The US-led coalition to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will investigate reports it killed dozens of innocent civilians on Tuesday in an air strike in northern Syria, US Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday.
As many as 85 civilians are believed to have been mistaken for Islamic State fighters and killed in the operation north of the besieged IS-held city of Manbij. Residents said they believed the attack was carried out by US-led warplanes, a monitoring group said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead included 11 children, and that dozens more people were wounded.
The US-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, launched an offensive at the end of May to seize the last territory held by IS insurgents on Syria’s frontier with Turkey.
Supported by US coalition air strikes, the SDF has surrounded and fought their way into parts of the city, but IS attacks still occur in some areas of the surrounding countryside. On Monday, 21 people were killed in raids also believed to have been conducted by US-led coalition aircraft on Manbij’s northern Hazawneh quarter.
In a statement on Wednesday, rights watchdog Amnesty International said the US-led coalition must do more to prevent civilian deaths.
“Anyone responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be brought to justice and victims and their families should receive full reparation,” Amnesty’s interim Middle East director Magdalena Mughrabi said.
Progress into Manbij city has been slow. The militants have deployed snipers, planted mines and prevented civilians from leaving, hampering efforts to bomb the city without causing heavy casualties, according to Kurdish sources.
The Observatory said at least 104 civilians have died from air strikes since the start of the Manbij offensive in late May.
Carter was speaking to reporters after a meeting with defense ministers of around 30 countries on the campaign to defeat Islamic State. Some of those countries, Carter added, had indicated their intent to contribute further to the campaign.