U.S.-led coalition accused of killing 20 civilians in strike

A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter uses his binoculars to look at a drone they said belonged to Islamic State fighters on the bank of the Euphrates river, west of Raqqa city, Syria, April 8, 2017. 

REUTERS

BEIRUT -- An airstrike likely carried out by the U.S.-led coalition on an eastern Syrian town held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens, opposition activists said Tuesday.

The activists said the airstrike late Monday in Boukamal, on the Iraqi border, was similar to those carried out by the U.S.-led coalition that has been targeting ISIS in both countries. Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition have killed dozens of civilians over the past several weeks as the battle against the extremists intensifies.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the airstrike killed 13 civilians, including women and children, as well as three Iraqi ISIS fighters.

Opposition activist Omar Abu Laila, who currently lives in Europe but is from the province where the strike took place and maintains contacts there, said 10 people were killed, including an Iraqi family of four. He said ISIS cordoned off the area and cut all telecommunications after the strike, which heavily damaged at least four buildings.

“The number of casualties is huge,” Abu Laila said, adding that mosque loudspeakers were used to urge people to head to hospitals to donate blood.

Earlier Tuesday, a U.S.-led coalition strike killed seven civilians, including a child, in the village of Husseinyeh, SOHR added.

ISIS used to control wide parts of Syria and Iraq, where the group declared a caliphate in 2014. Over the past year the extremists have suffered a string of defeats at the hands of an array of Syrian and Iraqi forces. 

Human Rights Watch said in a report Tuesday that U.S. forces appear to have failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties in a March airstrike that killed dozens of people in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.

U.S. official said at the time that the March 16 airstrike struck an al Qaeda gathering, killing dozens of militants. Syrian opposition activists said around 40 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the crowded Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque in the Jeeneh district. U.S. officials at the time said they found no basis for reports that civilians were killed.

Human Rights Watch’s 16-page report said it found no evidence to support the allegation that members of al Qaeda or any other armed group were meeting in the mosque. It said a religious lecture was being held at the time of the attack and prayers were about to begin.

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An aerial photograph released by the U.S. military after a March 16, 2017, U.S. airstrike in al-Jinah, Syria, showing damage to part of a mosque complex.

US Department of Defense

The report raises serious questions about the intelligence the U.S. had leading up to the strike, and the use of a “double tap” -- a second strike not long after the first that HRW says killed numerous civilians who were running out of the complex, or toward it to assist in rescue efforts.

“The U.S. seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The U.S. authorities need to figure out what went wrong, start doing their homework before they launch attacks, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

U.S. military officials insist there has been no change in the rules of engagement for American forces operating in Syria and Iraq, and as ISIS militants are increasingly squeezed into shrinking territory, higher civilian casualties had been expected.