Systematic lies to the command, hundreds of civilians killed and complete impunity – the elite US Army Special Forces “Delta” got into a major scandal. According to The New York Times, the unit’s fighters were part of the secret Talon Anvil group, which, from 2014 to 2019, aimed attack drones at targets in Syria. They formally fought ISIS. But more often civilians became victims. About what the Americans were doing in the Middle East – in the material of RIA Novosti.
Shorts, T-shirts, sandals, non-statutory beards, referring to each other solely by name – the spetsnaz past of the fighters was betrayed only by bearing. Their battlefield is not trenches and ruins of cities, but secret headquarters in Iraqi Erbil and northern Syria. Talon Anvil specialists, in search of IS fighters, received and analyzed a huge array of information from the allied forces, studied radio interception and satellite reconnaissance data. As soon as the target was detected, one or more Predator and Reaper strike UAVs were aimed at it. We worked around the clock: in three shifts. The group size is no more than 20 people.
According to the most conservative estimates, in five years the special forces dropped 112 thousand missiles and bombs on the enemy. The group was formed in 2014 after the US intervention in the Syrian civil war during Operation Unwavering Determination. At first, Talon Anvil fighters strictly obeyed the army command and coordinated each airstrike. This constrained them, and the efficiency of the drones was mediocre: in 74 percent of sorties, UAVs returned to base with a full ammunition load.
General Stephen Townsend, who led the operation in 2016, allowed Talon Anvil commanders to make their own decisions about the strike. Those, in turn, delegated this right even lower – to the senior on duty shifts. As a result, the first class sergeants and master sergeants were entrusted to make the difficult choice “to beat or not to beat”.
NYT sources say that not everyone at the Pentagon was happy with this. Indeed, it is one thing when the order for the combat use of the drone is given by an officer with relevant experience and a complete picture of what is happening on the ground, and another is a special forces soldier who is accustomed to first shooting and then asking questions.
The Pentagon’s fears were confirmed very soon. The commandos, having received carte blanche, no longer restrained themselves: they struck frequently and regularly. At the same time, security requirements were neglected, and intelligence data on convoys, mined vehicles and militants’ command centers were not always carefully checked. The result is massive civilian casualties. Americans admit that ten times more civilians were killed in air strikes in Syria from 2016 to 2019 than in the same period in Afghanistan.
The group blatantly ignored the rules to protect the local population. According to the regulations, an offensive air attack is possible only when reconnaissance is convinced that there are no civilians in the affected area. The drone has to circle in the sky for several hours until the operator is 100 percent sure that the target is a terrorist. On the other hand, a defensive strike does not require special approvals and is delivered in the shortest possible time. The commandos quickly found their bearings: since 2017, drones have been used exclusively for “self-defense”, even if the object was tens of kilometers from the allied forces.
Even the CIA was worried about the scale with which they bombed. High-ranking scouts have repeatedly pointed out to the command the dubious tactics of Talon Anvil. However, the leadership of the air operations did not respond.
“The group acted with great efficiency, and the Pentagon chose to turn a blind eye to the collateral damage,” a source said to the NYT.
There are dozens of examples of the death of civilians from the actions of Talon Anvil. So, in 2016, a drone was pointed at three men who worked in an olive grove near Manbij. There were canvas bags in my hands, no weapons. Nevertheless, the operator considered them a threat and ordered them to be destroyed. In March 2017, American UAVs bombed a crossing over the Euphrates, along which civilians fled from besieged Raqqa. At least 30 people were killed.
And in 2018, Talon Anvil launched a missile and bomb attack on a building in the farm town of Al-Karama, where the leaders of the militants were allegedly hiding. It took a long time to locate the desired house precisely. And the commandos decided to hit at random. Naturally, the bomb fell in the wrong place: 23 civilians were killed, including women and children, and another 30 were injured. This became known only now. It is important that the entire evidence base required to bring the perpetrators to justice will be kept on the Pentagon servers for many years to come, classified as “top secret.” And if the American leadership gets together, it will take a long time to understand the deaths of civilians.
Moreover, Talon Anvil experts prudently laid straws for themselves: the NYT source claims that many videos recorded how UAV operators deliberately removed drone cameras from targets before launching missiles.
The high point of Talon Anvil was the siege of the “capital” of IS. On a tip from operatives, American planes bombed Raqqa from June 6 to October 17, 2017. Finally, the US-led coalition officially announced the capture of the city. The intensity and indiscriminateness of the bombings can be judged by the reports of Russian military correspondents who penetrated into Raqqa shortly before its liberation: bombs exploded right in the middle of residential areas. The Americans did not hesitate to use even white phosphorus ammunition, prohibited by international conventions. After months of bombing, Raqqa fell into ruins. The UN official representative in Syria, Jan Egeland, admitted in April 2018: there is much more serious destruction than in Aleppo and Homs, liberated by the Syrian government forces with the assistance of the Russian Aerospace Forces. According to the UN mission, 70 percent of buildings are damaged or destroyed.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov compared this to the bombing of Dresden by Anglo-American air armadas in 1945. The situation is aggravated by the fact that it is difficult for humanitarian organizations to operate in the city: many areas are still in ruins, some streets are mined. It is still impossible to calculate the exact number of victims.
However, the Americans are hardly concerned about this. This week, the results of an investigation into a drone strike on a civilian car in Kabul on August 29 were reported: no one is to blame for the tragedy. And then, let us remind, ten people died. The military claimed that the target was a terrorist. In fact, there were civilians in the car with children. However, the Pentagon has traditionally decided not to take responsibility for “collateral damage.”