BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian activists shared a photo on social media on Friday of two children they said were killed in U.S. air strikes on Wednesday night which Washington said targeted an al Qaeda-linked militant faction.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had no comment on the authenticity of the images or whether they might have been caused by U.S. bombing.
“We of course strive to avoid civilian casualties even in this extremely complex operating environment and we recognize the inherent risk in strikes...When any accusations are made or information is brought forward, we would certainly look into that and take it seriously.”
The photo, sent to Reuters by an activist in Idlib province, showed two young children covered in blood and dust. The activist, who asked to remain anonymous, said a total of four children were killed in a strike which hit the town of Harem.
Reuters could not independently confirm the authenticity of the image.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group, which tracks the violence in the civil war, also reported that two children were killed by a U.S. strike in Harem.
The United Nations says that more than 190,000 people have been killed in Syria’s three-year-long civil war. More than 2,000 children under nine are among those killed, it says.
In a statement on Thursday, U.S. Central Command said strikes were carried out against five Khorasan targets near Sarmada in Idlib province, 20 km (12 miles) east of Harem and close to the Turkish border.
“We took decisive action to protect our interests and remove their capability to act,” it said, adding that al Qaeda militants “are taking advantage of the Syrian conflict to advance attacks against Western interests.”
Khorasan is the Islamic term for an area including parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where al Qaeda’s council is believed to be in hiding. Khorasan is believed to be a foreign fighter cell in the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official Syria wing.
But the U.S. differentiates between Khorasan and the Nusra Front. General Lloyd Austin, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, said on Thursday that there were “no strikes conducted against al Nusra”.
A separate Syrian Islamist rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, said in a statement on Thursday that the air strikes had leveled one of its bases in Idlib province near the Turkish border and also killed civilians including women and children.
The United States has been carrying out strikes in Iraq against Islamic State since July and in Syria since September with the help of allies. Washington did not say it had targeted Ahrar al-Sham.
Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes in Beirut; editing by Ralph Boulton