The US-led coalition is underreporting the civilian casualty figures in Syria, the deputy director of terrorism and counterterrorism division at Human Rights Watch has told RT, criticizing the US’s secretive and insufficient self-investigation methods.
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria killed at least 84 civilians, including 30 children, when it carried out two lethal airstrikes near Raqqa in March. The US-led coalition, however, insists that there was no civilians present at the time of the attacks.
The HRW report“disproves” the US investigation’s claim that there was “insufficient evidence” of civilian casualties during the strikes, Nadim Houry, director of terrorism and counterterrorism division at Human Rights Watch, told RT.
“There is enough evidence to indicate that many civilians were killed, dozens,” Houry said. “When we asked them [US-led coalition]… on how they conducted their investigation they said these were…secrets that they could not share with us.”
In two of the attacks in Tabqa and Mansourah, a US-led coalition aircraft struck a school housing displaced people in Mansourah on March 20, and a market and a bakery in Tabqa on March 22, HRW said. In its 42-page case study, the HRW added that IS (Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists were present at both sites, along with a number of civilians.
The US-led coalition’s Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) said that coalition forces targeted what they believed to be an IS intelligence headquarters and weapons storage facility. CJTF also noted that prior to the Mansourah strike, its surveillance observed no civilian activity at the school site.
“The Coalition came back and said that the strike only killed ISIS members and there was insufficient evidence [of civilian casualties],” Houry explained.
While acknowledging the terrorist presence at the US-led coalition target sites, the director pointed out that that US-led coalition is still under an “obligation” to protect civilian lives in a combat zone.
“Either the US coalition did not do its homework in determining if there were any civilians around, and that would be a violation of international law, or they knew there were civilians and they decided to proceed anyway,” which would also violate international law, Houry told RT.
Houry believes that the investigations conducted by the coalition are “not using all the appropriate methods” and the probes are “not sufficiently thorough.” He has urged the US-led investigators to visit the sites of the attacks to get a bigger picture from local residents and relatives of those killed.
“It is not enough to rely on satellite imagery, drone footage to determine if there were civilian casualties,” the director noted. “It has been proven time and time again that sometimes these high-tech means miss key information.”
US-led coalition airstrikes on Raqqa, an Islamic State stronghold in Syria, have claimed many civilian lives and forced tens of thousands to flee. The ancient city is currently under siege by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led militia backed by the US-led coalition. The besieged city has come under heavy air bombardment while civilians are trapped in IS-occupied neighborhoods.
The coalition is currently investigating a total of 455 reports of civilian casualties caused by its artillery or airstrikes, the statement said. Between August 1 and 29, it conducted 1,094 airstrikes in and near the city of Raqqa – up from 645 in July. Houry, however, believes that number is underreported.
“We believe that the actual number [of civilian casualties], the [US-led] coalition underreports it,” Houry told RT.