An attack on a village in Syria resulted in civilian deaths as U.S.-backed forces push back against ISIL’s last held in the eastern part of the country. Al Jazeera reported that 16 civilians were killed by U.S. airstrikes launched on the village of Baghouz. The missiles were launched in support of the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Among the civilian deaths were seven children. According to Reuters, another 300 civilians were transferred to a camp in the northeastern part of the country as the battle raged on. This comes almost exactly two months after President Donald Trump announced his intention to begin withdrawing 2,000 American troops from Syria to signify the end of the conflict with ISIL, as reported by The New York Times.
Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, told Al Jazeera that the progress in the region is “slow and methodical” as the coalition face opposition from ISIL forces. Other members of the coalition’s leadership defended its actions in the region, such as the decision to target a mosque. Major-General Christopher Ghika, the deputy commander, released a statement saying, “This mosque lost its protected status when ISIS deliberately chose to use it as a command and control centre.”
There lies an irony in killing civilians and striking a mosque when fighting ISIL: a group whose ideology is largely based on anti-American sentiment and backlash to military intervention. Inflaming the passions of the Syrian public by killing its citizens and targeting its places of worship will likely only fuel the terrorist group’s recruitment. According to CNN, past ISIL propaganda has capitalized on aggressive American action such as the Trump administration’s ban on immigrants from Muslim countries. Meanwhile, aggressive military action such as the airstrikes on Baghouz has little impact due to the power of ideology. Earlier this decade in the Algerian civil war, de-radicalization programs returned former extremists to their communities and granted them amnesty. Al Jazeera reports that now, only an estimated 170 ISIL fighters come from Algeria, compared to 3,000 from Tunisia and 1,500 from Morocco. Attempts to combat radical terrorist groups have found much more success by confronting the ideology behind the movement, rather than perpetrating violence that oftentimes kills civilians.
According to Al Jazeera, the Syrian Democratic Forces was founded in 2015 to fight in Northern Syria. The group—which is largely made up of Kurdish fighters as well as Arab, Turkmen, and Armenian fighters—first received armed support from the United States in early 2017 to recapture territory claimed by ISIL. Since then, much of their fighting—such as the attack on Baghouz—has been backed by the U.S. Air Force. Because of the dependency on this support, CNN reports that leaders of the SDF such as General Mazloum Kobani have called on President Trump to half the removal of the 2,000 American troops fighting in Syria. While the New York Times reports that President Trump has denounced ISIL, saying “we have won against ISIS,” General Mazloum described the situation as “the middle of the fight” while making a visit to Northern Syria.
A UN report found that U.S.-backed SDF airstrikes have displaced over one million northeast Syrian citizens as of 2017. Numerous deaths—such as those of the 16 citizens in Baghouz—have accompanied these displacements as U.S.-backed forces continue to indiscriminately ravage the region. After two years of supporting the SDF, it is unclear whether the U.S.’s attempts to reclaim territory taken by ISIL has done anything to weaken the group in return for civilian violence. Furthermore, the future of military conflict within Syria is unclear with the imminent removal of U.S. troops on the ground and the wavering success of airstrikes to target remaining ISIL enclaves. If the U.S. truly wishes to eliminate the radical terrorist threat, its efforts are better aimed at combating ideology rather than reinforcing it.