US-Led Air Strikes Kill At Least 73 Syrian Civilians
Monitor: Most victims were women and children; 190 killed in US-led strikes near Manbij since May
US and coalition air strikes targeting Islamic State militants in a village in northern Syria killed scores of civilians on Monday and Tuesday, with the majority of victims identified by monitoring groups as women and children.
The Independent reports 21 civilians were killed in Monday air strikes on Manbij, while at least 56 civilians were killed in strikes in Tokkhar, near Manbij, on Tuesday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The bombing was part of a two-month effort by anti-IS coalition partners to recapture the strategic town of Manbij, 100 km (62 miles) northeast of Aleppo. Syrian government officials said American warplanes were responsible for Monday’s attack, while French jets were to blame for Tuesday’s bombing.
“The death toll is 117. We could document 73 civilians including 35 children and 20 women. The rest of the dead bodies are charred, or have been reduced to shreds,” local activist Adnan al-Housen told the Guardian. SOHR said 44 children, 17 women and 8 prisoners were killed.
Ahmad Mohammad of the Turkey-based Syrian Institute for Justice also said 73 civilians from at least nine families were killed in the air strikes, which occurred even though human rights activists had warned that such attacks would likely result in a large number of civilian casualties.
“This is likely the worst reported civilian toll of any coalition attack since the bombing campaign against Isis began nearly two years ago,” Chris Wood, director of the UK-based monitoring group Airwars, told the Guardian. “Since the siege began it’s our view that at least 190 civilians have been killed by coalition airstrikes, mostly US. We are concerned that the US-led alliance appears to have relaxed some of their rules concerning civilian casualties.”
Entire families trying to escape from IS fighters were bombed as they were apparently mistaken for the enemy they were fleeing, the Washington Post reports.
SOHR counts 167 civilians killed by US and coalition air strikes during the Manbij campaign, according to Al Jazeera.
French President Francois Hollande said he had no precise information on whether French planes were involved in the latest attacks but said French forces “are striking in the framework of the coalition and are very careful in our strikes.” France is reeling from a series of recent mass casualty terrorist attacks for which IS has claimed responsibility, including a Bastille Day truck attack targeting revelers in Nice that killed 84 people and injured more than 300 others.
Anas al-Abdah, president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, called for a suspension on the US-coordinated air strikes in the wake of this week’s attacks, warning civilian casualties from US and coalition bombing would “prove to be a recruitment tool for terrorist organizations.”
But US officials said aerial attacks would continue despite the high number of civilian casualties. American warplanes have launched at least a dozen strikes since the deadly Tokkhar bombing. US military officials, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, described Manbij as a key point on the way to Raqqa, the IS capital. US Army Col. Christopher Garver, who described the push to take Manbij as “very intense,” suggested that IS may bear responsibility for any civilian deaths because its fighters operate in close proximity to civilians and may use innocents as human shields.
Garver also said US officials were “concerned about between 10 or 20” civilians who may have been killed in coalition strikes. He also referenced what he called “kind of a wild speculation toward 73” dead civilians in international media, although monitoring groups provided names of that many victims of the attacks. US officials promised a thorough investigation of this week’s air strikes. The US has carried out more than 10,000 air strikes, dropping more than 30,000 bombs on Syria and Iraq over the course of its two-year campaign against IS. The Pentagon claims more than 20,000 IS fighters and only 36 civilians have been killed, a figure human rights and monitor groups say is impossibly low.
Among the deadliest reported US-led airstrikes to have occurred over the course of the yearlong coalition air campaign against IS were a December 28, 2014 attack in Al Bab, northwest of Aleppo, that killed at least 50 civilians, including at least seven children, a series of July 2014 strikes that killed at least 30 people in Syria and Iraq, an April 30, 2014 strike in Bir Mahli, Aleppo province, that left 64 civilians, including 31 children, dead and a December 7, 2015 strike in al-Khan, Hasakah province, that killed 26 people, including numerous children.
SOHR says as many as 400,000 civilians have been killed over the course of Syria’s 5-year civil war, in which forces loyal to longtime dictator Bashar al-Assad are battling Islamic State and other rebel groups for control of the country. The ongoing conflict has sparked one of the worst refugee crises in modern history, with 4.8 million Syrians fleeing the country and another 6.6. million internally displaced, according to the United Nations.
While the number of innocent civilians killed by coalition airstrikes represents a tiny fraction of the overall death toll in Syria, a March 2015 study published by the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War concluded the US-led war against terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has killed more than 1.3 million people since October 2001, when the Bush administration launched a global US war against terrorism in response to the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, DC.
Since the end of World War II, US military forces have killed more foreign civilians than any other power on earth.