Syrian opposition demands US-led coalition halt air raids

Syrian opposition demands US-led coalition halt air raids
Video: Following the death of dozens of civilians near the Islamic State group-held Syrian city of Manbij, Syrian opposition activists are calling for an end to US-led coalition air raids.
3 min read
21 July, 2016

US promises to destroy IS

The Syrian opposition government and activists have appealed to the US-led coalition to halt air raids in Syria after dozens of civilians were killed in bombing around the Islamic State group-held city of Manbij.

The request was sent to foreign ministers of anti-IS coalition members, which includes the US, France and UK. 

Syrian National Coalition President Anas Alabdah demanded "an immediate suspension of the military operations of the international (anti-IS) coalition in Syria to allow for a thorough investigation" of civilian deaths.

Dozens dead

US air raids on the village of al-Tokhar - near Manbij - on Tuesday killed at least 73 civilians, local activists said.

The bulk of the dead were women and children, after 200 villagers gathered around the cluster of houses hit by the bombs. The US insists the killings were an error, and that they believed the civilians were IS fighters.

Adnan al-Housen, an activist from Manbij, was quoted in the Guardian as saying "the death toll is 117. We could document [the identity of] 73 civilians including 35 children and 20 women. The rest of the dead bodies are charred, or have been reduced to shreds".

On the day of the strike, activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently claimed in a tweet that as many as 160 civilians had perished in US-led attacks.

In a statement distributed Thursday, UNICEF also weighed in on the event, saying that dozens of children were among those killed.

"No matter where they are in Syria or under whose control they live - absolutely nothing justifies attacks on children," the UN's child agency said.

The bombing - which is the coalition's deadliest attack on civilians in its fight against IS - was also described by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as a "massacre".

Relaxing the rules

Air strike information released by US Central Command on Wednesday omitted mention of the accusations of civilian casualties.

It referred only to the IS positions, vehicles and the command "node" that was destroyed on on 19 July.

"I do not believe Centcom has released the findings of any investigation acknowledging civilian casualties that large or larger," said Army Colonel Christopher Garver, the chief spokesman of the US-lead coalition.

Garver added that IS militants are increasing the use of civilians as human shields around Manbij, indicating that this may account for a rise in civilian deaths.

"We have seen Daesh [IS] using more civilians as human shields in the Manbij area. We've seen them during the fight pushing civilians toward the lines of the SDF to try to draw fire," he said. 

"While the investigative process will provide details on this particular incident, and we don't know what happened, I won’t be surprised if this is somehow a factor."

The colonel also denied that the US had eased its rules of engagement to allow US military units to fire more freely when engaging suspected IS targets.

However, data from Airwars - a group monitoring coalition airstrikes against IS - suggests that the raids have become more dangerous for Syrian civilians.