US says 2019 airstrike in Syria investigated by NY Times “legitimate”


U.S. Central Command said on Sunday that a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria was “legitimate,” after a New York Times investigation said the military covered up the deaths of dozens of non- fighters.

The newspaper published the results of its investigation on Saturday, claiming that a US special force operating in Syria – sometimes leaving its military partners in the dark to preserve secrecy – dropped three bombs on a group of civilians near the state group’s stronghold. Islamist Baghouz, killing 70 people, mostly women and children.

The report states that an American lawyer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” but that “at almost every step, the military took action that masked the catastrophic strike.”

Based on confidential documents, interviews with personnel directly involved and officials with maximum security clearance, the New York Times found that the strike “was one of the largest incidents of civilian casualties in the war against the Islamic State “, although never publicly acknowledged by the United States. military.

“The death toll has been minimized. Reports have been delayed, sanitized and classified. US-led coalition forces razed the site of the blast. And key leaders were not informed.” , the report said, adding that the findings of the independent Pentagon Inspector General’s investigation were “blocked and stripped of any mention of the strike.

In a detailed response, the Central Command (CENTCOM) said an investigation revealed that the strike was “in self-defense”, “proportional” and that “appropriate measures had been taken to exclude the presence of civilians”.

He added that an investigation was opened after a military report revealed that there were likely civilian casualties.

With 16 IS fighters determined to have died in the bombing, the investigation concluded that at least four civilians were killed and eight injured.

“We have self-declared and investigated the strike based on our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintentional loss of life,” CENTCOM spokesman Captain Bill Urban said.

He said the investigation could not “conclusively characterize the status of more than 60 other victims,” ​​adding that some women and children, “whether by indoctrination or by choice, have decided to take up arms. in this battle and as such could not be strictly classified as civilians. “

“Bypass the guarantees”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their US-led coalition allies declared the defeat of a self-proclaimed ISIS “caliphate” in March 2019 after years of fighting that culminated in the eviction of the jihadists from their last Syrian stronghold in the eastern village of Baghouz. .

According to the Times, the strike was carried out despite the presence of civilians by the special operations unit “Task Force 9” after a request from the SDF and ignoring the military guidelines in place to protect civilians.

Each bombardment had to be preceded by checks, which sometimes lasted for days or weeks.

But “over time, some officials overseeing the air campaign began to believe the task force was systematically bypassing safeguards created to limit civilian deaths,” the report said.

On March 18, 2019, Task Force 9 circumvented surveillance by signaling imminent danger and invoking self-defense, as in many other strikes during this conflict, according to the Times.

Urban said that morning that “an SDF position under heavy fire and in danger of being invaded called for defensive airstrikes on the positions of ISIS fighters,” adding that the SDF and the forces special operations on the ground reported no civilians in the area.

The investigation determined that no disciplinary action was required after the bombing, but that it led to new high-definition video requirements for future similar strikes and increased coordination with police officers. “Surveillance assets” in the strike zone.



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