In one of the worst reported incidents in nine months of bombings by the US-led Ccoalition, 64 civilians were said to have died in an attack on the village of Ber Mahli near Sareen – the majority of them women (19) and children (32). It remains disputed as to whether the village was partly or wholly under the control of Islamic State forces at the time.
Later admitting that it had carried out a strike on the village, the Coalition said it had instead bombed “several ISIL fighting positions [and] striking more than 50 ISIL fighters.” A CJTF-OIR spokesman appeared to blame any error on Kurdish forces in the area, telling Airwars by email that: “Prior to the airstrikes, Kurdish forces, who held the town before leaving after being attacked by ISIL, reported there were no civilians present in that location and that there had not been any civilians present for two weeks prior to the Coalition airstrikes.”
An internal CENTCOM investigation almost immediately decided “allegation initially not determined credible”, it was revealed in September 2015. The declassified document also appeared to pin responsibility for any error on the YPG, noting that the Kurdish fighters “had held the village up until the ISIL attack and [reported] that there were no civilians in the village.”
According to Al Jazeera, eyewitnesses said that when the village was first bombed, residents ran out of their houses. However Ber Mahli was then repeatedly struck, including a group of cars leaving the village. SN4HR also claimed that “some of the houses were targeted again after people and medical teams gathered to help the victims and wounded.”
Speaking from his hospital bed, one injured survivor spoke of the attack: “We were four families gathered in one room. It was around 11 or 12 at night. They kept on striking the houses. The first time they struck, my cousin was killed with his small children. Why did this happen? Is it because Obama wants to please the King of Saudi Arabia? Why is the coalition bombing us? Why don’t they fight [President] Bashar?“
Another unnamed and injured survivor, a young girl, also spoke for the cameras:”The planes came above us and bombed us and destroyed houses. My father was killed and two of my sisters.”
Buzzfeed also interviewed a 67-year-old witness to the attack, who went by the name of Abu Khaled, who corroborated the names of many of those killed. “They killed whole families. The Americans will never apologize, and they will keep killing civilians,” hecomplained to the news site from southern Turkey.
All 64 known fatalities have now been named by SN4HR and by Manbij News, indicating that entire families were wiped out.
Fadel Abdulghani, head of monitoring group the Syrian Network for Human Rights, demanded that those in the coalition responsible for the deaths be held accountable: “Despite all the efforts made to avoid this, this incident indicates a blatant disrespect for the lives of innocent civilians. The people responsible for this crime should be held accountable which would be a clear message to their associates and commanders.”
In an assessment of the event published in October 2016, it was noted that “a review by Amnesty International of a series of aerial images of the Bir Mahli area, including a satellite image taken approximately one week after the attack, indicates four strike locations and nine to 10 houses being completely flattened…. Amnesty International is concerned that Coalition forces appear to have either mistakenly carried out a large-scale attack on an entirely civilian area having failed to take adequate steps to positively identify a military objective prior to attacking or to have carried out a grossly disproportionate attack against suspected IS targets. In addition, CENTCOM appears to have dismissed evidence indicating scores of civilian casualties.“
The local time of the incident is unknown.