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Pentagon Acknowledges US Bombs in ISIS War May Be Killing Civilians


January 7, 2015
Kate Brannen / Foerign Policy & Chris Woods / Foreign Policy & Al Jazeera America

Given the number of strikes launched in Iraq and Syria -- about 1,400 at this point -- civilians have clearly faced risks of accidental death. But for the last several months, the Pentagon has dismissed reports of civilian deaths caused by US bombs. Now, for the first time, the Pentagon has acknowledged that it is investigating whether US airstrikes against ISIS have killed civilians in Iraq and Syria.

http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/06/u-s-military-investigating-if-airstrikes-killed-civilians-in-iraq-and-syria/



US Military Investigating if Airstrikes Killed Civilians in Iraq and Syria
Kate Brannen / Foerign Policy

(January 6, 2015) -- For the first time Tuesday, the Pentagon publicly acknowledged that it is investigating whether US airstrikes against the Islamic State killed civilians in Iraq and Syria.

Depending on the military's findings, Barack Obama's administration could face more pressure to move US troops closer to the front lines to better coordinate targeting against the Islamic State, thereby potentially putting more US soldiers in harm's way. But experts warn that given the enemy and the nature of this war, civilian deaths will be difficult to avoid entirely in any event.

US Central Command said it had examined the credibility of 18 separate allegations that coalition airstrikes had killed civilians in Iraq and Syria between August and the end of December. Of the 18 allegations, nine were from Iraq and nine were from Syria.

So far, 13 of the allegations have been determined not to be credible, but five allegations are still being examined, with two being elevated into the investigation phase, said Centcom spokesman Maj. Curtis Kellogg.

Those two incidents are the results of the military's own review process and were not instigated by an outside allegation, Kellogg said in a statement. The other situations came to the military's attention via media reports, nongovernmental organizations, or other US government agencies.

Credible groups on the ground, including Iraqi news agencies and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, have made several claims that noncombatants have been killed by US bombs, but even they acknowledge that it is difficult to confirm these deaths, especially in areas controlled by the Islamic State, which is often where the United States is striking.

Given the number of strikes launched in both Iraq and Syria -- about 1,400 at this point -- and without American troops forward-positioned to call in the strikes, civilians have clearly faced risks of accidental death. But for the last several months, the Pentagon has maintained that it has yet to see any believable reports of civilian deaths caused by US bombs.

"I am tracking no civilian casualties," Lt. Gen. James Terry, the top US commander overseeing the anti-Islamic State operation, told reporters at the Pentagon on Dec. 18, before the military began investigating the two cases of civilian deaths. If the US military even suspected a civilian casualty, it would immediately launch an investigation, he said. Once the cause of the accidental death was determined, the US military would try to learn from its mistake and implement any necessary changes.

Civilian casualties matter: The Pentagon has been concerned about civilian deaths resulting from poor intelligence or targeting information while aiming at insurgents, especially after several such instances in Afghanistan produced a backlash. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai often blamed American troops for killing innocent Afghans.

Before it can investigate an allegation, the US military first has to determine whether there is sufficient verifiable information to proceed, Kellogg said Tuesday, Jan. 6.

"The current environment on the ground in Iraq and Syria makes investigating these allegations extremely challenging. Traditional investigatory methods, such as interviewing witnesses and examining the site, are not typically available," Kellogg said.

The Iraq Body Count project, an independent group that has tracked civilian deaths since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, estimates that about 150,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in conflict over that time period–including many killed by the Islamic State.

Depending on whether any civilian casualties are confirmed -- and where they may have happened -- these new investigations could move the debate around whether US troops need to be moved closer to the battlefield, said Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger. He worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2008 to 2013 on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance policies, among other issues, before joining the Center for a New American Security.

Some critics of the Obama administration's strategy against the Islamic State have called for more air power, describing the current airstrikes as "pinpricks." But to unleash more bombs on Iraq or Syria without inadvertently killing civilians would most likely require US troops to move closer to the fight.

In Afghanistan and in the previous war in Iraq, the US military used specialized troops embedded with forward infantry units, known as joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs), to call in airstrikes.

