How Trump Set the Stage for the U.S. Bombing a Mosque in Syria

March 17th 2017

Kyle Fitzpatrick

Dozens of Syrian civilians were killed in an airstrike on a mosque on Thursday — one carried out by the U.S. government, though it says it was targeting a meeting of al-Qaeda officials.

The bombing came as the mosque was packed with worshippers; activists on the ground say as many as 300.

The death toll is currently being reported at around 42 and is expected to rise.

The strike comes after Trump administration officials said they would carry out more attacks that risk civilian lives.

While U.S. airstrikes targeting extremists in Iraq and Syria have been carried out for years, this strike comes amid what the monitoring group Airwars says is an escalation that "has no precedent."

But there is context. On Jan. 28, President Donald Trump signed the Presidential Memorandum Plan to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The stated intent was to develop a more aggressive strategy to defeat the Islamic State — removing Obama-era restrictions on carrying out strikes that could harm civilians.

ATTN: previously reported on how Obama's own loosening of those restrictions was followed by a major increase in alleged civilian deaths.

“If ISIS is left in power, the threat that it poses will only grow,” the Trump memorandum states. “The United States must take decisive action to defeat ISIS.”

Accordingly, it directs planners to do away with "policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law regarding the use of force against ISIS."

Thursday's strike in Syria also comes just days after The New York Times reported that, in addition to the memo, the Trump administration was "exploring how to dismantle or bypass Obama-era constraints intended to prevent civilian deaths from drone attacks, commando raids and other counterterrorism missions."

As Trump officials shared with NBC News days ago, the administration is determined to carry out strikes against alleged terrorist targets “even if it means tolerating more civilian casualties.”

This shift has led to increased civilian deaths.

According to Airwars, the number of alleged civilian casualty events this year from the U.S.-led coalition's airstrikes in Iraq and Syria are on pace to be twice what they were last year under Obama.

It's likely to get worse for civilians as the U.S. and its allies move to take Raqqa, the Islamic State's self-styled capital. In Iraq, U.S.-backed efforts to retake the city of Mosul from extremists have led to hundreds of civilians being killed just this month.