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Dambusting in Syria

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By Mohamed7799 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34182330

Well this is some alarming shit:

The Tabqa Dam was a strategic linchpin and the Islamic State controlled it. The explosions on March 26, 2017, knocked dam workers to the ground and everything went dark. Witnesses say one bomb punched down five floors. A fire spread, and crucial equipment failed. The mighty flow of the Euphrates River suddenly had no way through, the reservoir began to rise, and local authorities used loudspeakers to warn people downstream to flee.

The Islamic State, the Syrian government and Russia blamed the United States, but the dam was on the U.S. military’s “no-strike list” of protected civilian sites and the commander of the U.S. offensive at the time, then-Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said allegations of U.S. involvement were based on “crazy reporting.”

“The Tabqa Dam is not a coalition target,” he declared emphatically two days after the blasts.

In fact, members of a top secret U.S. Special Operations unit called Task Force 9 had struck the dam using some of the largest conventional bombs in the U.S. arsenal, including at least one BLU-109 bunker-buster bomb designed to destroy thick concrete structures, according to two former senior officials. And they had done it despite a military report warning not to bomb the dam, because the damage could cause a flood that might kill tens of thousands of civilians.

So… a story about a strike in March 2017 that conspicuously fails to mention a change in civilian leadership. Now, maybe there’s a really good reason for not talking about how a change in POTUS might have led to a change in targeting procedures by the US military. Although it’s not evident from the reporting, maybe the basic contours of the attack were in place before the transition. It would certainly be helpful to say that explicitly, however. More problematically, there’s a subset of air war journalism that is deeply reluctant to acknowledge differences between Obama and Trump targeting policy because it perceives making such a distinction lets Obama off the hook for the drone war. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but it really is worth looking into whether Trump’s “gloves off” policy precipitated an attack on a piece of critical infrastructure.

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