20 civilians killed by US coalition as Raqqa operations continue

A US-led coalition air strike killed at least 20 civilians in a village north of Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, raising the number to 680 civilians killed by them in total, as the Kurdish militias continued their advance.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the strike on al-Heesha, 25 miles (45km) north of the ISIS stronghold, occurred overnight on Tuesday, killing at least 20 civilians including six women and a child.

US Central Command confirmed that its strike logs suggested an attack had been carried out in the area but more specific information was needed before authorities could “determine responsibility.”

A coalition statement said seven strikes near the town of Ain Issa, about 14km (9 miles) west of al-Heisha, on Tuesday had engaged six IS tactical units and destroyed three fighting positions, a vehicle, and a car bomb facility.

“The Coalition takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously and will further investigate this report,” a spokesperson added.  “Extraordinary efforts are made by the Coalition to identify and strike appropriate targets in order to avoid non-combatant casualties.”

Targeting al-Heesha was a part of the new offensive led by Kurdish militias on ISIS-held areas near Raqqa.

The Kurdish militias have been shelling al-Heesha village and the surrounding areas while the US coalition bmbed t from above, worsining the situation in the already besieged area.

The Syrian Democratic Forces SDF, a group comprising mainly of Kurdish armed groups, said at a press conference on Sunday the offensive to reclaim the de facto capital of Islamic State (ISIS) would begin on Saturday.

“On this occasion, we call on the international community and regional forces to coordinate and take part in the operation to exterminate ISIS,” an SDF official said before announcing the US would offer air support in the offensive.

A spokeswoman for the (SDF) dismissed the reports of civilian casualties as “ISIS news”.

Reports said that he families have started to flee from al-Heesha after the deadly airstrikes.

680 civilians killed by US coalition in 2 years

The US, UK and France have been providing air support to bolster the efforts of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

However, the US coalition hasn’t only been targeting ISIS, as many civilians were killed in their operations.

The Syrian Observatory says at least 680 civilians, including 169 children, have been killed since coalition air strikes began in Syria two years ago.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said that the US “takes seriously all credible allegations of civilian casualties.”

But ironically, the coalition has admitted responsibility for only 55 civilian deaths in both Syria and neighboring Iraq between August 2014 and July 2016.

Last month, Amnesty International said some 100 civilians appeared to have been killed in three coalition air strikes in June and July 2016 around Manbij, north-west of Raqqa, during an SDF operation to drive ISIS militants out of the town.

“We fear the US-led coalition is significantly underestimating the harm caused to civilians in its operations in Syria,” said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director of research at Amnesty International’s Beirut office in October.

“Some of these attacks may constitute disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks … It’s high time the US authorities came clean about the full extent of the civilian damage caused by coalition attacks in Syria.”

“It’s high time the US authorities came clean about the full extent of the civilian damage caused by coalition attacks in Syria. Independent and impartial investigations must be carried out into any potential violations of international humanitarian law and the findings should be made public.”

Kurdish militias or ISIS ?

The autonomous federation being planned by Syrian Kurdish parties and their allies is taking shape fast: a constitution should be finalized soon, to be followed quickly by-elections, a Kurdish official said.

The political federation for northern Syria builds on three self-ruled regions carved out by the YPG since Syria descended into conflict in 2011 in an uprising to topple President Bashar al-Assad. It has already grown, expanding last year to include the town of Tel Abyad that was captured from Islamic State by the YPG last year.

In fact, Kurdish militias use US support to launch offensives against new areas under the term of fighting ISIS, while the force the Arab citizens to flee their homes, so the Kurdish militias can force control over new areas and add it to their cantons.

They are accused of making ethnic crimes against Arab citizens in northern Syria, and an organized displacement plan pf the original residents to make their goals in separating the area from Syria easier to achieve.

Syrian Kurdish groups have made no secret of their aim to link up their two autonomous regions, or cantons, in northeastern Syria with one further west – Afrin. Their dreams were threatened after Turkey backed Syrian rebels retrieves the 80 km stretch of territory at the Turkish border near Manbij from ISIS and ordered the Kurdish militias to leave the area.

Turkey sees the PYD and their armed wing YPG as an extension of Kurdish PKK militants who have waged a three-decade insurgency in southeastern Turkey.

However, the plan still has danger as the Syria Democratic Forces alliance, which is spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, still have the support of US administration and mounted with its help a new advance towards ISIS last stronghold in Syria, Raqqa.