that we ought to have done something more militarily is to imply that there was more we could have done. But the Syrian civil war is a complex, multi-layered web of both centuries old religious, tribal and ethnic disputes and divides and modern day political and territorial opportunism that those recent western military escapades, enthusiastically supported both in opposition and in office by the likes of George Osborne, have exacerbated.
The fall of Aleppo will not end the Syrian civil war, merely change its dynamics. Britain’s best and most productive response must continue to be seeking as peaceful a resolution to the conflict as possible, providing humanitarian aid and bolstering the role of the United Nations.
A lightly edited section of today’s mailing – to read it in full, plus an account of our involvement via the arms trade and of Emily Thornberry’s Yemen motion, click here.
At first sight, compassion appears to loom large in ‘mainstream’ politics and media. When the American and British governments target countries like Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, ‘compassion’ is always at or near the top of the agenda.
State-corporate propaganda is full of ‘shoulds’, all rooted in ‘our’ alleged ‘responsibility to protect’. Why ‘us’? Why not Sweden or Iceland? Because ‘we’ care. ‘We’ just care more.
Time and again, the cry from the political system is: ‘We Must Do Something!’ ‘We’ must save Afghan women from the ‘Medieval’ Taliban. ‘We’ must save Kuwaiti new-borns flung from their incubators by Iraqi stormtroopers. ‘We’ must save Iraqi civilians from Saddam’s shredding machines. ‘We’ must save civilians in Kosovo from Milosevic’s ‘final solution’.
As for the suffering civilians of Aleppo in Syria, hard-right MPs like Andrew Mitchell demand, not merely that ‘we’ save them, not merely that ‘we’ engage in war to save them, but that ‘we’ must confront Russia, shoot down their planes if necessary, and risk actual thermonuclear war – complete self-destruction – to save them:
A key task of the corporate media is to pretend this is something more than a charade. The truth is hinted at in BBC political programmes that open with jovial, bombastic, comical music, as if introducing some kind of music hall farce. The cast is currently led by foreign secretary Boris Johnson, a P.G. Wodehouse character reimagined by Stephen King.
After chuckling about how ‘There is no other country that comes close to [Britain’s] record of belligerence’ in invading or conquering 178 out of 200 countries existing today, Johnson opined:
‘As our American friends instinctively understand, it is the existence of strong and well-resourced British Armed Forces that gives this country the ability to express and affirm our values overseas: of freedom, democracy, tolerance, pluralism.’
As Johnson doubtless understands, this was a near-exact reversal of the truth. He noted in 2014 of the 2003 Iraq invasion: ‘It looks to me as though the Americans were motivated by a general strategic desire to control one of the biggest oil exporters in the world…’
If politicians are clearly bluffers, corporate journalists are selected because they powerfully echo and enhance the alleged need for compassionate ‘intervention’. The likes of David Aaronovitch, Nick Cohen, John Rentoul, Jonathan Freedland and Oliver Kamm earn their salaries by appearing to tear their hair out in outrage at the crimes of official enemies and at the ‘useful idiocy’ of the perennial, naysaying ‘leftists’.
But the point is that compassion – the kind rooted in an understanding that all suffering is equal, the kind that feels even more responsibility for suffering caused by our own government – is not partial, it does not defer to power. It doesn’t fall silent when ‘we’ are committing crimes. Quite the reverse.