Syrian Democratic Forces enter ISIS-held Raqqa from east and west
UPDATE 1630 GMT: The US has carried out its third airstrike against pro-Assad units in eastern Syria, maintaining a 55-km (34-mile) exclusion zone around a Free Syrian Army base where US special forces are present.
Two US officials confirmed the strike on three technical vehicles about 24 miles from the Tanf base near the Iraqi border.
The first American strike was last month against a pro-regime convoy, including Hezbollah fighters and Iraqi militia. The second was on Tuesday.
The US military also said today that it downed an Iranian drone, which was armed and firing on “coalition forces carrying out a patrol”.
US statement on the strikes against Assad regime and downing of the armed drone near At Tanf pic.twitter.com/jaIqiJcKcx
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) June 8, 2017
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The UN has warned of a humanitarian crisis as the Kurds-led, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces began a final offensive on Raqqa, the Islamic State’s central position in Syria.
The SDF entered the eastern part of the city earlier this week. Taking a ruined 1,000-year-old fortress on Wednesday, they also advanced into the western outskirts, clearing a nearby village.
UN aid official Linda Tom said from Damascus, “We are receiving reports of air strikes in several locations in Raqqa.” She said from 50,000 to 100,000 people are trapped inside the city.
The UN has said that more than 200,000 civilians have fled areas around Raqqa. The Kurdish militia YPG, which leads the SDF, says some have begun to return to their homes after ISIS’s defeat and withdrawal, but claims are circulating that Arab residents have been prevented from doing so.
Despite the UN’s warnings, Brett McGurk, the US envoy in the anti-ISIS campaign, said, “The Raqqa campaign from here will only accelerate”, with the SDF prepared for “a difficult and a long-term battle”.
TOP PHOTO: Fleeing an ISIS-controlled area in Raqqa, a woman holds up a white flag at a Syrian Democratic Forces position, June 7, 2017 (Rodi Said/Reuters)
US Military: We Did Not Kill 56 Civilians in Mosque in March — We Might Have Killed 1
The US military maintained on Wednesday that it did not kill more than 50 civilians in a March 16 airstrike on a mosque in western Aleppo Province, saying only a single casualty might have been a non-combatant.
Brigadier General Paul Bontrager, deputy director for operations for US Central Command, said he believed about two dozen fighters were slain and only one other person was wounded and possibly killed.
Residents put the death toll at 56, while a Human Rights Watch investigation said at least 38 perished when US warplanes dropped 10 bombs and fired two missiles as people attended evening prayers at the al-Khattab Mosque in the village of al-Jina. They said that no fighters were present in the building, a larger annex to the original mosque.
Among those killed were five children, the mosque’s imam, and his wife.
For weeks, the US military insisted that the building was not part of the mosque, despite photographs clearly identifying it as such.
Brigadier General Bontrager said his investigation concluded that the strike hit a religious school under construction, leaving the mosque undamaged.
However, he did admit that the US military had committed a “preventable error” by not listing any of the buildings as religious facilities:
None of the buildings were annotated on our No Strike List as Category 1 facilities, which is a register of entities that must be carefully evaluated before an approval to strike….
This failure to identify the religious purpose of these buildings led the target engagement authority to make the final determination to strike without knowing all he should have known, and that is something we need to make sure does not happen in the future.