Top U.S. defense officials are pushing back against allegations of a significant spike in the number of civilian casualties in the Syrian city of Raqqa.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 100 civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes over the past 48 hours. That number includes at least 42 people, 19 of them children, killed Monday when strikes destroyed buildings sheltering families.
Residents of the de facto capital of Islamic State in Syria echoed the Observatory's comments, with some putting the death toll as high as 170 in the past two days.
The commander of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State terror group says while the air campaign has intensified, there is nothing to suggest a dramatic increase in civilian deaths.
"I would ask someone to show me hard information that says that civilian casualties have increased in Raqqa to some significant degree," Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters in Baghdad Tuesday.
"There's been no military in the world's history that has paid more attention to limiting civilian casualties and the deaths of innocents on the battlefield than the coalition military," said U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, in Baghdad for meetings with Iraqi officials. "We are the good guys and the innocent people on the battlefield know the difference."
According to the Observatory, Monday's death toll in Raqqa is the single largest in one day since the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of Kurdish and Arab militias, began their campaign in June to isolate Islamic State militants inside the city.
Coalition officials estimate about 2,000 IS fighters remain entrenched in Raqqa and SDF officials say the fighting inside many of the densely populated neighborhoods has been grueling.
The United Nations estimates nearly 25,000 civilians are trapped in the city. The agency has called on the U.S.-led coalition and SDF to increase their efforts to open safe corridors for the remaining civilians to flee.