Documents reveal NZDF knew civilians were killed in SAS raid.

Documents previously kept secret by the NZ Defence Force with the support of the Ombudsman have now come out in advance of an inquiry.

NZ Herald:  Documents too secret to be seen – but now the inquiry into the NZSAS raid says they should be public

New documents have revealed NZDF had intelligence showing civilians were killed just days after the 2010 NZSAS raid which is now subject to a government inquiry.

The details are part of an extraordinary document dump previously blocked by NZDF with support from the Office of the Ombudsman.

The documents have emerged as the inquiry prepares for public hearings this week at which lawyers for the Afghan villagers – those people directly affected by the raid – will not appear. The lawyers representing the villagers had pulled out of the hearing after complaints sufficient funding is not available to properly represent them.

That’s as much as I can see, the rest is behind the paywall, but this seems to be a big deal.

UN claim mass civilian deaths in Syria

The multi-faction civil war in Syria started in March 2011, seven years ago. It has resulted in massive damage and many casualties, with civilians often being the victims. And that is still happening in what seems to have become a war of attrition.

UN war crimes investigators: Russia and U.S. air strikes caused mass civilian deaths in Syria

Air strikes by Russia and a U.S.-led coalition killed civilians in Syria on a large scale last year, while the Assad government carried out unlawful chemical weapon attacks in rebel-held eastern Ghouta, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Tuesday.

Islamic State fighters and other insurgent groups committed war crimes including deadly attacks on civilians and using them as human shields, the investigators said in their latest report covering six months through January 15.

Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that it came at a “very dark moment in this conflict” as fighting intensifies in Idlib, Afrin and Ghouta.

During the period, “victims of the Syrian conflict have suffered greatly as violence countrywide re-escalated to new heights,” the report said.

“(Syrian) government forces continued to use chemical weapons against armed group fighters in eastern Ghouta,” it said.

Among other key findings, the panel said that an air strike by a “Russian fixed-wing aircraft” using unguided weapons last November hit a market killing at least 84 people and injuring 150 in Atareb, west of Aleppo, in a “de-escalation zone” declared by Russia, Iran and Turkey.

It found no evidence that the Russian strike had deliberately targeted the market, but said “this attack may amount to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks resulting in death and injury to civilians”, the first time it has explicitly implicated Moscow in possible war crimes.

Pinheiro, commenting on the Russian strike, said that under international humanitarian law, using certain weapons in civilian areas automatically amounts to the war crime of launching indiscriminate attacks because of the nature of the weapons used.

And three U.S.-led coalition strikes on a school near Raqqa in March 2017 killed 150 residents – roughly five times the toll acknowledged by the Pentagon, which said at the time that dozens of militants and not civilians were killed.

The U.N. investigators found no evidence that Islamic State fighters were at the school and said the U.S.-led coalition had violated international law by failing in its duty to protect displaced civilians known to be sheltered there since 2012.

The independent investigators called on all sides to allow access to besieged areas and all detainees. Justice must be served in any peace deal ending the conflict soon entering its eighth year, they said.

Syrian government forces used chemical weapons against insurgents in eastern Ghouta, including chlorine three times in July, and in Harasta on the western edge of the zone in November, the report said. The U.N. investigators had previously documented 33 chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

However the killing and destruction is unlikely to end, as Syria, Russia and the US try to wipe out remnants of the uprising and opportunistic ISIS occupation.

But the panel was “not a tribunal” and had no powers to take its investigations further, he told a news conference.

So use of illegal weapons and attacks on civilians, whether deliberate or collateral damage, is likely to continue.

ANZAC Day protests

Alison Mau write about: Anzac Day – a time for protest or quiet reflection?

Free speech versus the right to a peaceful commemoration of our sacred day. Which one to choose?

The video of 12-year-old James Broome-Isa’s tirade against the protesters at the Wellington Cenotaph on Anzac Day was hard to watch. Visceral, even.

