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Russian airstrikes killing more civilians than ISIS militants, activists say

KADIRLI, Turkey -- The 4-year-old Syrian girl was ending her first trip to her grandparents' house. Posing for the last family photos before returning to Turkey with her mother, Raghad dressed up in a pretty blue-and-white polka dot dress and put her hair up in ponytails with red barrettes.

About an hour later, Russian warplanes were heard overhead and the missiles struck. Raghad, her grandfather and another relative were killed.

The girl is among dozens of civilians who activists say have been killed in the Russian air campaign in Syria, which Moscow says is aimed at crushing the Islamic State group and other Islamic militants.

But the month-old Russian bombardment has killed more civilians than it has ISIS militants, according to the main activist group tracking the conflict, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Despite Russian boasts to be going after the extremists more ferociously than Americans have, the Observatory's figures also suggest the air campaign waged by a U.S.-led coalition the past 13 months has killed ISIS members at a higher rate while harming civilians less.

The Observatory said it has so far confirmed 185 civilians killed in Russian strikes the past month, including 46 women and 48 children, while the toll among ISIS fighters was 131. The heaviest toll came among Syrian rebels not connected to ISIS, with 279 dead, the group said. In contrast, the U.S.-led air campaign has killed 3,726 ISIS members, an average of 252 a month, and 225 civilians, according to the Observatory's statistics.

The Russians have flatly dismissed all claims of civilian casualties or damage, saying they use various intelligence sources to plan each strike to make sure there is no collateral damage.

U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. forces in the Middle East, confirmed two civilian casualties from a Nov. 5, 2014, U.S. airstrike in the vicinity of the Syrian city of Harim, and has seven open investigations into civilian casualty allegations, said Col. Pat Ryder, spokesman for Tampa, Florida-based CentCom.

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