Suspected US coalition strikes kill 56 civilians in ISIL-held Syrian city near Turkey border
REUTERS photoAt least 56 civilians were killed on July 19 in air strikes north of the besieged Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-held city of Manbij in northern Syria, and residents said they believed the attack was carried out by U.S.-led warplanes, a monitoring group said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead included 11 children, and that dozens more people were wounded.
The U.S.-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, launched an offensive at the end of May to seize the last territory held by ISIL insurgents on Syria’s frontier with Turkey.
Supported by U.S. coalition air strikes, the SDF have surrounded the city, but ISIL attacks still occur in some areas of the surrounding countryside.
On July 18, 21 people were killed in raids also believed to have been conducted by U.S.-led coalition aircraft on Manbij’s northern Hazawneh quarter.
But progress into Manbij city has been slow. The militants have deployed snipers, planted mines and prevented civilians from leaving, hampering efforts to bomb the city without causing heavy casualties, according to Kurdish sources.
The Observatory said at least 104 civilians have died from air strikes since the start of the Manbij offensive in late May.
Colonel Chris Garver, a spokesman for the U.S. coalition against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, said it was looking into reports of civilian deaths but was being “extraordinarily careful to make sure” air strikes were killing ISIL fighters.
“Around Manbij, the Syrian Arab Coalition [SAC - Arab groups within the SDF], which is leading that fight, is being very slow and deliberate in that fight to protect civilians which we know are inside.”
The SDF also consists of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party’s (PYD) military wing, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), which Turkey designates as terrorist organization and this designation causes a rift between Turkey and the U.S.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights recently voiced concern for the roughly 70,000 civilians believed to be trapped between warring parties in Manbij.
“Civilians have...reportedly been killed if they leave their homes or attempt to flee. Families are unable to access local cemeteries to bury their relatives who have died or been killed, and are burying them in their gardens or keeping the corpses in bunkers,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.
“The town has no electricity or water at present, and no medical facilities are known to be operating. As the SDF closes in on the city, [ISIL] has not permitted civilians to leave the area.”
The coalition said it has conducted more than 450 strikes in the vicinity of Manbij. It routinely investigates civilian deaths and publishes the results of confirmed incidents.
Between Sept. 10, 2015 and Feb. 2, 2016, coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria probably killed 20 civilians and injured 11 others, the U.S. Central Command said in April.