Syria: Alarm over reports of high civilian death toll from US-led airstrikes on Manbij

US-led coalition forces carrying out airstrikes in Syria must redouble efforts to prevent civilian deaths and investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law, Amnesty International urged amid growing reports that scores of men, women and children were killed in their homes in al-Tukhar village, near Manbij, on 18-19 July.

Since June, more than 100 civilians are reported to have been killed in suspected coalition attacks on the Manbij area of northern Syria, which has been controlled by the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS).

“The bombing of al-Tukhar may have resulted in the largest loss of civilian life by coalition operations in Syria. There must be a prompt, independent and transparent investigation to determine what happened, who was responsible, and how to avoid further needless loss of civilian life. Anyone responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice and victims and their families should receive full reparation,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

The bombing of al-Tukhar may have resulted in the largest loss of civilian life by coalition operations in Syria.
Magdalena Mughrabi, interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International

Worrying accounts from local activists, as well as photos and video evidence, point to at least 60 civilian deaths in airstrikes in recent days on al-Tukhar village, Manbij, in Aleppo governorate. The true death toll may be difficult to document – according to media reports, members of local families were buried when the airstrikes levelled their clay and adobe homes.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) statements said the US-led forces launched 11 strikes on 17 July and 18 strikes on 18 July against what it said were IS tactical units and fighting positions near Manbij.

Amnesty International has reviewed available information on dozens of suspected coalition airstrikes and found that in the majority of cases in which civilian casualties have been credibly reported, the coalition has dismissed the claims.

“International humanitarian law requires all parties to a conflict to prevent the needless loss of civilian life. Even if the coalition forces believed that fighters from the armed group calling itself Islamic State were present around al-Tukhar, they should have taken the necessary precaution to identify who else was present to avoid or at least minimize civilian casualties,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

Even if the coalition forces believed that fighters from the armed group calling itself Islamic State were present around al-Tukhar, they should have taken the necessary precaution to identify who else was present to avoid or at least minimize civilian casualties.
Magdalena Mughrabi

The latest deaths add to what are estimated to be hundreds of civilians killed in Syria as a result of airstrikes by coalition forces against IS there since September 2014. Media have also reported civilian casualties stemming from the coalition’s operations in Iraq.

Amnesty International will be seeking a clarification from CENTCOM about a series of other airstrikes causing civilian casualties which appear to have violated international humanitarian law.