The US military has opened a second formal inquiry into allegations of civilian casualties caused by airstrikes in northern Syria during its campaign against the Islamic State militant group.
Army Col Christopher Garver, chief spokesman for the war command in Baghdad, confirmed on Wednesday that the US military has found accounts of a 28 July airstrike near Manbij credible enough to warrant a full investigation.
It is the second formal investigation of its kind from Manbij alone. Last week, the military announced it would investigate a separate airstrike that occurred near the town on 19 July which local Syrian and outside observers fear is the US’s worst civilian casualty incident of the entire war, with dozens and perhaps over 100 dead.
The death toll in that strike remains disputed. Garver, describing preliminary information, has referenced a far lower figure, around 10-15 civilians. The UK-based monitoring group Airwars has published the family names of 74 people killed in the airstrike. Those named include women and children.
Neither Garver nor the US Central Command, the higher command overseeing the war, has offered a figure for the 28 July airstrike. One Syrian human rights group has said that initial accounts suggest that 28 civilians were killed in the attack.
Garver also said that accounts of a third airstrike, east of Manbij, on 23 July had been deemed insufficiently credible to warrant further inquiry. The US “did not conduct any strikes in that geographic location”, he said.
Manbij remains “a tough and deliberate fight”, Garver said on Wednesday.
The US-backed Syrian ground forces have been fighting to oust Isis from Manbij – an area the US considers a critical stepping stone to the Isis capital of Raqqa as well as a path for Isis to export terrorists through Turkey – since late May.
Those forces said they provided the intelligence for the 19 July airstrike, and Garver assessed them to have retaken more than half of Manbij in what he called “house to house” fighting.
The US has rejected calls from some Syrian opposition figures for a suspensions of its aerial campaign. Garver said that so far, the US has launched 602 such strikes during the battle for the city. The United Nations warned in mid-July that more than 30,000 civilians may be caught between combatants in Manbij.
– The Guardian