US-led coalition forces killed 84 civilians including 30 children in Syria in March because it failed to take adequate precautions in minimising civilian casualties, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 42-page report yesterday.
The rights group investigated coalition attacks on a school near Raqqa as well as three other attacks in the area that resulted in significant civilian casualties. While HRW did not dispute coalition claims that it was targeting Daesh fighters, it confirmed that "hundreds" of civilians were also at the site including dozens of people queuing up for bread next to a refugee shelter.
In its investigation, HRW interviewed dozens of locals who had witnessed the carnage. A local HRW activist confirmed the names of 145 civilians, including 38 women and 58 children, whom he says were killed in airstrikes in the town of Tabqa between 19 March and 10 May.
"The civilian harm caused by these airstrikes," said the report, "was not limited to casualties. Some of the airstrikes caused significant destruction of civilian property and infrastructure, as Human Rights Watch observed on the ground, and residents said that strikes that killed civilians instilled fear and pushed many to flee, adding to Syria's displaced population."
Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at HRW, said: "These attacks killed dozens of civilians, including children, who had sought shelter in a school or were lining up to buy bread at a bakery."
Taking the coalition forces to task over its indiscriminate bombing, Solvang added: "If coalition forces did not know that there were civilians at these sites they need to take a long, hard look at the intelligence they are using to verify its targets because it clearly was not good enough."
The monitoring group also slammed the US methodology for assessing civilian casualties. The group said the coalition reported its casualty figures without vetting the sites of the strikes. Nor did it carry out witness interviews. "If the coalition had visited the sites and talked to witnesses," said Solvang, "they would have found plenty of evidence that civilians were killed in these attacks."
The rights group, which has previously questioned the legality of some of the bombing campaigns carried out by coalition forces, called on the US to take responsibility when its airstrikes kill civilians. "International law requires compensation for civilian victims in the event of violations of international law," it concluded, while appealing to the US to redress the situation.