The Biden Administration is continuing the War on Terror through its own acts of hostility, writes Dr Alison Broinowski.
IN SYRIA on 3 February, Abu Ibrahim al-HashImi al-Quraishi was killed when U.S. Special Forces raided the village of Atmeh in Idlib province. He was the fourth leader of Islamic State (I.S.) to die and President Joe Biden is the fourth American President to claim responsibility for their murders and others.
In Iraq, George W Bush oversaw the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, where he was then hanged. In 2006, he ordered the killing of I.S. leader Abu Musa al-Zarqawi. In 2011, Barack Obama connived at the torture and execution of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and claimed responsibility for the death of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Donald Trump ordered the fatal attack on Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria in 2019 and took the credit for killing Iranian Quds General Qasem Soleimani in 2020.
Under Biden early in 2021, airstrikes in Syria near the Iraq border resumed, ostensibly against Iranian-supported I.S. militia, who were re-organising after the allied rout from Kabul. Biden blamed al-Quraishi for the “slaughter” of Yazidis in Iraq and the breakout from Ghwaryan gaol in Hasakah on 22 January.
Although the U.S. and UK claimed to have restored order there under the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, other reports suggested that U.S. helicopters airlifted hundreds of I.S. prisoners out, for what purpose we don’t know. I.S. in Syria, after all, opposes the al-Assad Government, which should make them America’s friend, not its enemy.
But this month’s attack in Atmeh comes as a surprise, after months of comparative media silence about Syria. Just as his predecessors did, Biden assured us all that he was still ‘making the world safe from terrorism’.
“From” or “for”?
After IS-K killed U.S. service people and civilians with bomb attacks in Kabul and other Afghan cities in late 2021 and U.S. forces did the same, Biden asserted to “anyone who wished America harm” that the U.S. would not forgive or forget.
Sounding like George W Bush, he intoned:
“We will hunt you down and make you pay.”
Now, he tells the world that U.S. Special Forces have “removed a major threat”. Clearly intended by the U.S. to terrify the local population and punish I.S., the attack was also terrorism.
Early reports claimed that al-Quraishi himself detonated a bomb at midnight on the third floor of a building where he and his family lived, killing 13 people, including four women and six children. But facts are few. For a start, that he would do this seems unlikely. At what point two dozen U.S. Special Forces approached the building is not known. U.S. Apache helicopters took part and one was destroyed on the ground, whether by the Americans because it was unserviceable, or by the rebels.
Airstrikes, including drones, machine gunfire and explosions lasted for two hours, but who in the chaos activated which of them is unclear. Just when, in the sequence of events, U.S. forces with loudspeakers warned women and children to leave the area, we don’t know either. Whatever the number of Americans involved, Washington reported no U.S. casualties. We still await Damascus’ version of events.
This is hardly enough information to justify conclusions. At least there’s no doubt that American drone strikes killed al-Zarqawi in Iraq in 2006, Soleimani in 2020 and their companions. But those who peer at Syria through the spyglass of Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat, or trust Britain’s Syrian Civil Defence, The Syria Campaign, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, or rely on the BBC, cannot expect to see the whole picture.
Even less is revealed to us by the ABC or SBS. The Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media, composed of UK academics, often corrects the mainstream media record, as do Media Lens and some British journalists on the ground in Syria.
Some similarities between al-Quraishi’s murder and those of his I.S. predecessors are striking. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi also died during a U.S. raid on Idlib, but in Barish in 2019. He and two children were said to be fleeing when, apparently, he too detonated an explosive device that killed them all.
In the late-night raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2011, a grounded helicopter was also destroyed. SEAL Team Six claimed to fear the al-Qaeda leader might be wearing an explosive vest, as Biden says al-Quraishi was. But the SEALs’ video was down for some 25 minutes, leaving significant gaps about what happened to him, his wives and children and servants, or whether any of them were urged to take cover.
How and where bin Laden was “buried at sea” is not on the public record. Three months later, a superannuated Chinook helicopter was shot down, reportedly by fire from inside a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, apparently killing all 38 people on board. They included 17 SEALs, some of them members of SEAL Team Six. American officials claimed the bodies were so badly burnt that they were forced to cremate them immediately.
The bin Laden event was watched from the White House Situation Room by Obama, Hillary Clinton and others. So was the death of al-Baghdadi, by Trump. With his ratings falling, Biden used the same photo-op, sitting beside Kamala Harris and claiming personal credit for sending America’s message to terrorists: “We will come after you and find you.”
Now as before, there are no survivors, no bodies, no photos and no evidence. We wait for more details about the extrajudicial killing of al-Hashemi and for the revenge attack by I.S.
So on it goes — the forever war. There are terrorists on both sides with vested interests in making sure it does.
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