Civilian deaths mount as US secret unit pounds IS in Syria: Report

A single top secret US strike cell launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State (IS) terror group in Syria, but in the process several civilians were killed, a news report said.
File image of the war-torn Syria.
File image of the war-torn Syria.

New York

The strike cell "circumvented rules imposed to protect non-combatants, and alarmed its partners in the military and the CIA by killing people who had no role in the conflict: farmers trying to harvest, children in the street, families fleeing fighting, and villagers sheltering in buildings", Xinhua news agency quoted the report by The New York Times as saying. 
Based on interviews with multiple current and former military and intelligence officials, the report found that the unit was called Talon Anvil, it said. 
It worked in three shifts around the clock between 2014 and 2019, pinpointing targets for the US to hit: convoys, car bombs, command centers and squads of enemy fighters, the newspaper added. 
According to the report, Talon Anvil was small, at times fewer than 20 people operating from anonymous rooms cluttered with flat screens, but played an outsize role in the 112,000 bombs and missiles launched against the IS, in part because it embraced a loose interpretation of the military's rules of engagement. 
Every year when the strike cell operated, the civilian casualty rate in Syria increased significantly, Larry Lewis, a former Pentagon and State Department adviser who co-authored a 2018 Defence Department report on civilian harm, was quoted as saying. 
Lewis, who has viewed the Pentagon's classified civilian casualty data for Syria, said the rate was 10 times that of similar operations he tracked in Afghanistan. 
"It was much higher than I would have expected from a US unit," said Lewis. 
"The fact that it increased dramatically and steadily over a period of years shocked me." 
There are presently 900 American troops stationed in Syria's northeastern region, to help the Kurdish YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fight the IS terror group. 
US forces were first dispatched in 2014-15 under former President Barack Obama to provide material support to local Arab and Kurdish fighters.

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