If any civilian deaths are confirmed and they appear to be isolated events, it might not fundamentally alter the debate, Scharre said. But the logical next step in Iraq is to embed JTACs with small special forces teams already advising Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, Scharre said.

This doesn't mean it's a "slippery slope" to having 100,000 US troops once again deployed in Iraq, but it's important to be thoughtful before doing this, because it not only puts those troops at greater risk, but it also commits the United States more fully to the war, Scharre said.

In Syria, putting US troops on the ground isn't an option, especially now when there is no partner with whom they could work. The effort to vet and train Syrian rebels in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar is still in its initial stages.

But even if JTACs were to embed with forward-deployed advising teams in Iraq, it would be difficult to avoid civilian casualties, said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Islamic State fighters do not wear uniforms, they use human shields to protect themselves, and they operate in heavily populated areas, like the Syrian city of Raqqa or the Iraqi city of Mosul. But while JTACs would not necessarily decrease the number of civilian casualties, they would make air power more effective, Cordesman said.

It's possible you could use a lot more air power, but over a shorter period of time, and in turn fewer civilians could be killed, he said.

In the meantime, with US troops confined to bases in Iraq, the US military will have to continue to rely on its Iraqi and Kurdish partners and the intelligence being collected by unmanned aircraft flying overhead to identify enemy positions, nearby civilians, or friendly troops.

"We have some great capability in terms of precision," Terry said. "What's in the balance here if you're not careful is you can be precisely wrong. You could strike, you know, tribes. You could strike Iraqi security forces. And you could create a very bad situation."

Kate Brannen is a senior reporter covering the defense industry, the influence game on Capitol Hill, and the Pentagon. Prior to joining FP, Kate was a defense reporter for Politico and the author of "Morning Defense," Politico's daily national security newsletter. 
Previously, as the congressional reporter for Defense News, Brannen covered budget debates on Capitol Hill, focusing on their implications for national security.

She spent three years covering the US Army -- first as a reporter for InsideDefense.com, then as the land warfare correspondent for Defense News.
Brannen graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor's degree in history. She has master's degrees from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and School of International and Public Affairs.
She lives in Washington with her husband and their daughter.








US Airstrikes Pummel Kobani
(October 10, 2014) -- Kobani Airstrikes Bombing ISIS By US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Jordan & UAE. US and allied forces may have killed dozens of civilians in airstrikes while bombing the Islamic State. But the defense department refuses to take responsibility.


Pentagon in Denial About Civilian Casualties
Of US Airstrikes in Iraq and Syria

Chris Woods / Foreign Policy

(December 3, 2014) -- The Pentagon accepts that with many hundreds of allied bombings aimed at Islamic State targets since August, there is a "continued risk inherent in these strikes" for civilians on the ground. But that doesn't mean the United States will offer compensation if it kills them.

The United States is not planning to grant compensation for civilians killed in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, Foreign Policy has learned, despite claims by credible groups that at least 100 noncombatants may already have died in the 16 weeks of US-led bombings.

The decision, confirmed by a senior spokesman for US Central Command (Centcom), the military command organization in charge of the air war, marks a significant departure from recent conflicts, in which payments have regularly been made to those affected by US military actions.

Washington also continues to insist it cannot confirm a single noncombatant death from more than 1,100 airstrikes against Islamic State targets -- despite a number of apparently well-documented cases of error or collateral damage in both Iraq and Syria.

America's 11 allies in the air war in Syria and Iraq may be no better placed to help. "If a claim of civilian casualties were found valid, that claim would be processed in accordance with the laws of the nation that conducted the strike," a Centcom spokesman told FP. But for civilians on the ground, it is often impossible to attribute responsibility.

Eight coalition members -- including Denmark, the Netherlands, and the three Arab partners -- currently refuse to say publicly where in Syria or Iraq they are bombing. Although Centcom releases information on airstrikes, its statements only say whether allies participated in the strikes, not where they took place.

Justifying its own decision to keep strike locations in Iraq secret, a spokesperson for the Australian Defence Force told FP that it "will not release information that could be distorted and used against Australia in [Islamic State] propaganda."