I don’t like critiquing people’s parenting, and I won’t in this case. I know I would have looked with patience and perhaps with pride on a child of mine who’d offered their considered opinion in that situation; after a minute though, I would have called a halt to the shouting and ushered the child away. That’s just me.

And I get where James was coming from. I’m amazed and warmed by the way Kiwis have embraced Anzac Day in the past couple of decades.

Here, we see young people marching with the veterans in solemn pride, wearing the medals of their grandfathers and great grandfathers.

The amazement part is because it wasn’t a

New Zealand RSA President BJ Clark told me it’s been much the same for a couple of generations of Kiwis; no-one was taught the history of New Zealanders at war for a long stretch (it’s worth noting that the New Zealand Wars still don’t figure on the curriculum).

Now the young people are leading the way, he says; the swelling crowds at 268 Anzac Day ceremonies around the country are a direct result of educating young Kiwis about the sacrifices made by their ancestors.

Should we be condoning protest on Anzac Day, then? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Clark says no. Politics has no place on that day, he says, or at that place.

“Our place,” is how he repeatedly referred to the Cenotaph. Our day. A day to remember those killed in wars across the world.

The protest in Wellington was silent and mild, for sure, but more particularly, he says, this is a day for returned service people to remember those they served alongside. Those people do not need the distraction of a protest on their day of remembrance.

Clark admits though, that protest and the right to speak our minds is exactly what generations of Kiwis have gone to war to protect. He mentions this several times, and understands that, well, there’s the rub.

Yep, there’s the rub.

When I initially saw the young guy admonishing the protesters for it being inappropriate on ANZAC Day I agreed.

But when I thought more about it I found that I also agreed with the right of the protesters to peacefully make their point, whether I agreed with it or not.

ANZAC Day has changed a lot over my lifetime. My father was one of the younger returned servicemen when I used to go on marches and sit through speeches at the town hall, then went home not to see my Dad for the rest of the day. But he’s been dead for 17 years, and there are very few of his fellows from the RSA still alive.

Those who have served later have been allowed to participate. Vietnam vets were contentious but were eventually deemed to be deserving of recognition too.

Why not also commemorate the civilian victims of wars? Often many more of them die and suffer than soldiers, and they are largely innocent victims.

Peace protests and conscientious objections have also been important aspects of wars.

Whether I agree with their message or not peaceful and respectful protest should be an acceptable part of ANZAC Day events. There is no set definition of what should be said or done, and nor should there be.

Trump relaxed terms of engagement or just more aggression?

The possibility has arisen that terms of engagement relaxed after Donald Trump wanted more aggression in the Middle East may have caused a surge in civilian deaths in Syria.

NY Times: U.S. Investigating Mosul Strikes Said to Have Killed Up to 200 Civilians

The American-led military coalition in Iraq said Friday that it was investigating reports that scores of civilians — perhaps as many as 200, residents said — had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul, the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State.

If confirmed, the series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since the United States went to war in Iraq in 2003. And the reports of civilian deaths in Mosul came immediately after two recent incidents in Syria, where the coalition is also battling the Islamic State from the air, in which activists and local residents said dozens of civilians had been killed.

Taken together, the surge of reported civilian deaths raised questions about whether once-strict rules of engagement meant to minimize civilian casualties were being relaxed under the Trump administration, which has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively.

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

Whether the terms of engagement have changed or not more aggression (perhaps reinforced with the attitude of the President) and more attacks is almost certain to result in more mistakes and more civilian casualties.

It will be interesting to see how Trump handles the world exposure of more aggressive IS actions.

Rules of engagement and civilian deaths

The ‘rules of engagement’ in modern warfare in relation to civilian deaths are a prominent factor in the ‘Hit & Run’ book and subsequent calls for an inquiry in New Zealand forces involved in attacks on two Afghan villages in 2010.

The US military played a prominent role, providing the faulty ‘intelligence’ that prompted the attacks, and also most of the fire power that caused the deaths and injuries of civilians and the destruction of their property.

