By Gar Smith
On April 1, 2016 President Barack Obama addressed the closing session of the Nuclear Security Summit and praised “the collective efforts that we’ve made to reduce the amount of nuclear material that might be accessible to terrorists around the world.”
“This is also an opportunity for our nations to remain united and focused on the most active terrorist network at the moment, and that is ISIL,” Obama said. Some observers might argue that the US, itself, now represents the world’s “most active terrorist network.” In doing so, they would merely be echoing the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who, on April 4, 1967, railed against “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”
While Obama hyped the fact that “a majority of the nations here are part of the global coalition against ISIL,” he also noted that this same coalition was a major recruiting conduit for ISIS militants. “Just about all of our nations have seen citizens join ISIL in Syria and Iraq,” Obama admitted, without offering any thoughts as to why this situation exists.
But Obama’s most remarkable comment came with his public admission that US foreign policy and military actions were directly linked to the spike in terror attacks against Western targets in Europe and the US. “As ISIL is squeezed in Syria and Iraq,” the president explained, “we can anticipate it lashing out elsewhere, as we’ve seen most recently and tragically in countries from Turkey to Brussels.”
Having established that US-led attacks against ISIS fighters were “squeezing” the jihadists to abandon the besieged cities in Syria and Iraq to wreak havoc inside the cities of NATO’s member states, Obama seemed to directly contradict his assessment: “In Syria and Iraq,” he declared, “ISIL continues to lose ground. That’s the good news.”
“Our coalition continues to take out its leaders, including those planning external terrorist attacks. They are losing their oil infrastructure. They are losing their revenues. Morale is suffering. We believe that the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq has slowed, even as the threat from foreign fighters returning to commit acts of horrific violence remains all too real.” [Emphasis added.]
For most Americans, the Pentagon’s military assaults on countries thousands of miles from the US border remain little more than a dim and distant distraction—more like a rumor than a reality. But the international monitoring organization, Airwars.org, provides some missing context.
According to Airwars estimates, as of May 1, 2016—over the course of an anti-ISIS campaign that has lasted more than 634 days—the coalition had mounted 12,039 air strikes (8,163 in Iraq; 3,851 in Syria), dropping a total of 41,607 bombs and missiles.
US military reveals 8 civilians died in airstrikes against ISIS between April and July 2015 (Daily Mail).
A Jihadist Links US Killings to Growing Resentment and Revenge Attacks
Obama’s link between attacks on ISIS and the bloody blowback on Western streets recently was echoed by British-born Harry Sarfo, a one-time UK postal worker and former ISIS fighter who warned The Independent in an April 29 interview that the US-led bombing campaign against ISIS would only drive more jihadists to launch terror attacks directed at the West.
“The bombing campaign gives them more recruits, more men and children who will be willing to give their lives because they’ve lost their families in the bombing,” Sarfo explained. “For every bomb, there will be someone to bring terror to the West…. They’ve got plenty of men waiting for Western troops to arrive. For them the promise of paradise is all they want.” (The Pentagon has admitted responsibility for several civilian deaths during the period Sarfo says he was in Syria.)
ISIS, for its part, has frequently citied air strikes against its strongholds as the motivation for its attacks on Brussels and Paris—and for its downing of a Russian passenger plane flying out of Egypt.
In November 2015, a group of militants staged a series of attacks that killed 130 people in Paris followed by twin bombings on March 23, 2016 that claimed the lives of another 32 victims in Brussels. Understandably, these attacks received intense coverage in the Western media. Meanwhile, equally horrendous images of civilian victims of US attacks in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq (and US-backed Saudi airstrikes against civilians in Yemen) are seldom seen on front pages or evening news broadcasts in Europe or the US.
By comparison, Airwar.org reports that, in the eight-month period from August 8, 2014 to May 2, 2016, “an overall total of between 2,699 and 3,625 civilian non-combatant fatalities had been alleged from 414 separate reported incidents, in both Iraq and Syria.”
“In addition to these confirmed events,” Airwars added, “it is our provisional view at Airwars that between 1,113 and 1,691 civilian non-combatants appear likely to have been killed in 172 further incidents where there is fair reporting publicly available of an event—and where Coalition strikes were confirmed in the near vicinity on that date. At least 878 civilians were also reportedly injured in these events. Some 76 of these incidents were in Iraq (593 to 968 reported deaths) and 96 events in Syria (with a reported fatality range of 520 to 723.)”
