In a period of four days last week, over 150 civilians were killed in bombing raids on Aleppo. Among the weapons being used, the barrel bomb was the most prominent. The brutality of this Syrian conflict has been put on display in several instances over the past few years, but nothing epitomizes that brutality more completely than the use of the barrel bomb and other indiscriminate weapons.
In World War I, humanity first learned of the brutality of the chemical weapon. Over 85,000 people were estimated to have died from direct exposure, and the psychological impact that it had on the troops was unmeasurable. As a result, in the 1925 Geneva Protocol, humanity banned the use of these weapons in warfare. As the Syrian conflict has reminded us, that taboo still stands today.
In 1982, a Geneva Convention banned the use of incendiary weapons in populated areas. Then in 2008, cluster munitions were also banned. The reason for these weapons being banned is simple: they are designed to indiscriminately kill as many people, destroy as many homes, and cause as much damage as possible.
Chemical, cluster, and incendiary weapons do not differentiate between the military/industrial target, and the many homes surrounding it. They do not differentiate between the commander being targeted, and the many civilians nearby. Defying international standards, the Syrian regime has made extensive use of all three of these weapons.
The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is well-documented, if also rather unclear. However, the damage caused by chemical weapons pales in comparison to the impact felt by incendiary bombs.
Many of the incendiary weapons used by the regime take the form of barrel bombs. A crude and largely improvised weapon, the barrel bomb is essentially an oil drum or large pipe filled with oil or gasoline, nails or other forms of improvised shrapnel, and explosives. The US State Department has said that barrel bombs â€œcontain flammable material that can be like napalmâ€, which sticks to the skin and causes severe burns.
While these weapons were long rumored, in late 2012, videos surfaced that showed barrel bombs being rolled out of military helicopters onto populated areas. In fact, one researcher from Human Rights Watch said that, â€œThe Syrian Air Force is either criminally incompetent, doesnâ€™t care whether it kills scores of civilians â€“ or deliberately targets civilian areas.â€
Further demonstrating this is the use of cluster weapons, which are designed to scatter smaller weapons over a wide area. These submunitions can take the form of land mines, cluster bombs, or others. Because cluster weapons are designed to blanket a wide area, they pose an acute danger to civilians.
Human Rights Watch has identified 152 different locations where the Syrian regime has used cluster munitions. More worrying still, many of these mines or bombs do not explode, and will remain a danger to the Syrian people for many years.
In Vietnam, thousands of people have been killed by mines, and many continue to be killed to this day. Children often lose limbs while playing in fields, unaware of what lies beneath their feet. In Germany, thousands of unexploded World War II bombs remain scattered across the country, and are still occasionally encountered, with often catastrophic results. The repercussions of the Syrian regimeâ€™s actions will not end when the regime is gone; the actions will impact Syria for many decades to come.