Report reveals US forces bombed Syria’s largest dam — putting tens of thousands of lives at risk

Report reveals US forces bombed Syria’s largest dam — putting tens of thousands of lives at risk
Aleppo, Syria in January 2017, Wikimedia Commons

On March 26, 2017 — two months into Donald Trump’s presidency — the Tabqa Dam in Syria was bombed as U.S. forces continued their battle against the far-right jihadist terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria). That dam, the largest in Syria, was on a no-strike list. But according to New York Times reporters Dave Philipps, Azmat Khan and Eric Schmitt, a U.S. military unit bombed it anyway.

“The Tabqa Dam was a strategic linchpin, and the Islamic State controlled it,” the Times reporters explain in an article published this week. “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.”

According to the Times reporters, the dam was bombed by “a top-secret U.S. Special Operations unit called Task Force 9” — and they did 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.”

“Given the dam’s protected status, the decision to strike it would normally have been made high up the chain of command,” Philipps, Khan and Schmitt report. “But the former officials said the task force used a procedural shortcut reserved for emergencies, allowing it to launch the attack without clearance. Later, three workers who had rushed to the dam to prevent a disaster were killed in a different coalition airstrike, according to dam workers.”

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Col. Scott F. Murray, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran, discussed the bombing with the Times. Murray was involved in U.S. military air operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as Kosovo.

Murray told the Times, “Using a 2000-pound bomb against a restricted target like a dam is extremely difficult and should have never been done on the fly. Worst case, those munitions could have absolutely caused the dam to fail.”

The bombing of the Tabqa Dam, however, wasn’t the disaster it could have been.

Philipps, Khan and Schmitt explain, “After the strikes, dam workers stumbled on an ominous piece of good fortune: Five floors deep in the dam’s control tower, an American BLU-109 bunker-buster lay on its side, scorched but intact — a dud. If it had exploded, experts say, the whole dam might have failed.”

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