While there may be great differences between Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, they remain allies in the "war on terror." And so despite Germany’s contribution to the military mission against the so-called Islamic State (IS) being limited to Tornado reconnaissance flights and weapons for the Kurdish Peshmerga, when the US-led coalition escalates its war in the air, it does so in Germany’s name.
1. The New Brutality
This currently applies to Donald Trump’s strategy for the "war on terror" – although "strategy" is the wrong word. Since Mr. Trump took office, the United States has mainly put its faith in more bombs, more drones and more rockets. Not against the perpetrator of the worst terror against civilians, namely the Syrian government that, according to all indications, on Tuesday once again carried out a chemical attack, but against IS and Al-Qaeda – with the civilian population paying an increasingly high price. Where this leads can currently be seen in Syria, in Iraq and, most dramatically, in Yemen. The tactic of the "new brutality," as the British-Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid calls it, promotes exactly what it claims to be fighting: militant Islamist terror.
Numerous air attacks in Iraq and Syria are greatly increasing the number of civilian casualties. On 20 March, bomber pilots of the US-led coalition killed more than 30 refugees near Raqqa. A few days before on 17 March, as many as 200 civilians are estimated to have died in western Mosul after an American air attack on their collapsing apartment building. On the same day, the Pentagon announced a "successful mission" against high-ranking members of Al-Qaeda in the northern Syrian village of Al-Jina. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights instead called it a "massacre." The rockets apparently hit a mosque where local residents had gathered for prayer.
2. Civilian Deaths Are Accepted
The US-led coalition is currently killing more civilians in the "war on terror" than the Russian air force in its attempt to keep the Assad regime in power. The offensives on Mosul and Raqqa are admittedly not equivalent to the deliberate destruction of eastern Aleppo, where Moscow and Damascus allowed schools, hospitals and marketplaces to be attacked. That was terror against an opposing civilian population and an undeniable war crime. The US-led coalition, on the other hand, seeks to avoid civilian casualties; but in Mosul, that is becoming increasingly difficult because IS uses inhabitants as human shields. Last week, Amnesty International accused Washington, Baghdad and their allies of failing to take sufficient care to protect the civilian population during the advance on western Mosul, "in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law." The coalition had used leaflets to advise inhabitants to remain inside their homes during the offensive, but for many people these have turned into death traps because of the massive attacks by aircraft and artillery.
At present, not one of the 60 member states of the global anti-IS coalition has condemned a strategy that uses fighter bombers against sharpshooters and massive artillery salvos in densely populated areas. One is compelled to conclude that the civilian casualties are being accepted as "collateral damage" in pursuit of the all-important goal of destroying IS.
3. IS Benefits from the Escalation
IS won’t disappear even if the loss of Mosul and Raqqa deprives it of its "caliphate." In Iraq, it has already returned to its old guerrilla strategy of hit-and-run attacks throughout the country. Hidden out in the desert, IS strategists are expecting that a high number of civilian casualties in Mosul will turn the besieged inhabitants against their liberators. Once the city has been retaken, they hope the victorious alliance will splinter into its familiar hostile factions: Shiite militia; Sunni tribes; Kurdish Peshmerga; PKK fighters; competing police and army units. All of these factions will be supported by their respective foreign sponsors Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and equipped with arsenals they received from western countries including Germany in the fight against IS.
In itself, this is not an argument against the delivery of weapons to the Peshmerga by the German government. It is an argument for diplomatic and political efforts to create stable post-war structures in the affected countries.
4. The Breakup of Countries Must Be Halted
Such efforts are still missing. The EU has no influence and isn’t seeking any; it is concentrating on keeping refugees out. Under Barack Obama, the United States for the most part turned away from the region. Russia is compromised as a warring party, while the regional powers Iran and Saudi Arabia remain caught in a struggle for dominance.
And so further conflicts loom on the horizon: In northern Iraq, the Kurds want to achieve independence through a referendum. In the meantime, Shiite militias financed by Iran are settling into the liberated section of Sunni Mosul. This is grist for the mills of Sunni hardliners and IS propagandists. Negotiations between all groups in the political process are just as far off in Iraq as they are in Syria.