Centcom is now citing a 72-year-old US law for its justification for not awarding compensation in Iraq and Syria. As a spokesman told FP, "For US forces, claims would be processed in accordance with the Foreign Claims Act, which generally does not authorize compensation for damage or injury caused in combat operations."

The Foreign Claims Act is a World War II-era statute that bars the military from compensating for civilians lawfully killed on the battlefield. These can either be noncombatants accidentally killed or civilians caught up in legitimate strikes on, for example, high-value targets.

Yet in other recent US wars, the government has enabled a system of "no-fault" payouts for situations in which civilians were accidentally killed. It was a common-sense recognition of the damage such deaths can do to US war aims, say analysts.

"The US and its allies began making no-fault payments for civilian casualties in Afghanistan after their failure to acknowledge these tragedies created a backlash and handed a recruiting card to groups like the Taliban," said Letta Tayler, a terrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch. "While states have no international legal obligation to compensate for so-called ‘acceptable collateral damage,' doing so is the right move morally and strategically."

A US Defense Department official, speaking to FP on background, claimed that the congressional authorizations that allowed for such payments in Afghanistan and during Operation Iraqi Freedom were only temporary and do not apply to Syria or Iraq today. That means the government has no choice but to cite the Foreign Claims Act, US officials believe.

Others contest this. The New York-based Center for Civilians in Conflict, an advocacy group, points, for example, to permanent legislation passed by Congress this year designed expressly to ensure that "no-fault" compensation could continue to be paid to victims of any US conflict.

The new law is aimed specifically at "matching Washington's rhetoric for responsible use of force with practical actions," wrote Sahr Muhammedally, a senior program manager with the center. Campaigners are now wondering why it isn't being applied to Iraq or Syria.

Multiple Partners and Secret Targets
Despite a common enemy in the Islamic State, two different allied air wars are emerging in the Middle East. In Iraq, only Western countries are bombing. They are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government, which the air campaign is in part devoted to propping up. Indeed, both the Pentagon and Britain's Defense Ministry confirm that allied airstrikes are being cleared in advance with Iraq's military.

In Syria, only Arab countries -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates -- have joined the United States in bombing Islamic State targets. (Qatar and Bahrain participated in the first night of bombing on Sept. 23 but have not since participated in bombing operations.) Bashar al-Assad's regime does not consent to these bombings, though its air defenses remain dormant.

So far, only the United States is attacking on both sides of the border, and it remains the dominant partner. Latest figures from Centcom show that the United States has carried out around 85 percent of coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

Unlike United Nations-sanctioned operations in Afghanistan, the allies in the anti-Islamic State campaign are not part of any formal alliance. It is more a loose "coalition of the willing," according to one US defense official -- an echo of the original Iraq invasion back in 2003. Although the United States has established "coalition standards on targeting and the appropriate use of lethal force, which always must account for the possible risk of civilian casualties," these are for guidance only, said a Centcom spokesman.

Instead, "each nation participating in the coalition may modify or supplement this coalition guidance, including rules of engagement, with its own ‘caveats,'" the Centcom spokesman told FP. Every one of the 12 countries involved in the air campaign operates "in accordance with its own legal requirements," according to the spokesperson.

Britain's Defense Ministry, for example, confirmed to Foreign Policy that "we will not undertake missions [in Iraq] if they do not fall within UK [rules of engagement]." Britain's rules of engagement, like those of all other countries in the alliance, remain classified.

So where does an air war leave civilians when 12 countries fly by 12 different rule books? The Pentagon insists that "no other military in the world works as hard as we do to be precise in our targeting." And all allies "have implemented significant mitigation measures within the targeting process and during the conduct of operations to reduce the potential of civilian casualties and collateral damage," according the Centcom spokesman. Yet a number of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria show the difficulty of verifying these assertions.

The Difficulty of Counting
On Oct. 25, a "US raid on a stronghold of the IS [Islamic State] killed two civilians by mistake," according to an Iraqi news agency, citing a medical source at a hospital in Mosul, Iraq. The airstrike, the source said, had hit the city's southern Qayyarah district, and the bodies were taken to the hospital's morgue.

