Published on : Modified :
After an internal investigation, the US Department of Defense announced on Tuesday that those responsible for a March 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Baghouz, Syria, committed no fault, contrary to reports in the New York Times. As a result, no one will be penalized.
The Pentagon announced on Tuesday (May 17) that those responsible for a 2019 airstrike that killed civilians in Syria committed no fault, did not “deliberately” kill civilians, nor show “indifference unjustified”.
The Pentagon’s internal investigation into the March 18, 2019 bombing of Baghouz, Syria, was launched in November after the publication of a New York Times article that accused the US military of trying to conceal the presence of non-combatant casualties. The daily claimed that 70 people, including women and children, had been killed in this operation in Baghouz, the last stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) group, and that a military lawyer had described the incident as “a possible war crime “.
But the investigation, led by Army General Michael Garrett, concluded that the commander of US forces on the ground received an urgent request for air support from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that day, the coalition of Western-backed anti-ISIS fighters in northeast Syria.
56 dead including 52 combatants
The commander “obtained confirmation that there were no civilians in the firing zone” and authorized the strike, said General Garrett in his conclusions made public by the American Department of Defense. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the strike left 56 dead, including 52 combatants, including 51 adults and a teenager. Four civilians – a woman and three children – were killed. In addition, two combatants were injured, as well as 15 civilians (11 women and four children), he said.
John Kirby said no one would be punished for Baghouz’s victims. The investigation established that no one had “acted in violation of the laws of war”, he said, and instead concluded that there had been “no malicious intent”. “We don’t do everything perfectly, but we try to improve,” assured the spokesperson. “We try to be as transparent as possible about the lessons we learn.”
Information kept secret for three years
The investigation report attributes the delays in bringing to light these facts to “administrative errors”, which were not revealed until three years later by the press, giving the impression that the army was trying to conceal them .
But in a memo to the highest ranks in the US military, also released on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was “disappointed” to learn that information had been glossed over for months. He ordered heads of US military commands to ensure that any operations involving civilian casualties are investigated.