ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A violent explosion rocked the center of Syria’s Kurdish city of Manbij on Wednesday afternoon, with initial reports indicating that at least tens of people, including US military personnel, were killed or injured in the blast. Later reports confirmed US soldiers were killed in the attack.
“An explosion in Manbij’s busy market street, initial reports of casualties,” Sharvan Darwish, the official spokesperson of the Manbij Military Council (MMC) tweeted. He added that one member of the MMC had been killed.
“Six civilians were killed and 19 others wounded as a result of an explosion in the center of the city of Manbij, while a US military patrol was passing,” an Al-Jazeera report asserted.
“Four US soldiers were at the site of the bombing,” Hawar News Agency (ANHA) reported at the scene, adding, however, that the personnel had been at a restaurant near where the bombing occurred.
Shortly after, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the “suicide attack” that targeted “an international coalition patrol” in Manbij.
Sources on location told Kurdistan 24 that among the US soldiers present, two had been killed, while Turkish media outlets stated that the US soldiers were only injured.
Following the incident, social media videos purportedly showed a US helicopter flying over the city of Manbij. One source told Kurdistan 24 said US soldiers were being evacuated.
Army Colonel Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for the US-led coalition, told Kurdistan 24 that “US service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria” on Wednesday.
“We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time,” he added in a tweet.
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.— OIR Spokesperson (@OIRSpox) January 16, 2019
One US official told Reuters that four American soldiers were killed and three wounded in a blast on Wednesday in the Syrian town of Manbij.
On Wednesday evening, the Pentagon confirmed that “two US servicemembers, one Department of Defense civilian and one contractor supporting DoD were killed and three servicemembers were injured while conducting a local engagement in Manbij.”
“Initial reports indicate an explosion caused the casualties, and the incident is under investigation,” it added.
The Islamic State later released a statement claiming a suicide attacker by the name of Abu Yasin al-Shami targeted the US-led coalition near the Qasr al-Omara restaurant.
“He blew it up in their midst, leaving 9 [US] crusaders among the killed and wounded, and a number of their apostate collaborators.”
Nicholas A. Heras, a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), told Kurdistan 24 that the attack is an escalation by the Islamic State “and a signal that the Americans aren't done yet. This means that ISIS has agents in Manbij that have been monitoring the US patrols.”
“The timing would indicate that ISIS wants to show the world that the Americans have not beaten it, and that it can strike the Americans as it chooses in Syria.”
Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, a Syrian researcher at the Middle East Forum, said the Islamic State continues to conduct attacks in Manbij and will do so even if the US withdraws its forces.
“The Islamic State operations as insurgent forces in Manbij have been going on for some time now, and it will continue regardless [if] the withdrawal happens or not,” Tamimi told Kurdistan 24.
This is not the first time that the Islamic States has claimed an attack against the US-led coalition in Manbij.
On March 29, 2018, Master Sergeant Jonathan Dunbar was one of two service members killed by an improvised explosive device. Five other service members were wounded in the same attack.
Editing by Nadia Riva, John J. Catherine, and Karzan Sulaivany
(Kosar Nawzad contributed to this report)