The Mosul case -- one of more than a dozen incidents in which allied aircraft are alleged to have killed Iraqi or Syrian civilians -- highlights many of the challenges for advocates who record civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria and the lethal risks that the air war poses to Iraqi and Syrian civilians.

International monitors picked up on the reported civilian fatalities in Mosul via the National Iraqi News Agency (NINA), an independent Iraqi news wire. According to groups tracking civilian deaths in Iraq, NINA is a reputable source; yet monitors are finding it increasingly difficult to independently verify claims of civilian deaths.

In part they are simply overwhelmed: Iraq Body Count, an independent web-based organization, reports almost 16,000 civilian deaths in Iraq so far this year. Where deaths can be attributed, the overwhelming majority have been caused by the Islamic State, but the cause of thousands of deaths cannot so far be attributed to any party.

The Mosul case is one of at least nine in Iraq in which allied aircraft may have caused civilian deaths, according to monitors. On Oct. 5, for example, at least 18 civilians died when a marketplace was bombed in the town of Hit in Anbar province, according to monitors and international media. Centcom has dismissed the claim of civilian deaths in Hit as "false."

Margaret Griffis, who has helped compile Antiwar.com‘s daily tallies of civilian deaths in Iraq since 2006, said that the quality of casualty reporting depends heavily on location: "Outside the ISIS [Islamic State] zones, we're getting a reasonable idea of the numbers of civilians killed," she said. "But in areas held by Islamic State? I'm not happy."

Mosul, which has been occupied by the jihadi group since June, is a case in point. One senior Baghdad-based journalist, who requested anonymity due to security concerns for the staff of the international news agency where the journalist works, told Foreign Policy that while the news agency was aware of reported civilian casualties from an allied airstrike in Mosul on Oct. 25, "we were never able to confirm it." Local journalists have been a particular target for harassment and murder by the Islamic State, making news-gathering a fraught business and keeping the number of civilian casualties ambiguous.

Centcom's own daily reports can be of little help. "Are the targets they're hitting significant? We can be pretty clueless about that," said the Baghdad-based correspondent. "A house might be bombed. Was it empty, occupied; did it contain weapons? We can't really determine ourselves on a day-to-day basis."

Human Rights Watch also reports significant problems in following up and confirming reports of civilian deaths. "We have heard, for example, of a family killed in Mosul by a US airstrike. And we've tried to verify that claim. But Mosul remains completely inaccessible," said Erin Evers, the group's Iraq director, referring to what may be another incident in Mosul.

In these opaque circumstances, say casualty recorders, there is a particular onus on the United States and its allies to declare where and when each bombing in Iraq and Syria takes place -- particularly where civilian deaths have been alleged. This is frequently not the case.

Attributing US Responsibility
Of the 15 likely airstrikes examined for this report that allegedly caused civilian casualties, seven took place on days when US forces alone carried out missions or where the United States has claimed sole responsibility for an attack. Reports from independent monitors indicate that 49 or more civilians may have died in such attacks.

Three local Syrian residents, for example, have described to Human Rights Watch the deaths of seven women and children in a US cruise missile strike in Syria's Idlib province on Sept. 23, which allegedly targeted the Khorasan Group. Centcom continues to deny any confirmed civilian casualties from the attack.

Another eight airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria reportedly responsible for civilian deaths present significant attribution challenges, with up to four allies participating in attacks on these dates.

The refusal of most coalition members to say where they are bombing means some civilians may never know what country was responsible for dropping the bomb that killed their neighbors or families. (Only in one of the 15 incidents of alleged civilian casualties -- a Sept. 26 strike in Mosul -- were there no allied airstrikes reported in the vicinity by Centcom or its allies.)

The Oct. 25 strike in Mosul, which allegedly killed two civilians, clearly illustrates this problem. Almost one-third of the 600 allied bombings in Iraq to date have targeted Mosul and the surrounding area. Between Oct. 24 and 26 alone, Centcom confirms some 20 allied airstrikes in the area.

That term "airstrike" can be misleading, however. US defense officials concede that what they report as a single incident might involve the targeting of numerous locations. British and Australian statements describe a recent bombing raid on an alleged Islamic State bunker system near Kirkuk that involved 20 aircraft from seven countries and that hit 44 targets. In its own reporting of the incident, Centcom describes just three "strikes."

