MESOP Syria Daily: Limited Evacuation Deal in Surrounded ISIS-Held City of Manbij? / US PLAYS DOWN CIVILIAN DEATHS

24 Juli 2016 – By Scott Lucas – eaworldview – The Islamic State and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are discussing a limited evacuation deal over the ISIS-held city of Manbij, surrounded by the SDF, in Syria’s Aleppo Province.

ISIS has proposed the passage of critically-ill civilians to SDF-controlled areas in return for wounded Islamic fighters being transported out of Manbij, the target of an SDF offensive and US airstrikes since May.However, an SDF spokesman said the Islamic State rejected an offer of safe withdrawal if they gave up the city, which they have held since early 2014. An estimated 50,000 civilians are believed to be in Manbij.

On Monday and Tuesday, scores were killed in US airstrikes in and near the city, including on a school that housed displaced Syrians. Up to 160 civilians were slain, said activists, and some unconfirmed reports gave an even higher toll.

The SDF quickly cut off Manbij after the launch of its offensive, but has struggled to advance within the city. On Thursday, the SDF-allied Manbij Military Council said Islamic State fighters had 48 hours to withdraw with light weapons.

Council spokesman Sharfan Darwish said early Saturday: The deadline is approaching, time is almost up…and the battles are continuing. As far as we’re concerned, the situation has not changed. Our steps towards liberating Manbij are going ahead.

US Plays Down Civilian Deaths, Strikes to Continue

On Friday, the spokesman for the US-led coalition, Colonel Christopher Garver played down the civilian deaths from airstrikes, saying that any of them might be attributable to the Islamic State’s use of civilians as human shields or people “mixed in or among the Daesh fighters”.

Garver said Tuesday’s airstrikes on Tuesday occurred US allies on the ground observed a convoy with a substantial numbers of ISIS fighters “who appeared to be readying for a counterattack against SAC [US-aligned Syrian Arab Coalition] troops in the area, and a strike was called in on Daesh. The strike was against both buildings and vehicles.”

The Colonel said the US does not have a clear picture on the civilian death toll. He declared that “internal” sources were “concerned about between 10 or 20″, though there was a “kind of a wild speculation toward 73” dead civilians in the press.

The UK-based group AirWars provided the names of approximately 73 people, grouped by their families, whom local sources said were killed. It says that there could be up to 203 victims.

Garver told the Kurdish outlet ARA News that strikes will continue:  The Coalition will not reduce the use of air strike capabilities in the campaign to defeat ISIL [the Islamic State]. Coalition airstrikes are the most precise in the history of warfare.

Mitigating civilian casualties is a key component of the air campaign and is why we use precision weapons. We take great care, from analysis of available intelligence to selection of the appropriate weapons to meet mission requirements to minimize the risk of collateral damage, particularly any potential harm to civilians….

“U.S. and Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all feasible precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to non-combatants. The opposition Syrian National Coalition has demanded an immediate suspension of aerial operations pending a thorough inquiry into the civilian deaths.

“It is essential that such an investigation not only results in revised rules of procedure for future operations, but also informs accountability for those responsible for such major violations,” the Coalition said in a letter to foreign ministers of the anti-ISIS coalition.