Militants and some local residents in Syria have asserted that U.S.-led airstrikes have killed at least 40 people, mostly women and children, according to Global News. The United States is leading the latest wave of airstrikes in the last Islamic State-held pocket of resistance in the Buqan area near Hajin on the eastern banks of the Euphrates River.
Colonel Sean Ryan, the spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, confirmed that there were strikes but denied that there were civilian casualties. Ryan said “the coalition takes great measures to identify and strike appropriate ISIS targets in order to avoid non-combatant casualties.
“We have witnessed (IS) using places of worship and hospitals as command centers against the laws of war, and innocent civilians as human shields,” Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the coalition, said in an email to the Associated Press.
Amaq, the Islamic State’s news agency, quoted a medical source that 40 people had been killed, a claim that was backed up by the Syrian state media outlet SANA. The remote area is difficult to access and so far western news agencies have been unable to independently verify the reports.
However, Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the airstrikes struck homes in the Abu al-Hassan village, killing at least 43 people. Abdurrahman said 17 women and 12 children were among the dead, but that it is not certain that the slain men were IS militants.
The US-led coalition just put out a press release denying recent accusations of mass civilian casualties following airstrikes on alleged ISIS targets. pic.twitter.com/gnqV3G96XI— Charles Davis (@charliearchy) November 17, 2018
The Syrian government has protested to the United Nations against the U.S.-led airstrikes just last week after claiming one killed 26 civilians in Hajin.
Omar Abu Leila, an activist who monitors the war, said that ISIS militants are preventing civilians from leaving the area, which is at least partly responsible for the high civilian death toll. At least 191 civilians have died in the battle since September 10th.
The area is the last foothold that ISIS has east of the Euphrates River, and the U.S. coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have made a concerted effort to drive ISIS from the area. Last year, the coalition drove ISIS out of their Syrian headquarters in Raqqa.
“We never thought or said this fight would be easy. These are some of the most determined fighters and they’ve had a lot of time to prepare their defensive positions, so this isn’t an easy fight, and our Syrian democratic force partners with coalition support are taking the fight every day to the enemy,” said Deputy Commander Major General Christopher Ghika.