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Pentagon Chief Orders Briefing on 2019 Syria Airstrike That Killed Dozens

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WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered the army’s prime commander within the Middle East to temporary him on particulars of a U.S. airstrike in Syria in 2019 that killed dozens of ladies and kids, the Pentagon mentioned on Monday.

The Pentagon’s prime spokesman, John F. Kirby, mentioned Mr. Austin, who turned secretary this yr after the Biden administration took workplace, requested the briefing after studying an investigative report revealed over the weekend by The New York Times detailing the strike and allegations that prime 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 “brief him more specifically on that particular airstrike” and its dealing with, Mr. Kirby informed reporters.

Mr. Kirby wouldn’t remark on particulars of the strike, a bombing at Baghuz, Syria, on March 18, 2019, that was a part of the ultimate battle towards 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 towards ISIS, however had by no means been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. army.

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

Instead, 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 military in the world works as hard as we do to avoid civilian casualties,” Mr. Kirby mentioned. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t always get it right. We don’t. We work hard to avoid civilian harm. We also want to take a look at ourselves.”

The Times investigation confirmed that the loss of life toll from the strike was virtually instantly obvious to army officers. A authorized officer flagged the bombing as a potential warfare crime that required an investigation. But at practically each step, the army made strikes that hid the catastrophic strike. The loss of life toll was downplayed. Reports had been delayed, sanitized and labeled. U.S.-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast website. And prime leaders weren’t notified.

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

The Times investigation discovered that the bombing by Air Force F-15 assault jets had been known as in by a labeled American Special Operations unit, Task Force 9, which was answerable for floor operations in Syria. The job pressure operated in such secrecy that at instances it didn’t inform even its personal army companions of its actions. In 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 Defense Department’s impartial inspector common 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 had been wrapping up, and would quickly be made public.

One examine, began through the Trump administration by the Pentagon’s Special Operations coverage workplace, particularly seems to be at civilian casualties attributable to army operations in Syria. Mr. Kirby mentioned he didn’t know if the March 2019 airstrike could be included in that evaluate.

A second examine, required by Congress as a part of a latest army coverage invoice, seems to be on the broader challenge of civilian casualties in American army operations, Mr. Kirby mentioned.

“We’re willing to keep looking at ourselves with respect to civilian harm, and to do everything we can to try to mitigate that,” he mentioned.

Last week, after The Times despatched its findings to U.S. Central Command, the command acknowledged the assault for the primary time, saying that 80 individuals had 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 had been civilians, partly as a result of ladies and kids within the Islamic State generally 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. military isn’t going to fix it,” mentioned Sarah Holewinski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch and a former senior adviser on human rights to the army’s Joint Staff. “The Pentagon has never prioritized civilian harm. Ever. I’m tired of that talking point.”