Watchdog: U.S. coalition needs better intel to avoid civilian deaths in Syria

By Danielle Haynes  |  Sept. 25, 2017 at 8:51 PM
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Sept. 25 (UPI) -- U.S.-led coalition airstrikes near Raqqa, Syria, earlier this year killed at least 84 civilians, including 30 children, the Human Rights Watch said.

The watchdog issued a report Sunday saying civilian deaths from the fighting against the Islamic State caused an uptick in civilian deaths since March, but the group pointed to two particularly deadly strikes, one that struck a school and another that hit a market.

"Although [Islamic State] fighters were also at these sites, the high civilian death toll raises concerns that military forces of the U.S.-led coalition failed to take necessary precautions to avoid and minimize civilian casualties, a requirement under international humanitarian law," the report said.

In March, a bomb hit a school being used as a shelter for internally displaced persons in the village of al-Mansoura in the western Raqqa governorate countryside. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at the time said searchers pulled at least 33 bodies from the rubble.

In another instance, dozens of people died while standing in line for bread next to a refugee shelter.

"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, criticized the coalition for how it investigates whether civilians are killed or injured in airstrikes. He said investigators should have visited the sites and talked to witnesses as the HRW did.

"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," he added.

One day before the HRW report, Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, Britain's deputy commander for strategy and support for Operation Inherent Resolve, told London's The Sunday Times that the deaths of innocent people is the "price you pay" for fighting the Islamic State.

"They herd people into buildings, lock them into buildings and then go and pop a single sniper on the roof knowing that we will target him if we don't know there is a whole stack of civilians in there," he said.

"But they know that we will use low-collateral weapons, which means we probably won't kill all the people inside the building.

"So what they do is wire the building with explosives, knowing that a low-collateral weapon might cause a detonation that kills everybody. That's the sort of enemy you're dealing with."

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