WASHINGTON — The U.S. has intensified its Syrian air campaign against ISIS.
U.S. and coalition aircraft have increased strikes on Raqqa, Syria, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, the commanding general for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters in Baghdad.
“Regarding strikes in Raqqa there has been an uptick,” Townsend said.
According to daily strike reports published by Operation Inherent Resolve, Raqqa has been hit with more than 300 strikes in the last seven days.
The uptick in air support to U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters on the ground, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, is a result of two things, Townsend explained.
For one, now that Mosul has been liberated, Raqqa is the No. 1 priority for the coalition, he said.
And secondly, “The fight has now entered into the very hardest part,” he said. And U.S-backed fighters clawing through dense urban terrain and narrow alleyways “need greater assistance.”
However, the increase in operations tempo against ISIS fighters holed up in the beleaguered city has not come without a cost.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights watchdog group, about 167 civilians have died in the last 24 hours as a result of coalition shelling and air support.
Townsend and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis pushed back on those claims.
It would be “logical to assume” civilian deaths would increase as a result of an uptick in operations, Townsend said. But he would need to see “hard information” on the civilian casualties.
There is “no military in the world’s history that has paid more attention to limiting civilian casualties and the deaths of innocents on the battlefield than the coalition,” Mattis told reporters at the briefing in Baghdad. The onus is ISIS, according to Mattis.
An “enemy that fights behind women and children,” is “clearly showing who are the people violating every standard of decency.”
But, “in this kind of warfare tragedy will happen,” Mattis said.
Mattis stated that it was important to “stay focused like a laser beam on the defeat of ISIS.”
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.