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US Airstrike Kills At Least 50 Syrian Civilians

US Navy F-18E Super Hornets flying over Iraq after conducting an airstrike in Syria. (Pentagon photo)

US Navy F-18E Super Hornets flying over Iraq after conducting an airstrike in Syria. (Pentagon photo)

A US-led coalition airstrike, most likely American, targeting a headquarters of Islamic State militants in northern Syria has killed at least 50 civilians being held prisoner by the terrorist group.

McClatchy Newspapers reports the December 28 strike occurred in Al Bab, 42 km (26 miles) northwest of Aleppo. It targeted the Al Saraya government center, where many of the slain civilians were being jailed for petty offenses, such as smoking or wearing blue jeans, under Islamic State’s severe interpretation of Islamic law.

US Central Command (CENTCOM), which had not previously announced the airstrike, confirmed the attack on Saturday after repeated media inquiries.

“Coalition aircraft did strike and destroy an ISIL headquarters building in Al Bab on Dec. 28,” Col. Patrick S. Ryder said in an email to McClatchy.

Witnesses confirmed the high civilian death toll. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 80 people — including 25 Islamic State guards — were killed in the evening bombing. The group said the other 55 victims were civilians or imprisoned fighters from other rebel groups.

Civil defense volunteers spent days recovering bodies from the rubble. The remains of 50 prisoners were turned over to relatives in Al Bab, while nine bodies were released to families in Baz’a and one to a family from Ikhtrin. Islamic State militants claimed 13 of the bodies, a witness told McClatchy.

In a shift that surprised some observers, the Pentagon announced last week that it is investigating credible reports of civilian casualties caused by US and coalition attacks on Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. Rear Admiral John Kirby said CENTCOM reviewed the credibility of 18 separate allegations of coalition airstrikes killing or injuring civilians between August 8 and December 30 and found five of them credible.

As was often the case in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, Pentagon officials initially denied killing any civilians, then announced an investigation when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The US-led coalition has launched around 1,400 airstrikes since the start of its campaign against Islamic State militants, who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity as they fought for control of a large swathe of territory in Syria and northern Iraq.

As many as 200,000 Syrians have died as a result of the nearly four-year civil war in which government troops and forces loyal to dictator Bashar al-Assad are fighting a revolt by Islamic State and other rebel groups. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 63,000 civilians, including 10,377 children, are among the dead.

That same human rights group says it has documented at least 40 civilians killed by US-led coalition forces. The alliance includes troops from Kurdistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Turkey, Bahrain, Britain, Australia, France, Canada and the Netherlands.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights lists a September 23 airstrike which killed 13 civilians in Idlib province, as well as another 23 innocents killed in Deir el Zour, among the incidents attributed to coalition forces.

In addition to the dead and wounded, Syria’s civil war has precipitated one of the worst refugee crises in modern history. According to the United Nations, more than 3.3 million Syrians have fled the horrors of their homeland, mostly to neighboring and nearby nations. Tiny Lebanon, population 4.46 million, has taken in 1.16 million refugees.

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