Two children were likely killed by a U.S. air strike in Syria in November, the U.S. military said on Thursday, the first time the Pentagon has acknowledged civilian casualties since it began an air campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Two noncombatant adults also received minor injuries in the November air strikes, which targeted an explosives manufacturing facility operated by the al Qaeda-linked Khorasan Group, the U.S. military's Central Command said after an investigation of the reported casualties.
There have been several dozen reports of civilian casualties in the coalition bombing campaign that began Aug. 8, but the investigation released on Thursday was the first time the U.S. military has confirmed that civilian deaths were likely.
The military has examined 46 separate reports of civilian casualties since Aug. 8, a Pentagon spokeswoman said. Of that number, 35 were found to be either not credible or the department did not have enough information to assess them.
Three of the allegations, involving three separate incidents, are being investigated to make a determination of the cause of the alleged injuries. The credibility of six other allegations is still being evaluated, she said.
The likely deaths acknowledged on Thursday took place on Nov. 5-6 when U.S. aircraft targeted a Khorasan Group facility near Harim City, Syria, that was used to make explosives and improvised bombs, according to a redacted investigation released on Thursday.
"We regret the unintentional loss of lives," said Lieutenant General James Terry, head of the U.S.-led military task force fighting Islamic State. "The coalition continues to take all reasonable measures during the targeting process to mitigate risks to noncombatants."
U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for American troops in the Middle East, began receiving reports within a few days that there may have been civilian casualties in the air strikes, including the daughter of a known enemy fighter, the investigation said.
"A preponderance of the evidence available indicates the strikes likely resulted in the deaths of two civilian children at or near one of the targeted locations," the investigation concluded.
Central Command said that before striking the militant faction, the Pentagon conducted "a thorough assessment, review and validation process" and believed the targeted buildings were used exclusively for military purposes.
The investigation found the November air strikes struck their intended targets accurately, triggering secondary explosions, the statement said.