Russian airstrikes in Syria have killed about 2,000 civilians in six months of attacks on markets, hospitals, schools and homes, rights groups and observers say, warning that plans for a military drawdown may not mean an end to the deaths.
Moscow has insisted it carried out only surgical strikes on “terrorists”, but victims and fighters say bombers strayed well behind frontlines in areas far from strongholds of Islamic State or al-Qaida fighters.
Jets appear to have intentionally bombed civilian areas, in a campaign to spread fear and clear areas where government ground troops were planning to advance. Coalition airstrikes led by the US have also killed civilians, but have stricter rules of engagement.
“Any strategic benefits of Russia’s intervention have come at a bloody cost to civilians, with all local casualty recorders in agreement that 2,000 or more non-combatants have died,” said Chris Woods, director of monitoring organisation Airwars which collects and evaluates casualty reports.
“Thousands more opposition fighters have also died, in a Russian campaign which has outstripped the coalition both in terms of tempo and aggressiveness,” Woods said.