More civilians dying from US bombs; Trump in Europe; First flight for ultra-cheap rocket; Carrots and sticks won’t secure China’s help; and just a bit more...
The U.S. military’s air war against ISIS has become far bloodier for civilians since President Trump took office. In the latest lethal developments from the counter-ISIS war, the U.S.-led coalition has reportedly killed as many as 132 civilians in one town alone—Mayadeen, Syria—over the past three days, Agence France-Presse’s Maya Gebally writes this morning.
The source for that story is the monitors of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which told AFP “26 people were killed when a four-story building housing the families of seven IS fighters from Syria and north Africa was destroyed in an airstrike” on Thursday near Deir ez-Zour, Syria. “It added that nine other people were killed when an airstrike hit a market in the town, which is close to the Iraqi border.”
Read the Observatory’s take on what happened, here.
And that news follows Thursday’s announcement from the coalition that the deadliest airstrike in the war on ISIS so far killed more than 100 residents of al-Jadida district in West Mosul, Iraq, on March 17. Earlier reporting from Jadida claimed more than 300 civilians were killed there that day, which the coalition on Thursday said was intended to kill just two ISIS snipers. The incredibly high death toll in Jadida—the largest single toll of the ISIS war so far—resulted from the deadly combination of that coalition strike and a building allegedly rigged with explosives prior to the strike.
The bomb in this case, according to the U.S. military, was “a single GBU-38 precision-guided munition.”
As CENTCOM lays it out, “The GBU-38's detonation, localized to the top floor of the structure, ignited a large amount of explosive material which, unknown to the Coalition, ISIS fighters had previously placed in the house. Post-blast analysis detected residues common to explosives used by ISIS, but not consistent with the explosive content of a GBU-38 munition. Furthermore, weapons and structural experts concluded, based on extensive modeling, the structural damage to the building was in a different location, and was in excess of what could have been caused by a single GBU-38 munition.”
Adds the Washington Post, “Before the release of the investigation [in Jadida], the U.S.-led coalition had acknowledged killing 352 civilians during the air campaign over Iraq and Syria. That figure, according to Airwars, is extremely conservative. The British-based group estimates that U.S.-led airstrikes in the two countries have killed more than 3,000 civilians.”
For what it’s worth, “Al-Hussein, the U.N. human rights chief, in a dramatic appeal on Friday urged all parties conducting strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria to take greater care differentiating between military and civilian targets,” AFP adds. “Al-Hussein, who is a member of the Jordanian royal family, said the rising toll of civilian casualties suggests ‘insufficient precautions’ are being taken in the attacks.”
See the noticeable uptick in civilian deaths in this series of new graphics from The New York Times, using data from Airwars.
Another American troop has died in Syria, where U.S. Army Rangers are patrolling tense regions along the border with Turkey. “A U.S. service member died of injuries sustained during a vehicle roll-over in northern Syria” just this morning, CENTCOM announced in a statement released while officials are still inside the next-of-kin notification window—which means the public won’t learn the identity of the deceased service member until some time has passed, generally a day or two.
NBC reminds us that “Two other American service members have died in Syria since U.S. troops arrived there in early 2016.” Those men are Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott C. Dayton, who died from an IED in northern Syria on November 24, 2016. And U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin L. Bieren died from “suspected natural causes” on March 28.
Elsewhere in the country, “The United States has slightly more than 900 military personnel in Syria to advise and assist Kurdish and Arab rebel forces fighting ISIS,” NBC adds.
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Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1940: Allies begin the evacuation of Dunkirk. Got tips? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
Trump in Europe. “President Trump on Thursday punctured any illusions that he was on a fence-mending tour of Europe, declining to explicitly endorse NATO’s mutual defense pledge and lashing out at fellow members for what he called their ‘chronic underpayments' to the alliance,” the New York Times reported. “Far from robustly reaffirming NATO’s mutual defense commitment in the way that many members hoped he would, Mr. Trump repeated his complaint that the United States was shouldering an unfair burden.”
Today he’s in Italy, meeting with the G-7 heads of state. “Foreign policy will be the focus on Friday, with meetings on Syria, Libya, North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Other meetings over the two days will include discussions of global economy and climate, a meeting with small African nations — Trump will be seated between the leaders of Niger and Tunisia — and migration issues,” writes ABC News.
But there is “the elephant in the room” in any discussion with Trump: Russia, a senior EU official told Politico. “Trump’s talk of befriending Putin doesn’t just rattle the 28-member NATO military alliance, which has spent the past few years bolstering its eastern frontier. It also unnerves senior officials of the European Union, whose leaders believe Putin is assisting their enemies, including anti-EU populist candidates across Europe whom the Kremlin is believed to be aiding financially and through espionage and hacking.”
Speaking of hacking, the U.S. investigations into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia are reportedly looking at whether the sophisticated micro-targeting of American voters by the Russian groups might have had American help. Just Security’s Kate Brannen has a good wrapup of what we know, and what we don’t, about the various investigations.
ICYMI: Trump’s budget sets aside half a billion for air bases in other countries, U.S. News reported Thursday. “An Air Force breakdown of the proposed war budget cites the strain on the Muwaffaq Salti Air Base in Jordan roughly 35 miles south of the Syrian border," and "requests almost $23 million for improvements to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey... Trump's budget also calls for more than $270 million for air bases and airports in Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania and Slovakia – all members of NATO – to improve runways and support facilities to accommodate more U.S. military planes and troops." Read the rest, here.
The Taliban have attacked another base in Afghanistan, killing more than a dozen soldiers in Shahwalikot, in northern Kandahar, The Long War Journal reports this morning off Afghanistan’s Tolo News.
What you need to know: “The Taliban is making inroads into Kandahar province. As of March 26, the Taliban claimed it controls four of Kandahar’s 18 districts (Ghorak, Miyanashin, Registan, and Shorabak) and heavily contests five more (Arghastan, Khakrez, Maruf, Maiwand, and Shahwalikot).” More to the seemingly worrisome security dynamics in Kandahar, here.
With U.S. help, Somali police get drones to fight al-Shabab extremists. Five drones from Chinese manufacturer DJI, "some of which have infra-red or night vision capabilities," come from from former U.S. intelligence specialist Brett Velicovich, Reuters reports this morning.
How Velicovich found his way to east Africa: “Bancroft, a Washington-based organisation contracted by the U.S. State Department to train the Somali police, brought Velicovich to Mogadishu to show officers how to use drones in examining potential threats or blast sites.”
"Some of the things that these drones will be able to do will be to conduct surveillance ... to look out for other potential Shabaab members who may be on rooftops or may be there to look at hitting the first responders," Velicovich told Reuters. Read the rest, here.
This weekend on the big screen...er, on Netflix: The fall of Gen. McChrystal—we mean, Gen. McMahon, played by Brad Pitt in the film “War Machine,” drawn from a book written by now-deceased journalist Michael Hastings. “The book grew out of a notorious Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was put in charge of the war in Afghanistan in 2009 and proceeded to blow up his own career,” The New York Times writes in review. “Mr. Hastings, who died in 2013, sketched a rollicking, damning portrait of a commander in over his head, enthralled by his own hype and in less than perfect control of his mouth. That’s the guy Mr. Pitt is supposed to be.
The gist: The film “effectively rebuts the evergreen notion that military leaders are held back from victory by politicians and bureaucrats,” the Times’ critic A.O. Scott writes. “It’s not that the political and diplomatic aspects of American policy are excused, but rather that failure, to reverse the old saying, has a thousand fathers.” Read the rest, here; or see the Netflix page for the film, here.