“The US seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price.”
A new report published Tuesday confirms that the United States was responsible for the bombing of mosque in northern Syria last month, an attack that killed at least 40 worshipers and wounded dozens.
The study — conducted by Forensic Architecture, Human Rights Watch, and Bellingcat — confirms that a U.S. drone hit the Sayidina Omar Ibn Al-Khattab mosque near al-Jinah in the Aleppo governorate on March 16.
That contradicts what the U.S. government has said about the attack. Government officials have claimed the drone hit a building used by Al Qaeda members in the Idlib governorate, not a mosque.
“The US seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at HRW, said in a statement. “The US authorities need to figure out what went wrong, start doing their homework before they launch attacks, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The study relied on eyewitness testimonies, before and after reconstructions of the strike, and video footage and photographs from the attack. Photos of the building before the attack depicted shelves for worshipers’ shoes, prayer rugs, and a mithrab (the part of a mosque indicating the direction of prayers), indicating that the building was a mosque. The study also found a sign that read “Saydina Omar ibn Al-Khattab Mosque” by the door of the building after the attack. At the time of the strike, the report notes, “Witnesses said that several hundred people were in the building, including around 50 in the smaller prayer room,” which was destroyed.
The confirmation of the attack fits in with the general uptick in the number of civilian casualties due to airstrikes since Trump took office.
The White House has not made a statement on the study’s findings. Last month, it denied the reports that it bombed a mosque, and said the attack took place in another governorate. “Idlib has been a significant safe haven for Al Qaeda in recent years,” a White House statement read, without making any mention of civilian deaths.
“We did not target any mosques,” Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, told the New York Times last month. “What we did target was destroyed. There is a mosque within 50 feet of that building that is still standing.”
Airwars, the British-based NGO that first published the study on Tuesday and that monitors strikes in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, found that nearly 1,800 people were allegedly killed by U.S.-led Coalition airstrikes last month alone.
But while the number of civilian deaths increased dramatically, the number of airstrikes actually decreased — implying a greater lack of precision and care under the Trump administration.
As the Washington Post reported last month, “this surge in deaths may be a product of a shift in the anti-Islamic State campaign under President Trump, who has called for more unfettered action against the jihadists and memorably promised to ‘bomb the s*** out of ‘em.’”
The uptick could also be part of what many have characterized as relaxed rules of engagement for the U.S. military. Last month, U.S. officials told the New York Times that Trump relaxed rules protecting civilians in U.S. counter-terrorism activities in Somalia and Yemen. According to the officials, Trump declared parts of the countries areas “of active hostilities,” meaning that different war-zone rules apply and that interagency vetting of proposed strikes are no longer required.
“The new directive for Somalia is another example of how the American military is accelerating the ways it carries out combat missions under the Trump administration, reducing constraints on the use of force imposed by the Obama administration,” the Times reported at the time.
According to sources who spoke to the Times, Defense Secretary James Mattis first proposed relaxed rules five days after Trump’s inauguration.
Trump seems to have generally given the U.S. military broad flexibility. Last week, the U.S. military dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, a 21,000 weapon nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” and the White House wouldn’t confirm that Trump authorized it. “What I do is I authorize our military,” Trump said after being asked whether or not he did so. “We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing.” A senior Trump administration official later told CNN that “we don’t approve every strike” and that “this administration has moved further away” from dictating military strategy from the White House.
The White House also wouldn’t confirm if Trump authorized sending an additional 400 U.S. marines sent to Syria. Press Secretary Sean Spicer simply said Trump was “made aware” of the deployment.
U.S. military activities in Iraq — and the large number of civilian deaths — seem to be similarly confirming less military oversight. After an attack in Mosul last month that killed up to 200 civilians, an Iraqi special forces officer told the New York Times that the U.S.-led coalition’s rules of engagement had been significantly relaxed since Trump came into office.
The U.S. bombing of a Syrian mosque is part of a bigger problem under the Trump administration was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.