US to investigate 'deaths of 52 civilians' in airstrikes carried out against Isis in Syria

The Observatory for Human Rights claim the deaths occurred during airstrikes near Kobani this week

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
Wednesday 23 September 2015 10:39
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A fighter  jet takes off from a US  war ship
A fighter jet takes off from a US war ship

The US military has said it will look into claims that 52 civilians were killed during US-led airstrikes against Isis in Syria this week.

The strikes, which were carried out near the Syrian border town of Kobani on Thursday and Friday last week in its campaign against the militants, destroyed seven Isis (also known as Islamic State) positions and one of the group’s vehicles, the US-led coalition said.

But the UK-based monitoring group the Observatory for Human Rights claimed yesterday that the strikes hit the Syrian village of Bir Mahli, killing a large number of civilians.

Rami Abdurrahman, a director at the Observatory said the airstrikes killed 52 civilians in the village, which is a mix of Kurdish and Arab inhabitants, adding that seven children and nine women were killed in the strikes.

Major Curtis Kellogg, a spokesman for US Central Command, told The Associated Press that the coalition has measures put in place to reduce potential collateral damage and that it currently has no information that could confirm the claims.

“We currently have no information to corroborate allegations that coalition airstrikes resulted in civilian casualties,” Kellogg said.

“Regardless, we take all allegations seriously and will look into them further,” he added.

Smoke rises over Syrian town of Kobani after previous airstrikes

Confirming the claims of civilian deaths in Syria is increasingly difficult, as journalists have been targeted by insurgent groups, and conflicting reports have emerged from groups on the ground over the result of last week’s airstrikes.

The Kurdish militia, which goes by the name of the People’s Protection Units or YPG, has indicated there were no civilians in the affected areas.

Shorsh Hassan, a spokesperson for the group, told AP that the area affected by the strikes has seen heavy clashes between Isis militants and Kurdish fighters. These clashed occurred before the airstrikes, and Hassan said the village had been emptied of civilians even before the fighting began.

But Salem al-Meslet, a spokesperson for the Syrian National Coalition, a Western-backed umbrella opposition group, said it appeared the US-led strikes had most likely killed civilians, though “it is hard at this moment to speak with absolute certainty.

He said in a statement: “Available information from activists on the ground, and the fact that the US-led coalition has conducted airstrikes in the area, lend credence to reports that it was a US-led coalition that caused the civilian casualties.

“It is absolutely vital, therefore, that such reports are taken seriously, and a full investigation into the incident is carried out immediately.”

Update:

Major Curtis Kellogg, a spokesperson for US Central Command, has given The Independent the following response:

"US Central Command can confirm that Coalition forces conducted air strikes in the vicinity of Birmehli (Jubb Mahli), Syria, on April 30, destroying several ISIL (Isis) fighting positions and striking more than 50 ISIL fighters. We currently have no indication that any civilians were killed in these strikes.

"Prior to the air strikes, Kurdish forces, who held the town before leaving after being attacked by ISIL, reported there were no civilians present in that location and that there had not been any civilians present for two weeks prior to the Coalition air strikes.

"We have significant mitigation measures in place within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential risks of collateral damage and civilian casualties.

"We work extremely hard to be precise in the application of our air strikes and take all allegations of civilian casualties very seriously."

Additional reporting by AP

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