The Unforeseen Consequences of Bombing ISIS

A major criticism of strategic bombing is that there are regularly unintended consequences that hurt civilians. As mentioned on this blog, bombing ISIS oil resulted in higher prices for food and heating oil, forcing people to burn furniture. Other bombing that hypothetically hurts the regime has also dealt a blow to civilians, such as the destruction of power plants and water infrastructure.

“These airstrikes are all affecting the people—especially air strikes that are targeting oil refineries and oil sources…There are air strikes that affect ISIS, but it affects the people at the same time,” said Mohammed Saleh, the nom de plume of the co-founder of Raqqa is being slaughtered silently. “This is the problem that the West doesn’t understand. Bombing only is not enough. Bombing is just making the case worse.”

Another issue is that a satellite image can only provide so much information: a non-descript building could be holding civilians or it could be holding munitions. Or both. Already a few grain silos have been bombed, either because they were mistaken for oil refineries or, in Russia’s case, perhaps to deliberately make propaganda claiming to have bombed oil refineries.

And, as ISIS noted in their propaganda this week, US bombings have had another unintended consequence: destroying a soda factory.

The Islamic State captured footage of the wreckage, which they gave the straightforward title of “Aftermath of Destruction Caused by American War Planes on Soft Drink and Ice Factories in East Mosul.”

Here is this streaming version:

The soda appears to be off-brand orange soda and a cola with packaging that mimics Coca-Cola. There are no global brands visible, in contrast to the Pringles brand potato chips available in ISIS-controlled Syria.

Although the veracity of the bombing was not immediately clear, Thought Front exclusively obtained confirmation from Mosul Eye, a watchdog activist group detailing city life under ISIS. Mosul Eye blogs with WordPress, the same service hosting Thought Front.

(It does bear noting that Mosul Eye has faced skepticism of their reporting on ISIS, such as an unsubstantiated claim of a fatwa against children with Down Syndrome, and even they acknowledged that they often cannot provide evidence. However, I see no reason to overly doubt them on this relatively pedestrian development.)

Presumably the US believed the factory bore strategic importance to Daesh’s military capabilities, and did not destroy it to deny ISIS a refreshing beverage. (Although ISIS fighters are known to have a great affinity for junk food.) There is also the possibility that ISIS stored munitions within the soda factory, in order to set up the development of propaganda to belittle US efforts.

But once again, we see the unintended consequences of strategic bombing: the innocent civilians under ISIS hegemony are bereft of soda, one of their few remaining vices given the prohibition of tobacco. And with starvation and skyrocketing food costs, soft drinks make for an efficient source of calories with their energy density at a (presumably) lower price. Compare that with low-calorie tomatoes, which are now so expensive in Raqqa that a man cursed out loud when he learned the price.

The destruction of the soda factory, then, shows why the US must exercise more caution and possess better intelligence if they are to engage in strategic bombing. Because civilians should not suffer the indignity of running out of soda.