U.S. coalition investigating reports its airstrikes killed at least 36 Syrian civilians

Mohammad, Tasneem, Sidra and Suhair al Obaid, left to right, were killed in an airstrike in eastern Hasaka, Syria, on Monday, said a relative in Germany.
Mohammad, Tasneem, Sidra and Suhair al Obaid, left to right, were killed in an airstrike in eastern Hasaka, Syria, on Monday, said a relative in Germany. McClatchy

The U.S.-led coalition says it’s reviewing reports that its airstrikes against Islamic State militants Monday killed at least 36 civilians, including 20 children, in a village in eastern Syria.

The attack occurred on the mud-brick village of Al Khan in Hasakah province, which has fewer than 100 residents and is at the front line of a U.S.-backed offensive conducted by mainly Kurdish forces. It’s near the town of Al Hawl, which fell to Kurdish forces Nov. 13.

Syrian media activists and a relative of one of the families told McClatchy that the villagers had an altercation with Islamic State militants and asked them to leave. The tension grew into an exchange of fire.

“The Islamic State sent reinforcements to the village . . . and coalition jets targeted the convoy,” said Khalil Khatouny, 27, who now lives in Germany. The airstrikes killed Islamic State members and civilians, mainly women and children, he said.

Five of his relatives were killed, he said: a cousin, Ali Suleiman Obaid, and Obaid’s three daughters, Suhair, Sidra and Tasneem, and a son, Mohammad.

The U.S. Central Command said its aircraft had been in the area, and it was looking into the report.

Coalition forces Monday carried out four strikes against the Islamic State near the town of Al Hawl, according to the Central Command’s latest posting. It destroyed nine Islamic State fighting positions and several vehicles, including one filled with explosives, according to the posting.

Responding to McClatchy’s questions about Al Khan, Central Command said it had conducted airstrikes near Al Hawl recently, but “as with any allegations we receive, we are reviewing any information we have about the incident.”

McClatchy reported last January that at least 51 civilians had died in the Islamic State-controlled town of Al Bab, near Aleppo, when U.S. aircraft struck a building in the town center, apparently unaware that it had been turned into a jail for civilians. At least two Syrian human rights watchdog groups confirmed the McClatchy report and obtained lists of those killed. The Central Command has never acknowledged the civilian deaths.

U.S. Central Command, following investigations, has acknowledged responsibility for only one civilian death in Syria, from a bombing in the city of Harim in November 2014.

Of the 186,491 civilians killed in the conflict through August, 246 deaths have been attributed to the U.S.-led coalition, while 179,291 – or 96.3 percent – were attributed to President Bashar Assad’s regime, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

In an unrelated incident Monday, the Syrian government accused the U.S. of bombing a Syrian military base in eastern Syria and killing three soldiers. The Central Command rejected the allegation. Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the coalition that’s fighting the Islamic State, said Sunday on Twitter that there had been no coalition airstrikes within 35 miles of the claimed incident.

Zakaria is a McClatchy special correspondent.