Nor can any given target location be assumed to be accurate. While Centcom places all allied airstrikes around Oct. 25 in some 45 miles northwest of Mosul, near the city's dam, other allied reports prove otherwise. France's Defense Ministry reported that two of its aircraft dropped four bombs "on a suburb of Mosul" at around midnight, Iraqi time, on the night of Oct. 24.

Other countries might have bombed Mosul that day. Denmark will say only that its air force dropped "30 bombs" somewhere in Iraq during the week of Oct. 26 at locations unknown. The Dutch, too, say they released "dozens of bombs" during the week of Oct. 26 at locations unknown.

As the Mosul case demonstrates, it is often impossible for the public to determine which country is bombing where. Justifying Denmark's position, a Danish military spokesman recently told reporter Rasmus Raun Westh, "One particular attack on one particular area could lead directly back to Danish aircraft. We would rather hide in the crowd."

Hundreds of Civilian Deaths
A particular risk for civilians in Iraq and Syria today is the low quality of pre- and post-strike intelligence. With few US boots on the ground, there is a near-complete dependence on aerial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Yet many analysts and even US officials say that US forces are stretched too thin to provide sufficient intelligence.

By the end of October, only 10 weeks into the campaign, the allies had already dropped 500 more bombs and missiles in Iraq and Syria than in Afghanistan across all of 2014. Even so, Air Forces Central Command, the Air Force division of Centcom, reports 9,450 ISR missions over Afghanistan between August and October. During the same period, just 1,140 ISR flights are reported for Iraq and Syria combined.

That situation is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, with one Air Force official telling the Daily Beast, "As the troops draw down [in Afghanistan], they will need more, not less, ISR." With so few intelligence-gathering assets to call on, it's little wonder that a Pentagon spokesman recently described current civilian casualty assessments in the air war against the Islamic State as "inconclusive."

Centcom's continuing assertion that it has "no operational reporting or intelligence" confirming civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, despite more than 1,000 airstrikes to date, is therefore unlikely to be accurate. Indeed, NATO was later forced to retract similar claims at the end of the 2011 Libyan air war after investigations found that dozens of civilians had in fact died in allied airstrikes.

Casualty monitors believe Centcom's claims are not credible. UK-based Iraq Body Count, another independent monitoring group, estimates that up to 100 civilians may have died in US and allied airstrikes in Iraq -- though these represent less than 2 percent of civilians reported killed in Iraq during the same period, according to the group.

Lily Hamourtziadou, a casualty recorder with Iraq Body Count since 2006, said that of around 6,800 civilians killed in Iraq's violence since August, more than 2,500 are believed to have died at the hands of the Islamic State and its allies. A further 600 or more civilians have been reportedly killed in aggressive operations by the Iraqi military. Due to the lack of reporting and the chaos of the war, it's not possible to attribute all of the 6,800 deaths.

Across the border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that has gained a reputation for balanced reporting of Syria's civil war, uses a network of locals to track civilian and combatant deaths caused by the Assad regime, rebel groups, and now coalition airstrikes.

More than 900 people were killed by the United States and its Arab allies in airstrikes between Sept. 23 and Nov. 21, according to the Syrian Observatory. Of these, around 50 were reportedly civilians. That number pales beside the actions of the Assad regime, which frequently targets civilians in rebel-held areas. "In one week alone in October the regime killed 182 civilians in airstrikes," said Syrian Observatory founder Rami Abdul Rahman.

As allied airstrikes have shifted from rural battlefields like Mount Sinjar and the Mosul Dam to the Islamic State's urban strongholds, they are now often targeting the same locations as the Assad regime or the Iraqi government, adding to the confusion.

The Islamic State's self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, was the target of indiscriminate bombings by the Assad regime in the last week of November, killing up to 200 civilians. Days later, US forces carried out multiple airstrikes of their own on the city, though there have been no reports of noncombatants killed in these attacks.

While there is no love lost between Assad and the allied Arab and Western forces, airstrikes in Iraq are being conducted with the full knowledge and approval of Iraq's security forces, both Centcom and the British Defense Ministry told Foreign Policy. Yet how much this represents any safeguard for civilians is unclear.

