U.S. declines to strike Islamic State HQ in Syria, fearing civilian casualties

U.S. declines to strike Islamic State HQ in Syria, fearing civilian casualties
Where antiseptic, pretty wars are fought.

[Ed. – Fighting  one of those Aaron Sorkin/Rob Reiner/Michael Douglas wars against unicorns and misunderstood space aliens.]

American intelligence analysts have identified seven buildings in downtown Raqqa in eastern Syria as the main headquarters of the Islamic State. But the buildings have gone untouched during the 10-month allied air campaign. …

American and allied warplanes are equipped with the most precise aerial arsenal ever fielded. But American officials say they are not striking significant — and obvious — Islamic State targets out of fear that the attacks will accidentally kill civilians. Killing such innocents could hand the militants a major propaganda coup and alienate both the local Sunni tribesmen, whose support is critical to ousting the militants, and Sunni Arab countries that are part of the American-led coalition.

But many Iraqi commanders, and even some American officers, argue that exercising such prudence is harming the coalition’s larger effort to destroy the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or Daesh, and that it illustrates the limitations of American air power in the Obama administration’s strategy. A persistent complaint of Iraqi officials and security officers is that the United States has been too cautious in its air campaign, frequently allowing columns of Islamic State fighters essentially free movement on the battlefield. …

Islamic State troops, however, appear to be taking advantage of the restrictions, as the militants increasingly fight from within civilian populations to deter attack.

In Iraq, more than 80 percent of the allied airstrikes are supporting Iraqi troops in hotly contested areas like Ramadi and Baiji, the home of a major oil refinery. Many of the other strikes focus on so-called pop-up targets — small convoys of militants or heavy weaponry on the move. … The rest of the missions have returned to the base after failing to find a target they were permitted to hit under strict rules of engagement designed to avoid civilian casualties.

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