Civilian deaths from U.S. airstrikes in Syria now ‘nearing Russian levels’

Charles Davies writes: somehow, someway, the news from Syria invariably manages to get worse, for those not yet fatigued by the routine of atrocity.

“It’s the worst week we’ve ever tracked,” Chris Woods, director of the monitoring group Airwars, told The Daily Beast. He was referring to a threat that emerged nearly two years ago: U.S. airstrikes, aimed at the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, but exacting a deadly toll on those stuck between ostensibly religious and ostensibly secular extremists.

Ahmad Mohammad, a 24-year-old Syrian activist, described it as a “massacre”: On July 19, over 90 civilians in the northern Syria village of Tokhar, just outside the town Manbij, were killed by suspected U.S. airstrikes as a U.S.-backed coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is fighting to reclaim the area along the Turkish border from the Islamic State.

When the uprising in Syria began in 2011, Mohammad said his goal was to spread “news of the revolution”; in 2016 his activism takes the form of “documenting abuses” — in this case, he sent along photos of women and children being buried in a mass grave, “human beings like all of us,” he said, whose only offense was living in a town occupied by terrorists from abroad.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command confirmed it carried out airstrikes in the area. “We are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties in the area,” it said. “If the information supporting the allegation is determined to be credible, we will then determine the next appropriate step.”

The CENTCOM-supported SDF, meanwhile, has dismissed reports of mass casualties in Manbij as “fabricated news” circulated by groups who “support terrorism,” according to a statement obtained by the Kurdish media network Rudaw.

Independent monitors and anti-ISIS activists on the ground, by contrast, insist that air support for the SDF has killed hundreds of innocents.

According to Airwars, the human beings dumped in that hole, along with corpses on streets and under rubble in and around Manbij that could not be afforded even a mass burial, bring the civilian death count from U.S.-led airstrikes in the area up to at least 190 since May 31.

Local activists claim the number is at least 368, and an activist with the Free Manbij Media Center told The Daily Beast the death toll on July 19 alone was “more than 150 people, mostly women and children” who were “killed while in their homes.”

The latest airstrikes have grabbed international headlines, but they are nothing new for Syrians. Since the U.S.-led coalition began bombing Syria, Airwars states there are credible reports of between 682 and 942 civilian deaths, meaning that nearly a third of what the military terms “collateral damage” has occurred in the last two months. It has gotten “so bad,” Woods said, “that we’re nearing Russian levels” (between 1,098 and 1,450 “likely” dead civilians since September 2015). The U.S. has thus far confirmed just 24 civilian deaths from its campaign in Syria. Like Russia, none of its partners — Australia, Bahrain, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, among others — has admitted to any. [Continue reading…]

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