At least 70 civilians were killed or injured over two days as Kurdish militias advance on an ISIS-held town in eastern Syria. The US-led coalition supports the operation with deadly airstrikes.
The offensive was launched on Monday and is touted as an attempt to capture the last remaining territory held by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group on Syria’s border with Iraq. Al-Baghuz Fawqani is a small town on the Euphrates River that had a population of some 10,000 before the war in the country started in 2011.
The forces of the Kurd-dominated SDF are being supported by the US-led coalition, which provides air support to the militias on the ground. According to SANA, the Syrian government news agency, at least 70 civilians were killed or injured on the outskirts of the town by the airstrikes.
One of the targets for the warplanes was a local mosque, which, the coalition says, has been repurposed by the terrorists as a command and control facility, from which car-bomb attacks against the Kurdish forces were directed. In a statement UK Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika said this made the mosque a legitimate target not protected by international law.
Decisions to conduct attacks near or against public facilities are risky for military commanders, as the coalition itself found out in March 2017, when one of its airstrikes killed dozens of civilians hiding in a mosque. The US military initially denied hitting the building despite mounting evidence to the contrary, but later acknowledged that they failed to take necessary precaution when targeting a meeting of Al Qaeda members nearby.
Last year the coalition reported targeting mosques in IS-held part in eastern Syria with a similar justification. In October, an airstrike hit the prayer house in Al-Susah village, reportedly killing dozens of relatives of militants controlling the city. The coalition insisted it was targeting combatants. In December, a mosque in the town of Hajin was attacked as part of the SDF advancement along the Euphrates.
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