US Military Responds To New Allegations Of Civilian Deaths From Airstrikes In Syria

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane following an airstrike on October 22, 2014
Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobane following an airstrike on October 22, 2014 © AFP Bulent Kilic

Air strikes by the US-led coalition in Syria have killed 553 people since their launch a month ago, the vast majority of them jihadists, a monitoring group said on Thursday. However, a military spokesman said they have “not been able to verify” the report.

The strikes have killed 464 Islamic State group fighters, 57 militants from Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front and 32 civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Among the civilians killed were six children and five women, said the Observatory, which relies on a wide network of sources inside Syria.

The US-led coalition against the Islamic State launched air strikes against IS on September 23, expanding a previous aerial campaign launched against the group in Iraq in August.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP the “vast majority” of jihadists killed in the strikes were not Syrians but foreign fighters who had joined IS and Nusra in the country.

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US Central Command spokesman Maj. Curtis Kellogg told Business Insider on Thursday that the US military is evaluating reports of casualties on an ongoing basis, but has no evidence of civilian deaths at this time.

“When an allegation of civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces is determined to be credible, we investigate it fully and strive to learn from it so as to avoid recurrence. That said, we continue to have no operational reporting or intelligence indicating U.S. or coalition airstrikes have caused civilian casualties in Iraq or Syria,” Kellogg said in an email, adding, “We are aware of claims of suspected civilian casualties related to U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq and we continue to evaluate them. To date, we have not been able to verify any of them. We determine the credibility of each allegation based on information available, including information provided by third parties, and information such as the proximity of the location to an airstrike, and any corroborating evidence presented.”

Kellogg also said the US military takes unprecedented steps to avoid civilian deaths.

“In regards to civilian casualty allegations, I’d say up front that no other military in the world works as hard as we do to be precise. US forces have implemented significant mitigation measures within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential of civilian casualties and collateral damage,” Kellogg said. “While we strive to avoid civilian casualties in this extremely complex operating environment, we recognise the continued risk inherent in these strikes.”

The US-led coalition has focused most of its efforts in Syria around preventing ISIS from taking Kobane, a Kurdish city on Syria’s border with Turkey. The campaign has succeeded in stanching the jihadists’ advance on the city, with one Kurdish fighter claiming that ISIS only controlled around 5% Kobane on October 21.

The Syrian Observatory has not responded to a request for comment from Business Insider about their report.

This post was updated with Kellogg’s email at 11:10 a.m.