December 3, 2021

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Pentagon Chief Orders Briefing on 2019 Syria Airstrike That Killed Dozens

Pentagon Chief Orders Briefing on 2019 Syria Airstrike That Killed Dozens

WASHINGTON — Protection Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered the army’s high commander within the Center East to temporary him on particulars of a U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 that killed dozens of girls and youngsters, the Pentagon mentioned on Monday.

The Pentagon’s high spokesman, John F. Kirby, mentioned Mr. Austin, who turned secretary this 12 months after the Biden administration took workplace, requested the briefing after studying an investigative report published over the weekend by The New York Times detailing the strike and allegations that high officers and civilian officers sought to hide the casualties.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the pinnacle of the army’s Central Command, which oversaw the air warfare in Syria, will “temporary him extra particularly on that specific airstrike” and its dealing with, Mr. Kirby instructed reporters.

Mr. Kirby wouldn’t touch upon particulars of the strike, a bombing at Baghuz, Syria, on March 18, 2019, that was a part of the ultimate battle in opposition to Islamic State fighters within the final shard of a once-sprawling non secular state throughout Iraq and Syria. It was one of many largest civilian casualty incidents of the yearslong warfare in opposition to ISIS, however had by no means been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. army.

“I’m not going to relitigate a strike that occurred again in March of 2019,” Mr. Kirby mentioned.

As an alternative, he sought to defend the American army’s requirements and procedures for waging a contemporary, precision-strike warfare that additionally emphasizes mitigation of the danger to civilians.

“No army on this planet works as laborious as we do to keep away from civilian casualties,” Mr. Kirby mentioned. “That doesn’t imply that we don’t all the time get it proper. We don’t. We work laborious to keep away from civilian hurt. We additionally need to try ourselves.”

The Occasions investigation confirmed that the dying toll from the strike was virtually instantly obvious to army officers. A authorized officer flagged the bombing as a attainable warfare crime that required an investigation. However at practically each step, the army made strikes that hid the catastrophic strike. The dying toll was downplayed. Stories have been delayed, sanitized and categorized. U.S.-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast website. And high leaders weren’t notified.

An preliminary battle harm evaluation rapidly discovered that the variety of lifeless was about 70.

The Occasions investigation discovered that the bombing by Air Pressure F-15 assault jets had been referred to as in by a categorized American Particular Operations unit, Job Pressure 9, which was in command of floor operations in Syria. The duty pressure operated in such secrecy that at occasions it didn’t inform even its personal army companions of its actions. Within the case of the Baghuz bombing, the air command middle at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar had no concept the strike was coming, an officer who served on the command middle mentioned.

The Protection Division’s impartial inspector normal started an inquiry, however the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any point out of the strike.

Mr. Kirby mentioned, although, that two research analyzing civilian casualties commissioned by the Pentagon have been wrapping up, and would quickly be made public.

One research, began throughout the Trump administration by the Pentagon’s Particular Operations coverage workplace, particularly appears at civilian casualties brought on by army operations in Syria. Mr. Kirby mentioned he didn’t know if the March 2019 airstrike can be included in that assessment.

A second research, required by Congress as a part of a current army coverage invoice, appears on the broader difficulty of civilian casualties in American army operations, Mr. Kirby mentioned.

“We’re keen to maintain taking a look at ourselves with respect to civilian hurt, and to do every part we will to attempt to mitigate that,” he mentioned.

Final week, after The Occasions despatched its findings to U.S. Central Command, the command acknowledged the assault for the primary time, saying that 80 individuals have been killed however that the airstrike was justified. It mentioned three bombs — one 500-pound and two 2,000-pound munitions — killed 16 fighters and 4 civilians. As for the opposite 60 individuals killed, the assertion mentioned it was not clear that they have been civilians, partly as a result of ladies and youngsters within the Islamic State typically took up arms.

Human rights advocates expressed outrage on Monday on the strike and the army’s dealing with of it, and demanded that Congress open an impartial investigation.

“Clearly, the U.S. army isn’t going to repair it,” mentioned Sarah Holewinski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch and a former senior adviser on human rights to the army’s Joint Employees. “The Pentagon has by no means prioritized civilian hurt. Ever. I’m bored with that speaking level.”

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