The US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria has killed at least 300 civilians in airstrikes and must do more to prevent further civilian deaths as the battle for Mosul intensifies in neighboring Iraq, Amnesty International has warned.
More than half of the victims identified in a new report by the rights group, which looked at deaths over the two years since western forces joined the fight against Isis in Syria, were killed during the fight for the city of Manbij.
“In its backing of anti-Isis ground forces during this summer’s Manbij campaign, the US-led coalition killed some 250 or more civilians, and yet it does not acknowledge them,” said Neil Sammonds, Amnesty’s researcher for Syria.
“We fear that since it is not recognizing or learning from such mistakes that in the campaign for Mosul, which is far greater than Manbij, the coalition is on course to kill even greater numbers of civilians and risk a serious backlash.”
The rights group spent months carrying out witness interviews, collecting photographic and video evidence, analyzing satellite images and reviewing reports from local activists to determine the total number of deaths.
It is a conservative toll compared with estimates from other monitoring groups, which put the number of deaths from coalition bombing at 600 to 1,000. The monitoring groups include the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Violations Documentation Centre.
Only a handful of deaths has been acknowledged by the coalition in its attacks in Syria. Amnesty is calling for more precautions before attacks and independent investigations into possible violations of international law.
“We fear the US-led coalition is significantly underestimating the harm caused to civilians in its operations in Syria,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director of research at Amnesty International’s Beirut office
“Some of these attacks may constitute disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks … It’s high time the US authorities came clean about the full extent of the civilian damage caused by coalition attacks in Syria.”
“It’s high time the US authorities came clean about the full extent of the civilian damage caused by coalition attacks in Syria. Independent and impartial investigations must be carried out into any potential violations of international humanitarian law and the findings should be made public.”
“Given the likely increase in air strikes by the US-led Coalition as part of the Iraqi offensive to recapture Mosul, it is, even more, pressing that CENTCOM is fully transparent about the impact of their military actions on civilians. And it is crucial that they adhere scrupulously to international humanitarian law, including by taking all feasible precautions to spare civilians and to minimize harm to civilian homes and infrastructure,” added Maalouf.
Three attacks near Manbij this summer were particularly deadly, killing more than 100 civilians, at least a third of them children. One of the attacks is being investigated by US authorities.
Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the US “takes seriously all credible allegations of civilian casualties.”
“Pentagon has a fairly comprehensive system for analyzing themselves what these allegations are and then when they feel that they want further investigation, they do it. And unlike any other military in the world, they actually release the results of these investigations. And unlike any other military in the world, if the hold people accountable for their actions they [bring them to justice] too,” Kirby said during the press briefing on Wednesday.
At the same time, he said that the Department of State is not aware of the Amnesty’s report about the US Central Command (CENTCOM) strikes in Syria and suggested contacting the Pentagon for that matter. He also welcomed the Amnesty’s “input” and stressed that “no military tries harder than the US military to limit, to prevent casualties to civilians or damage to civilian infrastructure.”
“We are not at all afraid to receive criticism about our efforts,” Kirby added.
The scale of deaths is lower than from bombing raids by Russia, the other foreign power to have sent its jets to Syria. Russian raids have killed at least 3800 civilians in just over a year and appear to have targeted civilians, while the coalition has been trying to avoid or limit civilian casualties, although it could do far more, human rights groups said.
A further 20,000 civilians have been wounded in Russia’s year-long offensive of air strikes.
Russia launched an air campaign on September 30 last year in support of Syrian government forces, in a military intervention that has been widely credited with helping turn the balance of power in favour of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.