According to Iraq Body Count's Hamourtziadou, Iraq's military has itself killed hundreds of civilians during operations in Sunni cities such as Mosul and Tikrit. "There have been nightly airstrikes by the Iraqi Army [in 2014], and these raids have reportedly caused civilian casualties almost every time," she said. The Iraqi military doesn't release information about its targeting and is understood not to pay compensation.

Casualty recorders are calling for the United States and its allies to be far more open about who they are hitting in Iraq and Syria -- and to pay promptly when civilians are killed or injured, whether such actions are lawful or not. "Transparent investigations of all allegations -- and creating appropriate programs to address civilian harm -- are mission critical for US and coalition operations in Iraq and Syria," Muhammedally, of the Center for Civilians in Conflict. "Ignoring losses can and will create anger and resentment among the population."

Chris Woods is a London-based investigative reporter who covered the Iraq conflict from the 2003 US invasion onwards. His book Sudden Justice, on the role of armed drones in modern warfare, will be published by Oxford University Press in Spring 2015.


US-led Strikes Across Syria Kill Civilians, Group Says
Syrian government officials say US not
coordinating with Damascus on strikes, 'but it's OK'

Al Jazeera America

(September 29, 2014) -- US-led airstrikes hit grain silos and other targets in Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)-controlled territory in northern and eastern Syria overnight, killing civilians and wounding insurgents, a group monitoring the war said on Monday.

The aircraft may have mistaken the mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij for an ISIL base, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The US military said its strikes were part of President Barack Obama's "comprehensive strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL."

"Although we continue to assess the outcome of these attacks, initial indications are that they were successful," read a statement from US Central Command (CENTCOM), which is coordinating the air campaign.

CENTCOM added that the grain silo it struck was in the hands of ISIL, the violent Al-Qaeda splinter group that swept through Iraq and Syria this summer.

"The storage facility was being used by ISIL as a logistics hub and vehicle staging facility," CENTCOM said.

However, the bombing in Manbij appeared to have killed only civilians, not fighters, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, which gathers information from sources in Syria.

"These were the workers at the silos. They provide food for the people," he said. He could not give a number of casualties and it was not immediately possible to verify the information.

The United States has targeted ISIL and other fighters in Syria since last week with the help of Arab allies, and has hit ISIL in Iraq since last month. Washington says it aims to damage and destroy the bases, forces and supply lines of the violent armed group that has captured large areas of both countries.

Manbij, the target site, sits between the western city of Aleppo and the northern town of Kobane, which ISIL has been trying to capture from Kurdish forces, forcing tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds to flee over the border to Turkey. Turkish tanks have been sent to hills overlooking Kobane, and placed, some with their guns pointing towards Syrian territory where ISIL positions were visible from the Turkish side of the border.

The CENTCOM statement also listed other strikes in the region, including what it said were ISIL assets in Deir al-Zour, Aleppo and Raqqa, the heart of ISIL-held territory.

Bombs also hit ISIL vehicles near Kirkuk, a contested city near the Kurdish region of Iraq, and Sinjar, just west of Kirkuk, where thousands of Yazidis, a religious minority, sought refuge from the ISIL onslaught in August. Participating with the US in the attacks were the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

'We Are Satisfied'
Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Moallem on Monday said Damascus was satisfied with the US-led bombing campaign against ISIL, adding that the airstrikes should be expanded to include all other rebel groups in Syria.

Rebel groups unaffiliated with ISIL, meanwhile, have criticized the US for not targeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's dictatorial regime, which they seek to overthrow. The White House maintains, as it has since the beginning of Syria's civil war in 2011, that it hopes Assad will leave power, but has not effectively backed any anti-government group.

American diplomats have denied that they are working in concert with the regime -- sometimes informing Syrian officials that the raids would take place, but not asking for permission to strike.

Al-Moallem said the US does not inform Syria of every strike before it happens, "but it's OK."

"We are fighting ISIS, they are fighting ISIS," he said, referring to the group by one of its acronyms. "Until today, we are satisfied. As long as they are aiming at ISIS locations in Syria and in Iraq, we are satisfied," he said.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press



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