A US secret cell, which never officially existed, coordinated strikes against the Islamic State and launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against targets in Syria. This cell, known as Talon Anvil, reportedly regularly disregarded safeguard procedures to function at the 'speed of war,' and obscured the countless number of civilians they wounded and killed with deceptive tactics.
Talon Anvil cell worked around the clock in three shifts out of nondescript offices in Syria and Iraq between 2014 and 2019. Members of this cell misclassified almost all strikes as defensive in order to sidestep the rigorous vetting process imposed on offensive strikes and took to averting the drones' cameras after launch in order to hide evidence of civilian deaths, reports The New York Times.
According to an analysis by former Department of Defense and Pentagon adviser Larry Lewis, Talon Anvil's strikes were killing civilians at a rate 10 times greater than that of similar operations in Afghanistan, and that the strikes dramatically and steadily increased over a period of time. "It was higher than I would have expected from a U.S. unit," Lewis said.
Talon Anvil members wore no uniforms, according to one of the former members, worked with the cell during a conflict in 2017. He said they worked on a first-name basis, went to work in shorts and casual footwear, and often sported bushy beards.
An Air Force intelligence officer told the Times that the cell once killed three men working in an olive grove outside the city of Manbij in 2016. They were just carrying canvas bags and there was no evidence to prove they had anything to do with any form of violence and association with the Islamic State, yet operatives fired a missile. He said there had been many such instances like these.
Some cell members even refused to participate in these strikes that were killing innocent bystanders. A few high-ranking CIA and Air Force intelligence officers later grew skeptical of the cell's methods as civilian casualties mounted.
The armed conflict in Syria has been in place since 2011. ISIS was declared defeated in Iraq and Syria in 2017. However, counterterrorism operations are still ongoing.