Syrian airstrikes

While the ‘international community’ tolerates airstrikes against civilian areas in Mosul, it has severely attacked Russia for carrying out Mosul-like airstrikes in Aleppo.


Airstrikes, the pounding of the ground by powerful bombs raining from the skies, are on-going in three countries of the Middle East. Although the targets and victims – including armed and unarmed persons, the strong and the weak, children and the elderly, women and children, schools and hospitals – are the same, they elicit different reactions. This depends on who is dropping the bombs, which side is doing the killing, who is doing the dying, and who benefits economically or politically.

In this week’s battle to retake Mosul in Iraq from the Islamic State (ISIS) forces, the airstrikes were by the American-led coalition. The airstrikes gave support to the Iraqi Army, the Kurdish (Peshmerga) Christian and Sunni militias. The British Army involved in the Mosul attack could be identified in their white bullet proof 4×4 vehicles; American soldiers involved were ensconced in their mine resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles. The aim is to defeat ISIS. Interestingly, no air support was given to the Shia militia which is also fighting the terrorists to retake Mosul. It is part of the politics being played by the West – the Shiites can fight and die, but the Sunnis must be protected.

In the first seventeen days of October, there were seventy airstrikes against Mosul, or an average of four daily. This was to soften the city for the follow-up invasion. In these relentless airstrikes on the city, little or nothing was said about the 1.5 million civilians, including over 600,000 children, trapped. In the October battles, 869 civilians were killed. No safe routes were provided for the civil populace and there was no talk of a humanitarian corridor. I guess they were regarded as collateral damage. The ‘protection’ the Iraqi Army offered the civilian populace was that they should hang white flags in their homes to indicate they are non-combatant. But this is not a smart advise as it would have made such homes and families vulnerable to ISIS attacks.

Aleppo, which was Syria’s most populous city with over 2.3 million people, was attacked in 2012 with large parts of the city still in rebel hands. At least a dozen rebel groups, mainly terrorist like ISIS, al-Nusra and al-Qaeda took part in the occupation of Aleppo. Other rebel groups involved in the fighting include Fatah Halab, Jabha Fateh, al-Sham. Many of the rebels are supported and funded by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, US and France.

On the Syrian side is Russia which carries out the airstrikes. Like Mosul, tragically, there have been civilian casualties, and non-military places have been bombed. In October, with the assistance of Russian airstrikes, the Syrian Army retook from ISIS, six villages in Aleppo – Mahatah, Tall Susin, Tall Sha’ir, Fafin, Babinnis and Kafr Qaris.

An intriguing side of the Syrian issue is that while the West and Turkey cry about the Russian airstrikes, they do not want to end the war unless the Syrian government capitulates.


While there were no offers of peaceful evacuation of civilians in Mosul, the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, offered rebel groups amnesty and volunteered the evacuation of civilians on October 6.

While the ‘international community’ tolerates airstrikes against civilian areas in Mosul, it has severely attacked Russia for carrying out Mosul-like airstrikes in Aleppo. French President Francois Hollande described the Russian airstrikes as “a war crime.” He and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have decided to mobilise European Union sanctions against Russia for the airstrikes. United Kingdom Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson said the Russian airstrikes are a gross crime against humanity. The UK and US are partnering on economic sanctions against Russia. There are also talks of expelling Russia from the UN Human Rights Council. A major voice of dissent came from Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni who cautioned against the orchestrated drama against Russia. An intriguing side of the Syrian issue is that while the West and Turkey cry about the Russian airstrikes, they do not want to end the war unless the Syrian government capitulates.

Perhaps a more intriguing case is the quite bloody airstrikes in Yemen by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan and Egypt, which has now withdrawn from the carnage. These countries, with mercenaries, decided to intervene in 2015 on the side of the defeated government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Haddin Aden by bombing Yemen under ‘Operation Decisive Storm’. Those on the receiving end of the airstrikes are the Houthis who led the rebellion against Aden, the Yemeni Army loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni Republican Guard, the Popular Committees, and the Yemeni Air Force. Of course, the major casualties are civilians who are deliberately targeted. The UN says the Saudi-led attacks have resulted in 3,799 civilian deaths. Whole towns and villages had been carpet-bombed.

The most infamous of the Saudi airstrikes was last October when a huge funeral was deliberately targeted, with 155 murdered and 525 injured. There were, of course, no worldwide condemnation of this heinous crime, nor was it described by the leading nations as a war crime. The muffled voice of American Secretary of State, John Kerry merely asked Saudi Arabia to give assurances that it would no longer pick targets like funerals. No organisation has dragged the Saudi coalition to the UN for these inhuman airstrikes and the blockade of Yemen to starve its population to submission. Nor has any taken the US and United Kingdom before any UN body for providing logistical support, including aerial refueling and technical aid, in the Yemeni airstrikes.

So, you can get away with mass murder through airstrikes if your politics is right.


In all these, I am not condoning the retaliatory rocket and mortar attacks on Saudi border towns.

The first known airstrike was on November 1, 1911 when four bombs were dropped on Turkish-held oasis in Libya by Italian Second Lieutenant Guilio Gavotti. Some of the most infamous were the German and Italian airstrikes in Madrid, Valencia and Barcelonia in support of General Francisco Franco’s fascist coup against the legitimate Spanish Republican Government. As part of this, the Spanish city of Guernica was on April 26, 1937 almost wiped out.

Of course the August 6, 1945 American dropping of the uranium atomic bomb, ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima, which killed 150,000 persons and the plutonium bomb ‘Fat Man’ on Nagasaki three days later with 75,000 killed, hold the trophy for the most infamous airstrikes in human history.

As a journalist, I cannot forget the April 23, 1999 America precision bombing of the Serbian State Broadcasting Station headquarters, with 150 media workers on duty. Ten were killed, 18 injured and 20 buried under the rubble. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Military Spokesman, Air Commodore David Wilby, had justified the bombing as a “legitimate target (because the station) filled the airways with hate and with lies over the years.” Then British Prime Minister, Tony Blair said the airstrikes against the Serbian media were “entirely justified” because they were “part of the apparatus of dictatorship.”

So, you can get away with mass murder through airstrikes if your politics is right.

Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.

Image credit: Reuters/Houffington Post.