NEW DELHI: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that eight civilians have died because of airstrikes by the United States including three children on Tuesday, and a further five civilians on Wednesday. Rebel forces, meanwhile, pinned the number of civilian casualties at a far higher 11 dead in Idib and five in Homs.

The Pentagon,however, referring to its battle damage assessment “up until now” has claimed that there have been no civilian casualties since the US-led coalition forces began air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syrian territory earlier this week.

Speaking to the LA Times, Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said that whilst military intelligence was still incomplete, before and after photos of the sites hit by the strikes did not appear to show civilian casualties. “We took all available mitigating actions to reduce civilian casualties," Warren said. "Right now we believe there were no civilian casualties.”

The Times reports: adel Abdul Ghany, head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which tallies daily death tolls and other data of the Syrian conflict, said he was contacted Tuesday by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and asked about reports of civilian deaths.

He said he sent a report identifying civilians reported killed in Dair Alzour and elsewhere. But he said he could not provide photographs, videos or other evidence because the towns are controlled by Islamic State. The State Department took the information and didn’t respond, he said. “It’s in the American’s interest to hide it,” he said Wednesday after the Pentagon denial of civilian casualties. “The reality is there are civilians and there are fighters” among the dead.

Further, given that the strikes also targeted Al Nusra Front terrorists, who control entire villages where they also enjoy civilian support, it is difficult to assess the number of civilians killed as the identification process would label most residents of these villages militants, despite them being actively involved in militant activity or not.

As the US began its attack on Syria on Tuesday, Syria became the seventh country to be bombed by the US in the six years that President Obama has been in power. The other countries are are Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya.

The US however, has not officially declared war since 1942, so technically, none of the above military offenses count as war. Further, if the definition of military engagement is broadened to include special operation forces, the US is militarily involved in 134 countries, either in combat, special missions or advising and training foreign forces.

In Syria, the US’ has been involved in funding, advising and training not Syrian government forces, but rebel militias opposed to President Bashar al Assad. In fact, the advance of anti-government forces in Syria -- which include the Islamic State, who are the target of these strikes -- was made possible in turn, by the US and allies assistance to Sunni rebels, who share with the US the objective to topple Alawite leader Assad. The US greenlighted Turkish and Saudi aid to anti-Assad rebels, supplied these groups with material and financial assistance, and used the CIA to train rebels at a secret base in Jordan.

This not to suggest that the rebels in Syria present a homogenous group, as there is considerable infighting, with the IS militants facing setbacks at the hands of the Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army, for instance. However, affiliations change rapidly, and the IS group -- when it was known as Al Qaeda in Iraq -- had expressed solidarity with the rebels in Syria, following which the US immediately increased aid to anti-Assad forces. The aid began as non-lethal aid, but following a June 2013 White House statement that said there was reason to believe that Assad had been using chemical weapons against rebels, the US decided to extend lethal aid to anti-Assad militias. The total aid given by the US to rebels in Syria, according to USAID figures, amounts to over $1 billion.

Earlier this month, the United States senate voted 78-22 in favour of a resolution that calls for continuing the provision to arm and train Syrian rebels.

This approval, and the strikes that have followed, come after Obama’s speech on the eve of September 11, that outlined a four step strategy to combat IS, focusing on air strikes, support to on-the-ground partner forces, counter terrorism operations and humanitarian aid. In that speech, Obama clearly stated that in addition to Iraq, where the US has the support of the government to conduct air strikes against IS militants, the strategy would also apply to Syria. “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria as well as Iraq,” Obama had said.

The Syrian government immediately responded with a warning that any foreign intervention in the country will amount to a an act of aggression unless it is approved by Damascus. Ali Haidar, minister of national reconciliation affairs, speaking to reporters in the Syrian capital, said, “Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria. There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not."

It is also worth noting that the US has threatened the Assad regime with military action on many occasions in the past, but stopped short of following through. In stating that the goal of the strikes is to target IS militants, the Obama administration has finally found the legal justification for a long-deliberated action. Further, even though the US maintains that there have been no civilian casualties because of its actions, the truth is perhaps far murkier.