‘Nuclear Security’ = Atomic Bombs for the West
Back in Washington, Obama was wrapping up his formal statement. “Looking around this room,” he mused, “I see nations that represent the overwhelming majority of humanity — from different regions, races, religions, cultures. But our people do share common aspirations to live in security and peace and to be free from fear.”
While there are 193 member states in the United Nations, the Nuclear Security Summit was attended by representatives of 52 countries, seven of which possess nuclear weapons arsenals—despite the existence of long-standing international treaty agreements calling for nuclear disarmament and abolition. The attendees also included 16 of the 28 members of NATO—the nuclear-armed military juggernaut that was supposed to have been dismantled after the end of the Cold War.
The purpose of the Nuclear Security Summit was a narrow one, focused on how to prevent “terrorists” from acquiring the “nuclear option.” There was no discussion of disarming the world’s major existing nuclear arsenals.
Nor was there any discussion of the risk posed by civilian nuclear power reactors and radioactive waste storage sites, all of which pose tempting targets for anyone with a shoulder-mounted missile capable of turning these facilities into “home-grown dirty bombs.” (This is not a hypothetical scenario. On January 18, 1982, five Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG-7s) were fired across France’s Rhone River, striking the containment structure of the Superphenix nuclear reactor.)
“The fight against ISIL will continue to be difficult, but, together, we are making real progress,” Obama continued. “I’m absolutely confident that we will prevail and destroy this vile organization. As compared to ISIL’s vision of death and destruction, I believe our nations together offer a hopeful vision focused on what we can build for our people.”
That “hopeful vision” is difficult to perceive for residents in the many foreign lands currently under attack by Hellfire missiles launched from US aircraft and drones. While video footage of the carnage in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul and San Bernardino is horrifying to behold, it is painful but necessary to acknowledge that the damage done by a single US missile fired into an urban setting can be even more devastating.
War Crime: The US Bombing of Mosul University
On March 19 and again on March 20, US planes attacked the University of Mosul in ISIS-occupied eastern Iraq. The airstrike came in the early afternoon, at a time when the campus was most crowded.
The US bombed the University headquarters, the women’s education college, the science college, the publishing center, the girls’ dormitories, and a nearby restaurant. The US also bombed the faculty members’ residential building. Wives and children of faculty members were among the victims: only one child survived. Professor Dhafer al Badrani, former Dean of the university’s Computer Sciences College, was killed in the March 20 attack, along with his wife.
According to Dr. Souad Al-Azzawi, who sent a video of the bombing (above), the initial casualty count was 92 killed and 135 injured. “Killing innocent civilians will not solve the problem of ISIL,” Al-Azzawi wrote, instead “it will push more people to join them to be able to revenge for their losses and their beloved ones.”
The Anger that Stokes ISIS
In addition to civilian-killing airstrikes, Harry Sarfo offered another explanation for why he was driven to join ISIS—police harassment. Sarfo bitterly recalled how he had been forced to surrender his British passport and report to a police station twice a week and how his home was repeatedly raided. “I wanted to start a new life for me and my wife,” he told The Independent. “The police and the authorities destroyed it. They made me become the man they wanted.”
Sarfo eventually abandoned ISIS because of the mounting burden of atrocities he was forced to experience. “I witnessed stonings, beheadings, shootings, hands chopped off and many other things,” he told The Independent. “I’ve seen child soldiers—13-year-old boys with explosive belts and Kalashnikovs. Some boys even driving cars and involved in executions.
“My worst memory is of the execution of six men shot in the head by Kalashnikovs. The chopping off of a man’s hand and making him hold it with the other hand. The Islamic State is not just un-Islamic, it is inhuman. A blood-related brother killed his own brother on suspicion of being a spy. They gave him the order to kill him. It is friends killing friends.”
But as bad as ISIS may be, they do not, as yet, girdle the world with more than 1,000 of military garrisons and facilities nor do they threaten the planet with an arsenal of 2,000 nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, half of which remain on “hair-trigger” alert.
Gar Smith is the co-founder of Environmentalists Against War and author of Nuclear Roulette.