A Syrian man carries a child who was retrieved under the rubble of a collapsed building following a US airstrike on Sakhur in the northern city of Aleppo on July 19, 2016. © AFP

Source: Press TV

A US military spokesman says Daesh terrorists have been using thousands of Syrians as human shields in the battle in the northern city of Manjib, where dozens of civilians were killed this week in the US airstrikes, which were carried out despite reports of civilian presence among the terrorists.

The Baghdad-based spokesman for the US-led coalition, Colonel Chris Garver, said on Friday that the terrorist group “used civilians as human shields and as bait” in an effort to draw the fire of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) toward the people.

The SDF, a coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters, has moved “slowly and deliberately” through western Manbij and toward the city’s center, where at least “a couple thousand” civilians remain trapped by the terrorists, he said

Garver said the coalition received both internal and external reports “that there may have been civilians in the area who are mixed in and among the Daesh fighters.” He said that the presence of the civilians has complicated the operations to capture the strategic town of Manjib.

At least 140 civilians were killed in French and US airstrikes in Manbij on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We apply an extraordinary amount of rigor into strike-clearance procedures to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties or unnecessary collateral damage and to comply with the principles of the law of armed conflict,” he claimed.

On Thursday, opposition groups in Syria called on the US and allies to suspend airstrikes  until an investigation is completed into the deaths.

People look for victims under the rubble of a collapsed building following a reported air strike on Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on July 19, 2016. © AFP

Local sources, however said the warplanes continue to hit targets in al-Nawajah village east of Manbij on Saturday, leaving at least 15 people dead or injured.

Garver said the Pentagon is continuing a “credibility assessment” of the reports of civilian deaths. That initial investigation should be completed in about the next 10 days.

The US-led coalition has been backing the Syrian Democratic Forces to capture Manbij since last May. The coalition has conducted more than 500 airstrikes near the city since the SDF launched its operation.

Since March 2011, the United States and its regional allies, in particular Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, have been conducting a proxy war against Syria.

The conflict has left more than 470,000 Syrians dead and half of the country’s population of about 23 million displaced within or beyond the Arab country’s borders.

In September 2014, the US and some of its allies started conducting airstrikes inside Syria against Daesh terrorists, many of whom were initially trained by the CIA to fight against the Syrian government.