A U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed at least 50 Syrian civilians late last month when it targeted a headquarters of Islamic State extremists in northern Syria, according to an eyewitness and a Syrian opposition human rights organization.
The civilians were being held in a makeshift jail in the town of Al Bab, close to the Turkish border, when the aircraft struck on the evening of Dec. 28, the witnesses said. The building, called the Al Saraya, a government center, was leveled in the airstrike. It was days before civil defense workers could dig out the victims’ bodies.
The U.S. Central Command, which had not previously announced the airstrike, confirmed the attack Saturday in response to repeated McClatchy inquiries. “Coalition aircraft did strike and destroy an ISIL headquarters building in Al Bab on Dec. 28,” Col. Patrick S. Ryder said in an email.
He said a review of the airstrike showed no evidence of civilian casualties but offered to examine any additional information, “since we take all allegations seriously.” ISIL is an alternative name for the Islamic State.
U.S. officials acknowledged for the first time last week that they are investigating “at least a few” claims of civilian casualties as a result of airstrikes on Syria. “This is something we always take seriously,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby. “We are very mindful of trying to mitigate the risk to civilians every time we operate, everywhere we operate.”