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Syria war: 'IS suicide bomber' kills US troops in Manbij

January 17, 2019 10:15 am
The Kurdish Hawar News Agency said the blast occurred at a restaurant [Source: AFP]

US soldiers have been killed in an apparent suicide bombing in northern Syria claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group, the US military says.

IS said a militant had detonated an explosive vest next to a US patrol in the Kurdish-held town of Manbij.

Three US soldiers, two local security officers and 13 civilians died, a Kurdish news agency reports.

US forces are in Manbij to back Kurdish and Arab fighters who have driven IS out of almost all of eastern Syria.

Wednesday’s attack took place at a restaurant near Manbij’s main market.

The US troops were at the restaurant to meet members of the Manbij Military Council, a witness told Reuters news agency.

CCTV footage from a nearby shop shows a large fireball engulfing several people standing on the street outside.

The US soldiers were subsequently evacuated by a helicopter that landed on a playground, the Syrian Kurdish Hawar News Agency reports.

It cited the head of Manbij’s health committee as saying that 18 people had been killed, including three of the soldiers, and that another 18 had been wounded.

Later, a spokesperson for the US-led multinational coalition against IS tweeted: “U.S. service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today. We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time.”

Reuters cites a US official as saying four soldiers died and three were wounded.

Last month, President Donald Trump announced that the US would begin pulling out all its 2,000 troops from Syria because IS had been “defeated”.

Opponents of the withdrawal stressed that although IS now controlled only 1% of the territory they overran five years ago, the group had not disappeared entirely.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has previously criticised Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, said on Wednesday that the move could encourage IS attacks and “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting”.

Later, US Vice-President Mike Pence said he and President Trump condemned the attack in Syria but reiterated that the withdrawal plan would continue.

“We have crushed the [IS] caliphate and devastated its capabilities. As we begin to bring our troops home… we will never allow the remnants of [IS] to reestablish their evil and murderous caliphate.”

A recent US report said there were still as many as 14,000 IS militants in Syria and even more in neighbouring Iraq – and that they were expected to shift to guerrilla tactics in an attempt to rebuild their network.

Syrian Kurds also fear that Manbij and other towns they control near the border with Turkey might come under attack by the Turkish military, which wants to clear them of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia.

The Turkish government considers the YPG an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades. However, it denies any direct organisational links to the group.