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Pentagon Probes Possible Civilian Casualties in Iraq, Syria Strikes


The Pentagon has acknowledged for the first time that there may have been civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Military officials Tuesday said that U.S. Central Command, which is leading the coalition, is investigating three reported incidents in Syria and two in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said this is something the military always takes seriously. Kirby did not say how many civilians may have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Syria, nor would he reveal who made the allegations.

But similar charges have come from groups, including Human Rights Watch and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“We are very mindful of trying to mitigate the risks to civilians every time we operate, everywhere we operate," Kirby said. "And so when we do believe that we have had the occasion to cause collateral damage or hurt [or] kill civilians, we take it seriously and we look into it. It matters to us.”

The Syrian Observatory says U.S. airstrikes have killed 52 civilians in Syria alone. Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the group, told VOA that while this figure is much smaller than the number killed by Syrian government forces and Islamic State militants, every human killed in the conflict deserves justice.

"We work for human rights for all Syrian people," he said.

Abdulrahman said the observatory had not seen reports of civilians killed by U.S. airstrikes in the last few weeks, suggesting the Pentagon's investigations could be about potential casualties from earlier attacks.

Meanwhile, a suicide bombing and clashes with Islamic State militants killed at least 23 Iraqi troops and pro-government fighters in Iraq's Anbar province, near a base where the U.S. military is training local forces.

Dozens more were wounded Tuesday in the initial attacks on a military gathering near the town of al-Baghdadi, and in multiple assaults on police and army positions.

U.S. troops began training Iraqi security forces in Anbar in December despite regular harassment gunfire from Islamic State rebels.

U.S. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said about 320 U.S. service members are stationed at the al-Asad base to provide advice and planning assistance to Iraqi troops.

Some information for this report came from AFP.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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