West Point Professor Defends Mass US-Inflicted Damage in Raqqa, Mosul

Says cities that don't want to be destroyed shouldn't let themselves stay out of govt control

It is taking a long time for the Pentagon to come to terms with what they actually did in “liberating” the Iraqi city of Mosul and the the Syrian city of Raqqa. Even as some admission of those being big operations start to trickle through, phrases like “surgical operations” continue to be bandied about.

Even as we start to call it for what it is, leveling entire city blocks in residential districts and killing thousands of civilians, the US military isn’t exactly contrite. As comments from West Point Urban Warfare Studies chair John Spencer demonstrated in comments today, whatever the US military did in Mosul and Raqqa, officials are sure it was justified.

Justification isn’t necessarily easy, driving Spencer had to invent a whole new concept, the “feral city,” which he defined as a city which the US perceives lacks “adequate governance.” Confirming that “you can have a feral city within a functioning state,” once the US makes that determination, seemingly all bets are off.

Spencer argued that the US and its allies “didn’t have much of a choice” but to attack those cities with air support and artillery. He argued direct US ground troops would have been even more damaging “because of the nature of urban warfare.”

Instead of debating if the US really ought to be flattening major cities, the lesson, for Spencer, was that any cities that don’t want to be flattened shouldn’t let themselves remain out of government control for multiple years. In effect in his worldview, Raqqa and Mosul were asking for it.

And even with that grim assessment, those cities, or what’s left of them, shouldn’t be expecting US help in reconstruction. Following the “surgical strike” metaphor, Spencer and others argued that sacking, or nearly destroying the feral cities was the surgeon’s job, but that post-surgical care needs to be done by someone else.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for Antiwar.com. He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.