Over the course of the past week, US warplanes have repeatedly targeted the town of Mayadeen, in the ISIS-held part of Syria. The casualties have been overwhelmingly civilian in nature, and many reports suggest those civilians were mostly relatives of ISIS fighters.
This would just be another round of US warplanes killing a hundred-plus civilians in their air war, except that during the presidential campaign, President Trump very publicly advocated adopting a US military strategy of deliberately killing civilian relatives of ISIS members, insisting that was the only way to deter ISIS.
Put these two facts together and you’ve got a recipe for a potentially explosive question: is President Trump implementing this policy within the Pentagon, and is that the reason the death toll among civilian family members of ISIS fighters has soared in recent days?
Officials have been unusually mum about the Mayadeen strikes, with only a single statement confirming they carried out the attacks, but insisting they were still not sure what casualties might’ve resulted from it. In having not admitted to the deaths yet, they likewise aren’t yet at the point where they have to address the question of why they killed them.
It was pointed out during the 2016 campaign, but bears repeating, particularly now, that a family member of a combatant is not themselves a combatant, and deliberately targeting civilians is necessarily a war-crime, irrespective of who they are related to.
When that was pointed out during the debate, President Trump attacked the Geneva Conventions, insisting “everyone believes in the Geneva Conventions until they start losing.” The administration has not, however, admitted this has become formal policy.