U.S. military aircraft bombed a school and a crowded marketplace in attacks that killed dozens of civilians in Syria this March, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch. The report, titled “All Feasible Precautions?: Civilian Casualties in Anti-ISIS Coalition Airstrikes in Syria,” investigated two airstrikes conducted in and around the northern Syrian city of Tabqa. Investigators who visited the sites and interviewed locals and survivors found that the strikes had caused huge numbers of civilian deaths. The documentation adds to a drumbeat of criticism about a U.S. air campaign in Syria that has already been accused of inflicting massive civilian casualties in support of ground operations against Islamic State by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
The attacks documented in the report include a March 20 airstrike that targeted a school housing displaced people in the suburban town of Mansourah, outside of Tabqa, as well as another strike that hit a packed marketplace in Tabqa City two days later. Investigators from Human Rights Watch visited the sites of both attacks this July and collected the names of at least 84 civilians who had died in the bombings, including 30 children. While witnesses who spoke to investigators acknowledged that ISIS members, along with their families, had been around the areas of the bombings, they also said many civilians were nearby who had no connection to the group.
In the case of the March 22 marketplace bombing, huge numbers of people who had been lining up to buy bread at a local bakery were killed by an airstrike in an attack that may have been targeting a few ISIS members sitting in a nearby internet cafe. While the U.S.-led coalition has acknowledged carrying out the March 20 attack against the school, which it claimed had targeted a suspected weapons storage facility, it has said that it is still assessing the circumstances surrounding the marketplace bombing.