Air strikes thought to have been conducted by the US-led coalition against ISIS Thursday killed 23 civilians, including eight children, in countryside around the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, a monitoring group said.
“The raids hit the village of Al-Matab after midnight and were likely carried out by the coalition,” said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The jets struck the village of al-Matab southeast of Raqqa, near the Euphrates River, the Observatory said, adding that several air raids had also pounded areas east of the city. Al-Matab lies near a key road linking Raqqa — ISIS’ de facto capital — to Deir Ezzor city, the capital of the adjacent oil-rich province.
An alliance of Syrian militias has been waging an offensive on Raqqa with air strikes and special ground forces from the US-led coalition.
On Monday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces cut the last main road out of Raqqa, severing the highway between the city and the militant group’s stronghold of Deir Ezzor. The US-led coalition has been backing the SDF’s drive for Raqqa with air power and hundreds of special operations forces as advisers.
The US military has said it makes “extraordinary efforts” to avoid civilian deaths in its bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. However, its estimates of civilians killed by coalition air strikes are generally far lower than those of monitoring groups.
On Thursday, Coalition spokesman US Air Force Colonel John Dorrian confirmed the deployment of additional US forces to Syria to accelerate the defeat of ISIS in its Syrian base of operations at Raqqa city.
Dorrian said the additional forces would be cooperating with local partners in Syria – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian Arab Coalition – and would not have a frontline role. The SDF includes the Kurdish YPG militia. The additional forces that had arrived in “the last few days” comprised a Marines artillery unit and Army Rangers.
“We are talking about an additional 400 or so forces in total, and they will be there for a temporary period,” Dorrian told Reuters in a phone call. The deployment was on top of an existing 500 US forces already in Syria, he said.