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Did US fire 500-pound bombs on civilians in Syria?

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US airstrikes struck the Syrian village of Tokhar in Aleppo countryside on July 19 2016. (File photo)

The United States military rained down 500-pound bombs on a Syrian village last month, possibly killing dozens of women and children instead of Daesh terrorists, a new report says.

On July 19, US A-10 and B-52 aircraft dropped 500-pound bombs on the village of Tokhar in Aleppo countryside. When the dust from the attack cleared, at least 95 people were killed, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

Some rights groups, however, put the death toll at 200 after those who were wounded succumbed to their injuries.

While US officials claimed the attack killed a large group of Daesh terrorists, Syrian activists said Tokhar victims have mostly been men, women and children seeking shelter from the war, The Washington Post  report said. 

According o reports compiled by Airwars, which is a Britain-based group that tracks civilian fatalities, as many as 203 civilians were killed, between 70 and 80 of whom were named, including at least 11 children. Among the victims was a man named Suleiman al Dhaher, who was killed along with at least five of his children and grandchildren, including two infants, according to the reports.

Some reports said the area hit by the US airstrikes was a school occupied by displaced Syrians.

This picture shows collapsed buildings in the northern Syrian town of Manbij as civilians go back to their homes on August 14, 2016. (AFP photo)

“The victims of the massacre were all civilians, not a single member of ISIS [Daesh],” the Post quoted Abu Abdullah, a former Tokhar resident who now lives outside Syria.

US officials, however, said that the people gathered in Tokhar at the night of attack, were not civilians. Instead, they were terrorists preparing for a major counterattack in the nearby town of Manbij, where an intense battle was unfolding, according to them.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the officials said the village had been under drone surveillance for three weeks and that there were few civilians in the preceding 10 days.

The officials put the civilian death toll at about 10, but the militant death toll at 85.

The contradictory reports about Tokhar revealed how difficult it is to determine the real number of civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, the Washing Post report said.

Chris Woods, director of Airwars said that in such conflicts that Daesh is deliberately using human shields, “it’s inevitable that civilians will die.”

“Where we have tensions is around how [US military officials] tend to depict reporting of civilian casualties purely as propaganda,” Woods said. “What we too often see is the coalition downplaying credibly reported reports.”

The Post said the US Central Command (CENTCOM) dramatically downplays the number of civilians and most of the times it even avoids investigating the incidents, claiming there is not enough “sufficient verifiable information.”

This picture shows Syrian children on the back of a pickup in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on August 14, 2016. (AFP photo)

According to the report, even on those rare cases, such as Tokhar, that CENTCOM has been pressed to investigate, the process can last months. Eventually, military officials will almost certainly admit a death toll far lower than the number of bodies even shown in pictures after the incident.

Amnesty International official, Neil Simmonds, said that “we all know that’s a terrible underestimate.”

“It’s really dangerous, obviously, if you think that you’ve conducted [thousands of strikes] and you’ve only killed 55 civilians,” Simmonds said, referring to the number of civilians that the US has confirmed dead in more than 11,000 airstrikes conducted in Iraq and Syria since 2014.

“Then you probably do think you’re doing a brilliant job,” he added.

Over 500 civilians have only been killed between August 13 and August 19 in the Syrian towns of Aleppo, Idlib, Damascus, and Hama. At least 96 children and 73 women were among the casualties, according to figures released by the Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a network of activists in Syria.

In September 2014, the US and some of its allies started conducting airstrikes inside Syria against Daesh terrorists, many of whom were initially trained by the CIA to fight against the Syrian government.

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