US Airstrike Kills 56 Civilians Mistaken For ISIS Fighters, Says Syrian Human Rights Group

REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) claimed that U.S. airstrikes near the Islamic State-held city of Manbij accidentally killed as many as 56 civilians Wednesday.

SOHR reported the civilians were fleeing the village of Tokhar, approximately nine miles north of Manbij, when they were killed. Another unnamed opposition activist network reported that as many as 90 people had been killed in recent Operation Inherent Resolve strikes around Tokhar and Hoshriya, according to SOHR. The human rights group also reported that as many as 11 children were killed in the various strikes.

SOHR’s director Rami Abdul Rahman told Agence France-Presse he believed the attacks were a mistake, and that the U.S.-led coalition likely thought the civilians were ISIS fighters.

The Pentagon has yet to confirm the accuracy of SOHR’s report.

Operation Inherent Resolve forces, led by the U.S., have been actively supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and other Kurdish forces in their attempts to retake Manbij from ISIS since May. The operation has been largely successful, with SDF forces entering the city’s outer areas in late June. SDF progress was blunted in recent weeks due to various traps and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by ISIS fighters around the city — a common tactic employed by the terrorist group when it loses territory.

United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein expressed concern for the deteriorating civilian situation in Manbij Friday, noting there are as many as 70,000 civilians trapped in the area.

“Civilians have also reportedly been killed if they leave their homes or attempt to flee,” said al-Hussein, according to SOHR. “Families are unable to access local cemeteries to bury their relatives … and are burying them in their gardens or keeping the corpses in bunkers.”

The U.S. accelerated its campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria in recent months, most recently increasing the Pentagon’s troop cap in Iraq by 560, bringing the total number of U.S. forces allowed to operate in the country to 4,647.

“Our campaign’s strategic approach is to identify and enable capable and motivated local forces who can deliver ISIL a lasting defeat,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter while meeting coalition commanders at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland Wednesday. “Only local forces can deliver and sustain such a defeat by holding and governing territory after it has been retaken from ISIL.”

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