Coincidentally this report from the Guardian: Mosul’s children were shouting beneath the rubble. Nobody came

Coalition bombs buried more than a hundred people in the ruins of three houses and raised fresh questions about US rules of engagement

By the time rescuers finally arrived no one was left alive. For almost a week desperate neighbours had scraped through the rubble, searching for as many as 150 people who lay buried after three homes in a west Mosul suburb were destroyed by coalition airstrikes.

Neighbours said at least 80 bodies had been recovered from one house alone, where people had been encouraged by local elders to take shelter. Rescuers were continuing to dig through the ruins, and the remains of two other houses nearby, which had also been pulverised in attacks that were described as “relentless and horrifying”.

This illustrates risks of modern asymmetric warfare, but civilian casualties have long been prevalent in conflict zones.

The US military said it was launching an investigation. Cololnel Joseph Scrocca, from the US-led command in Baghdad, said “the coalition has opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment on this allegation” from Mosul.

That sounds appropriate, but it is often difficult to get comprehensive evidence from a war zone still under fire.

Residents in Mosul Jadida say no Isis members were hiding among the civilians, although dozens of militants had been attempting to defend the area from an attack by Iraqi special forces.

Isis has been widely accused of using civilians as human shields by positioning guns and fighters on top of houses. Most residents at the scene said that while the group’s members were indeed on the roof of at least one of the homes, those who took shelter below did so willingly.

A very difficult situation.

‘Terms of engagement’ should indeed be rechecked.

And another thing – the US military has long had a reputation for it’s lack of subtlety in attack, it’s rip shit and bust blast to smithereens approach.

Might is not always the right way to do things.

US marines in Syria, civilians

Civilians have always been a major casualty of war. During the Second World War cities were deliberately destroyed, wholly or extensively, for example Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Punishing the population was a part of retribution.

Things changed in the Vietnam War when media coverage highlighted the awful effects of war on civilians. And the intermingling of armies within towns and villages made things very complicated.

Now civilian casualties get a lot of attention. Despite improved and more accurate ways of killing people and destroying properties ordinary people. Often the women and children left behind in the firing zone get maimed and killed.

The US has just deployed Marines in Syria to help in the fight against ISIS.

Reuters: Syrian force a ‘few weeks’ from Raqqa, U.S. Marines deploy

U.S.-backed Syrian forces said on Thursday they were closing in on Islamic State-held Raqqa and expected to reach the city outskirts in a few weeks, as a U.S. Marines artillery unit deployed to help the campaign.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia alliance including the Kurdish YPG, is the main U.S. partner in the war against Islamic State in Syria. Since November it has been working with the U.S.-led coalition to encircle Raqqa.

Coalition spokesman U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian said the additional U.S. forces would be working with local partners in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition – and would not have a front line role.

Some 500 U.S. personnel are already in Syria to help the fight against IS. A 400-strong additional deployment which arrived in recent days comprised both Marines and Army Rangers, Dorrian said, adding they were there temporarily.

But inevitably:

Coalition airstrikes killed 23 civilians, including eight children, in the countryside north of Raqqa on Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor said. The coalition said it was investigating the incident.

Just a bit more unavoidable ‘collateral damage’?

The artillery will help “expedite the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa”, he said, using another acronym for Islamic State. The Marines were armed with 155-millimetre artillery guns. Asked if they had been used yet, Dorrian said he did not believe so.

“We have had what I would describe as a pretty relentless air campaign to destroy enemy capabilities and to kill enemy fighters in that area already. That is something that we are going to continue and intensify with this new capability.”

Artillery is likely to be more indiscriminate than air strikes.

from Newshub: US-led air strike hits Syrian civilians

The US military has said it makes “extraordinary efforts” to avoid civilian deaths in its bombing campaign against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

The military’s estimates of civilians killed by coalition air strikes are generally far lower than those of monitoring groups.

ISIS needs to be defeated, and there are no easy ways of doing that. War is crap, and many innocent people have their homes and their lives ruined. If they survive.

Better ways need to be found of preventing war. The US invasion of Iraq has made many things worse than they were, with the horrors of war spreading around the Middle East and provoking more insurgencies.