U.S.-led coalition denies civilian casualties reportedly tied to Islamic State airstrikes
Officials with the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State have strongly denied that American or allied warplanes were responsible for a series of airstrikes that reportedly killed up to 60 civilians in eastern Syria.
U.S. and allied commanders are disputing eyewitness reports in the press that it was their warplanes that targeted suspected ISIS targets but instead hit a series of civilian areas in the eastern Syrian cities of al-Shafa, Gamsha and Hajin last week. The cities border the Islamic State’s final Syrian redoubts in Deir-i-Zour.
Roughly 15 civilians were reportedly killed by coalition strikes in Hajin, while at least another 20 were claimed dead as a strike in Gamsha and al-Shafa, Turkish state media reported. Syrian state news said the civilian death toll in all three areas totaled over 60.
British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, deputy commander for strategy and information for the U.S.-led coalition, told reporters at the Pentagon last Thursday that coalition leaders were launching inquiries into the allegations.
“These are unsubstantiated at this stage. We will investigate them, as we investigate every allegation of civilian casualties,” Gen. Ghika said during a teleconference from coalition headquarters in Baghdad.
Coalition officials reported a total of 19 airstrikes during a three-hour period near Hajin and surrounding areas, coalition officials say, said to be “legitimate ISIS targets” that were “assessed ... to be free of civilian presence at the time of the strikes.”
However, coalition commanders did detect an additional 10 airstrikes were also launched near Hajin.
“These strikes were neither coordinated with nor approved” by coalition commanders, suggesting the attacks could have been carried out by the Syrian government or its Russian allies.
U.S. and coalition airstrikes in the theater have tapered off as Islamic State’s territorial hold has been dramatically reduced. Between 1,500 and 2,000 ISIS fighters remain in the group’s last territorial bastion in eastern Syria, U.S. officials estimate.
American and coalition commanders, however, have been continually plagued by allegations of disregard for civilian casualties in the campaign. The human rights group Amnesty International claimed in August that the civilian death toll tied to the American-led air war in Syria could reach into the “high hundreds.”