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US coalition killing more civilians than Russia in Syria: Report

Conflict monitor Airwars says shift in balance comes amid increase in US-led operations and end of siege of Aleppo
Syrian men carry babies through the rubble after an air strike on Salihin, Aleppo, on 11 September 2016 (Reuters)

The US-led coalition is killing more civilians than Russia in its campaign in Syria for the first time since Moscow entered the country's civil war in 2015, according to data from a war monitor.

The Airwars website reported coalition attacks killed an estimated 254 non-combatants in January, whereas according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 48 non-combatants were reported killed in Russian attacks.

Airwars said it identified 95 separate "civilian casualty events" in January across Iraq and Syria which allegedly involved US coalition air attacks. In the same period, there were 57 alleged Russian attacks in Syria.

Those figures contrasted to 14 times more casualties from Russian strikes (713) than US coalition strikes in January 2016.

The monitor said that the shift was in part due to the end of the siege in Aleppo, where Russian air attacks are believed to have killed thousands of people in months of bombing up to and including December, as Syrian government forces and their allies battled rebels in the city. 

The US, conversely, has stepped up bombing in Syria - targeting the IS stronghold of Raqqa with 21 attacks in one 24-hour period in February, and also bombing members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, in western Syria.

It has also increased attacks in neighbouring Iraq, where allies are trying to eject the Islamic State group from Mosul.

January’s civilian toll in Syria is by far the highest in more than two and a half years of coalition air strikes, Airwars said.

Julien Barnes-Dacey, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Airwars that the trend could accelerate further if US President Donald Trump relaxes the rules of engagement in Syria and Iraq.

Trump on 28 January ordered his military commanders to find a more aggressive plan to defeat IS, and placed a 30-day deadline on ideas.

It is reported that he has dumped plans to retake Raqqa drawn up by his predecessor, Barack Obama, as the US seeks a new policy.

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