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blast

Civilians, US troops killed in blast in northern Syria

Suicide bomber strikes area near a US-led coalition patrol in the Kurdish-held Syrian town of Manbij.

Several people, including US troops, were reportedly killed after a blast struck near a US-led coalition patrol in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Wednesday.

The US-led coalition confirmed on Twitter that US troops were killed during the explosion, but did not elaborate on the number of casualties. It said it was still gathering information about the attack.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that 20 people were killed, including five US soldiers.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council, which administers the town, said the attack occurred near a restaurant.

A website linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility, saying an attacker used an explosive vest to carry out the attack.

 

A screen grab taken from a video obtained by AFPTV on January 16, 2019, shows US troops gathered at the scene of a suicide attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij [ANHA/AFP] 

 

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said wounded US soldiers were transferred to a hospital by helicopter.

Videos released by local activists and news agencies showed a restaurant that suffered extensive damage and a street covered in debris and blood. Several cars were also damaged. Another video showed a helicopter flying over the area. The videos could not be immediately verified.

‘We’ll stay to fight so ISIL doesn’t rear ugly head’

The attack comes as the US begins the process of withdrawing about 2,000 troops from Syria. If the death toll is confirmed, it would be the deadliest attack on US forces in Syria since they deployed on the ground there in 2015.

Last month, US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal announcement surprised many politicians in Washington as well as Western and Kurdish allies fighting alongside the US against ISIL.

The move prompted US Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign, and the top US envoy in the anti-ISIL fight, Brett McGurk, to leave his post earlier than expected.

Trump’s decision was initially expected to be carried out swiftly, but the timetable became vague in the weeks following his announcement.

Following Wednesday’s attack, US Vice President Mike Pence said his country “will stay in the region … to fight to ensure that ISIS does not rear its ugly head again”.

Speaking to a gathering of US ambassadors at the State Department, Pence said, “We will protect the gains that our soldiers and our coalition partners have secured”.

But, he added that the US is “now actually able to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners and we are bringing troops home.”

Pence declared ISIL “defeated” without referencing Wednesday’s attack.

US-led coalition forces have been targeted in the area before, although such incidents have been rare.

In March last year, a roadside bomb killed two coalition personnel, an American and UK national, and wounded five in Manbij.

 

{SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES}

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