Middle East

Secret US military unit repeatedly killed civilians in campaign against Daesh

A covert unit in the US military which was tasked to fight against Daesh, instead repeatedly killed Syrian civilians throughout its campaign, a report by the New York Times has revealed.

According to the report, which cited both former and current American military and intelligence officials, the unit operated between 2014 until 2019 – the years when Daesh was most active and territorially defeated – and was named Talon Anvil.

It was tasked to strike Daesh’s squads, convoys, command centres and car bombs but, along the way, it caused massive collateral damage and the loss of numerous civilians’ lives. Its methods even reportedly shocked much of the military and those in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

By having “circumvented rules imposed to protect non-combatants” and operating in a loose manner with regards to standard rules of engagement, one of the sources told the paper that the cell was killing farmers during their harvest, children on the street, families who were fleeing and villagers who sheltered in buildings.

The report stated that the vast majority of airstrikes in Syria were called in, not by the senior branches of the military, but by the small unit of Talon Anvil itself, which was responsible for the firing of 112,000 bombs and missiles.

“They were ruthlessly efficient and good at their jobs,” a former Air Force intelligence officer, who was part of the cell for two years, said. “But they also made a lot of bad strikes.”

The NYT’s report comes, after it was also reported a month ago, that the US had killed at least 80 civilians in a series of airstrikes on the former Daesh stronghold of Baghuz in March 2019, and had, thereafter, attempted to cover it up. There was also much confusion amongst military commanders and defence officials about how the strikes were ordered.

According to the paper, though, it was later found that the strikes were called in by a covert special forces task force which was conducting ground operations in the area, and were launched by Talon Anvil.

Following those reports of the strikes and their civilian casualties, former and current senior Special Operations officers denied the widespread and frequent occurrence of reckless airstrikes, insisting that the utmost had been done to limit any civilian casualties.

With the revelation of Talon Anvil and its operations, however, the officers’ claims are vulnerable to dispute.

 

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