From Middle East Eye
The Syrian and Russian bombing is not dissimilar from recent US and Israeli offensives - but you wouldn't know that from the reporting
The Russian-Syrian bombing campaign in eastern Aleppo, which has ended at least for the time being, has been described in press reports and op-eds as though it were unique in modern military history in its indiscriminateness. In an unusual move for a senior US official, Secretary of State John Kerry called for an investigation of war crimes in Aleppo.
The discussion has been lacking in historical context, however. Certainly the civilian death toll from the bombing and shelling in Aleppo has been high, but many of the strikes may not be all that dissimilar from the major US bombing campaign in Iraq in 2003, nor as indiscriminate as Israel's recent campaigns in densely populated cities.
The impression that the bombing in Aleppo was uniquely indiscriminate was a result of news reporting and commentary suggesting, by implication, that there are no real military targets in east Aleppo.
But in fact, al-Nusra Front turned Aleppo into the central hub of a massive system of conventional warfare in Aleppo province in late January 2016 when it sent an enormous convoy of at least 200 vehicles with troops and weaponry into eastern Aleppo. A dramatic three-minute al-Nusra video shows what appears to be hundreds of vehicles full of troops and trucks with weapons mounted on them.
The Russian command in Syria has drones observing the routes in and out of Aleppo, so it certainly knew where many of those military sites were located. Syrian opposition sources also revealed that Nusra began immediately to put the military assets at its disposal underground, digging deep bunkers to protect troops, military equipment and tunnels through which troops and weapons could be moved unseen.
The move underground explains the Russian use of bunker-buster bombs for the first time in the war. As the Guardian reported, Justin Bronk of the British defense think tank Royal United Service Institute concluded that the Russians "have high-grade intelligence of the whereabouts of Syrian opposition positions," mainly because bunker buster bombs are too expensive to use simply to destroy buildings at random.
But like Hamas fighters in Gaza in 2014, the Nusra Front-led command in Aleppo has moved its troops, weapons and command centers around in the tunnels that they have built. So many of the Russian and Syrian air strikes are almost certainly hitting targets that have already been abandoned. And in other cases, the wrong target has undoubtedly been hit.
As terrible as that toll of civilian lives is, the United States should drop the stance of moral superiority. When the US military invaded Iraq in 2003, it made no effort to keep track of how many civilians were killed in its bombing and artillery fire, claiming it had no way to tell who was civilian and who was not.
And the best estimates of civilians killed in US and Israeli urban wars don't provide any basis for moral superiority. A survey of Baghdad's hospitals by the Los Angeles Times in May 2003 produced an estimate of at least 1,700 civilians killed in the first five weeks of American war. The estimate included those who had died in ground fighting and from unexploded ordnance, but even with those contributing factors subtracted from the total, it would still be far greater than those killed in the assault on east Aleppo on a weekly basis.
The three-week Israeli war on Gaza City in 2009 and the seven-week war on Gaza in 2014 were also far deadlier than Aleppo. The former killed 773 civilians, according to an investigation by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem. The latter killed 1,473 Palestinian civilians, according to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.Attacks on hospitals
The one feature of the Russian-Syrian air offensive on east Aleppo that seems most clearly to violate the laws of war is the targeting of hospitals. Media accounts have referred to air strikes with barrel bombs that have hit two major hospitals in the rebel-held part of the city.
The Syrian government has been acting as though it regards the hospitals in eastern Aleppo as serving the Nusra Front command, and the hospitals, which are under intense pressure from the militants who run that part of Aleppo, have fed the government's suspicions.