As a report by Reuters put it, “the nascent Raqqa Civil Council, set up to rebuild and govern Raqqa, faces a huge task.” Their article was in reference to the devastation left behind from the battle between US-backed militias and Islamic State fighters over the past several months.
The Sunni-extremist group chose Raqqa as their de facto capital when they seized territory in Syria and Iraq. The fight to purge the terrorist group from their strongholds started under the former Obama administration and continued under Trump, which no doubt has more to do with why Raqqa is left in ruins.
This week, President Trump took credit for defeating ISIS in Raqqa, saying in an interview on Tuesday that ISIS had given up. In his interview on the Chris Plante Show, Trump said that he had lifted the rules of engagement and had changed the military in order to take on the extremist group.
But lifting the rules of engagement is central to the problem with this president, in his fight against ISIS. A president who rationalizes the killing of innocent civilians. But it also isn’t out of the ordinary for Trump, a person who acts like a hammer and sees every issue as a nail. There were already concerns with this approach during the fight in Mosul in what was seen as the Islamic State’s last holdout in Iraq.
Last year, a Pentagon correspondent told NPR that the Trump transition team — courtesy of Gen. Michael Flynn — were looking at changing the rules of engagement which would put American troops closer to the fight. While there might very well be American soldiers engaged in battle on the ground, for the most part, they’ve been conducting strikes from the air.
A reporter for the Times of London, Richard Spencer, said this week that the US destroyed Raqqa in order to save it. Special correspondent for the PBS Newshour, Nick Schifrin said in his report on Friday that “the US had dropped tens of thousands of pounds of bombs” onto the city, cleared every building and that none had been sparred, leaving 80 percent of Raqqa uninhabitable according to the United Nations.”
In that Newshour report, Hassan Hassan who is a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East policy, said that “they” wanted to turn every ISIS territory into a “killing box” and that it came at the expense of civilians.
Amnesty International reported in August that civilians in Raqqa were caught in a “labyrinth” of not only being targeted by ISIS snipers when they’ve tried to leave the city but by US airstrikes. And, there’s no reason to question reports that innocent lives were being lost by the hundreds and perhaps even by the thousands because, even though Trump mounts lies on top of lies, he has already publicly exhibited his taste for blood along with other Republicans on the campaign trail.
In fact, during the final Republican debate of 2015, Donald Trump showed how little he cared about innocent civilians when he said at the time that he would go after the families of terrorists. When he was asked about how intentionally killing innocent civilians set America apart from ISIS, Trump said that those families knew what was going on the whole time. He said that while terrorists might not care about their own lives, they would care about the lives of their families.
This isn’t a far walk from how Trump sees innocent civilians in places such as Raqqa, where bombarding the city and risking civilian casualties would be a way to strike more fear into ISIS. Such was the case with Mosul which was also left in ruins by air strikes.
And as the fight continues in other ISIS strongholds in Syria — or really, anywhere else in the world — they too will likely be left in ruin. In fact, Raqqa and Mosul could be metaphors for how Trump leaves everything he touches in ruin, even at the expense of innocent civilians.