US strike framed to spare civilians after mounting criticism

Feb 3, 2022, 12:48 PM | Updated: 1:50 pm
People inspect a destroyed house following an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village ...

People inspect a destroyed house following an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village of Atmeh, in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. U.S. special operations forces conducted a large-scale counterterrorism raid in northwestern Syria overnight Thursday, in what the Pentagon said was a "successful mission." Residents and activists reported multiple deaths including civilians from the attack. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

(AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing criticism for civilian deaths in U.S. airstrikes, President Joe Biden targeted the leader of the Islamic State group on Thursday in an approach — a ground raid by special forces — that was riskier for American troops but intended to be safer for the innocent.

Dozens of U.S. commandoes landed outside Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi’s Syrian hideout and warned people in nearby homes to stay inside, U.S. officials said. As one of their first moves, they called out to families living inside the same building as al-Qurayshi. By the time the operation ended, the officials said, 10 civilians had been led to safety.

But the U.S. raid still brought the deaths of women and children. Al-Qurayshi’s wife and two children were killed along with the militant leader when he detonated a suicide bomb. A lieutenant of the militant leader and that man’s wife also died along with a child, after the pair fired upon U.S. forces, officials said. The deaths from the high-stakes mission highlight the challenge U.S. forces face in targeting violent militants, while bound by ethics and international laws and treaties to try to avoid killing non-combatants.

Biden, speaking from the White House, said he directed the military to take “every precaution possible to minimize civilian casualties.”

“Knowing that this terrorist had chosen to surround himself with families, including children, we made a choice to pursue a special forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people rather than target him with an airstrike,” he said. Biden described al-Qurayshi’s decision to blow himself up while surrounded by family members as “desperate cowardice.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon would review the operation.

“We know that al-Qurayshi and others at his compound directly caused the deaths of women and children last night. But, given the complexity of this mission, we will take a look at the possibility our actions may also have resulted in harm to innocent people,” he said in a statement.

U.S. officials reported no American injuries.

California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called for an investigation of the civilian deaths in Thursday’s strike, “while keeping in mind the history of ISIS leaders using civilians as human shields.”

By one estimate, that of Brown University’s Costs of War project, close to 400,000 civilians have died in fighting since the United States and its allies launched what Americans called their war on terror, in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks.

Military strikes of all kinds have declined dramatically under Biden, according to Airwars, which tracks U.S. attacks.

The number of strikes dropped 54% from 2020 to 2021, a period when the Biden administration was moving toward with what in August became a complete U.S. withdrawal from the 20-year Afghanistan conflict, according to Airwars.

However, the Biden administration has come under criticism for civilian casualties, including during the withdrawal from Kabul in August.

After a bombing claimed by the Islamic State’s Afghanistan branch killed U.S. service members and Afghans at the gate to the city’s airport, the Pentagon responded with airstrikes against suspected Islamic State members.

Although U.S. officials defended the actions, it eventually became clear that a final drone strike as Americans completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan killed 10 civilians, including seven children, but no militants. The U.S. has not punished any American for what the Pentagon described as a tragic mistake.

Modern laws and rules of war broadly require militaries to distinguish between combatants and civilians and try to minimize the loss of civilian lives.

Rights advocates and legal experts have faulted successive Republican and Democratic U.S. administrations for their heavy reliance on airstrikes in the fight against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. Opponents argue that attacks by air, while minimizing risk to American forces, increases the risks of civilians with the misfortune to be near a U.S. target.

Priyanka Motaparthy, who works on counterterrorism issues at Columbia University’s Human Rights Institute, was heartened that Biden emphasized efforts to limit civilian casualties in his remarks.

Given how details about previous strikes have trickled out over time, she said she’s “cautious about accepting the initial picture as the final one.” But the decision by U.S. forces to warn people in the building “definitely speaks to their work to prevent civilian casualties.”

“Their obligation is to take all feasible precautions,” Motaparthy said.

She said Biden should continue to be outspoken about the need for safeguards in military operations.

“As the commander in chief, he should not just be claiming successes, but he should also be leading reforms,” she said.

Senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to give details of the military operation, described what they depicted as painstaking efforts in the leadup to Thursday’s strike to reduce the risk to civilians. That included weeks of preparation, including rehearsals of the raid.

Al-Qurayshi lived in a house that also housed multiple families, going outside only to bathe on the roof occasionally, one official said. That meant any airstrike would have all but unavoidably killed women and children and other noncombatants as well.

Given another Islamic State leader’s last act in 2019 of blowing himself up with a suicide belt when confronted by U.S. commandoes, planners for Thursday’s raid made a point of analyzing whether al-Qurayshi’s house would collapse upon all the people inside if he did similar, as he did.

They decided the building would stand.

Luke Hartig, a former senior director for counterterrorism in President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, said ground raids aren’t always safer, given that civilians can be caught in the crossfire.

However, months of preparation, like what took place before Thursday’s raid, can help limit the danger.

“Traditionally when we’ve had time to properly plan operations, that’s when you see the greatest precision, the greatest care for civilian harm,” Hartig said.

___

Associated Press writer Lolita Baldor contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Wells Fargo, Carnival rise; CalAmp, Lending Tree fall

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks that traded heavily or had substantial price changes Friday: Wells Fargo & Co., up $2.86 to $40.76. All the nation’s largest banks passed “stress tests” to determine whether they can withstand a severe economic downturn. FedEx Corp., up $16.26 to $243.24. The Memphis, Tennessee-based package delivery giant reported a big […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

How major US stock indexes fared Friday 6/24/2022

Wall Street rallied on Friday, lifting the S&P 500 3.1% for its best gain in two years. The benchmark index also ended the week 6.4% higher, erasing the brutal loss it took a week earlier. It was just the second winning week for the S&P 500 in the last 12. Stocks climbed this week as […]
15 hours ago
This combination of photos shows actor Johnny Depp testifying at the Fairfax County Circuit Court i...
Associated Press

Judge makes jury’s $10.3M award official in Depp-Heard trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — The judge in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial made a jury’s award official Friday with a written order for Heard to pay Depp $10.35 million for damaging his reputation by describing herself as a domestic abuse victim in an op-ed piece she wrote. Judge Penney Azcarate entered a judgment order […]
15 hours ago
FILE - Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks to reporters on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, amid the fallout...
Associated Press

After abortion ruling, critics renew blasts at Sen. Collins

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Sen. Susan Collins was blasted Friday for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as opponents targeted her votes to confirm two justices to the Supreme Court who were in the majority opinion allowing states to ban abortion. Critics of the Maine senator haven’t forgotten the key role she played in confirming […]
15 hours ago
Associated Press

Congress approves free student meal extension through summer

Congress passed a bill Friday that aims to keep up the expanded, pandemic-era distribution of free meals for all students this summer. Final passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act in the U.S. House came less than a week before rule changes for child nutrition programs were set to expire June 30. “Our action today […]
15 hours ago
Emergency personnel look over the sight of a  helicopter that crashed in Blair, W.Va., on Thursday,...
Associated Press

NTSB: West Virginia helicopter crashed on last flight of day

LOGAN, W.Va. (AP) — A helicopter that crashed during an annual reunion for helicopter enthusiasts was on its last planned flight of the day, a federal agency investigating the accident said Friday. The National Transportation Safety Board said all six people aboard — the pilot and five passengers, two of whom were pilot-rated — were […]
15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
US strike framed to spare civilians after mounting criticism