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Our Help Is Hurting: Why The US Needs A New Plan Of Action In Syria

Around 350,000 people in the Syrian city of Raqqa are essentially trapped.

Their homes shake from nearby Russian and French airstrikes, which have increased in the aftermath of the Paris attacks and downed Russian plane.

Both attacks were carried out by the Islamic State.

But ISIS fighters have moved into residential areas of the city and banned anyone from leaving them.

Innocent civilians have been reduced to sitting ducks in the struggle for Raqqa, which has been held by ISIS since 2014.

It is feared ISIS will use the city residents as human shields, intentionally putting people in harm’s way, as living, breathing deterrents to any attempt to retake the city.

It is evident that airstrikes will not work against an enemy that does not fight fairly, an enemy that hides behind innocent human lives while waging war.

While these international air strikes have helped in containing ISIS, their use can hardly be lauded as a 100 percent success.

In the Syrian city of Kobane, Kurdish forces, aided by US air strikes, were able to take back the city from the Islamic State earlier this year, after its capture in 2014.

The United States and President Obama were able to take partial credit for giving the Syrian people back one of their cities.

But if we were being honest, we’d admit we gave it back to them in ruins.

As Washington Post writer, Liz Sly, points out in her story, “The Ruins of Kobane,” “Much of the town was reduced to rubble. Barely a street or a building was untouched.”

She goes on to say:

As the conflict drags into a fifth year with no end in sight, little heed is being paid to the enormity of the havoc being wreaked on the country.

Some 2.1 million homes, half the country’s hospitals and more than 7,000 schools have been destroyed, according to the United Nations.

This begs the question: Has the airstrike campaign in Syria inadvertently contributed to the deteriorating conditions in the country, and the 12 million people who have fled their homes to avoid the conflict?

The New York Times says many refugees come from countries where the United States and its allies have unsuccessfully intervened, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

When asked, some refugees said there was nothing left for them in their home countries.

One man passing through Serbia on his way to Europe said, “There is no future in Afghanistan.”

We cannot let Syria be more of the same.

Bombing homes, businesses and schools take away more than just people’s pasts. They don’t give them much of a future, either. They have nothing to come home to.

As Sly says in her article:

The more buildings are flattened, the more homes, shops and businesses are lost, the greater the incentive to flee the country, and the less people will have to return to whenever the war finally ends.

It’s time to admit airstrikes are hurting as much as they are helping.

It’s time admit to ourselves that the problem is our own, noncommittal approach to the war in Syria and the war on ISIS.

After horrific attacks like those in Paris, it is easy to use strong words to denounce terrorism and reiterate commitment to ending it, as French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin both have done.

But the wars we conduct through airstrikes — impersonal and seemingly innocuous for those watching from afar — are anything but.

They are dangerous because they allow us, complacently, to feel like we are doing something to help, when really, we could be making a problem worse.

Though they cost us nothing and have no risk to the lives of our soldiers, these airstrikes are costing the Syrian people everything.

We may ultimately win a war in their homeland while simultaneously destroying all the things that made it their home.

The attacks on Paris, the bombing in Lebanon, the downed Russian plane all show ISIS’ commitment to continuing its campaign, in spite of ramped-up efforts in Syria.

It is time for us to demonstrate our own resolve in responding to their threats. We can start by acknowledging our air strike campaign has been a paltry, half-hearted attempt at best.

Anything less would be irresponsible, negligent and un-American.

Sarah Ballentine