US Acknowledges 2019 Airstrikes in Syria After NYT Report Reveals Dozens of Civilians Were Killed
01:11 GMT 14.11.2021 (Updated: 16:46 GMT 08.01.2023)
© US Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew BruchA U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle flies over northern Iraq early in the morning of Sept. 23, 2014, after conducting airstrikes in Syria. This F-15 was a part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIL targets in Syria
© US Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew Bruch
A new report in the New York Times provides an in-depth look at two back-to-back, US-led airstrikes that occurred in Syria on March 18, 2019, and killed at least 80 people, including up to 64 women and children. It is now known that the unreported incident was at the time flagged by a legal officer as a possible war crime.
For the first time, US Central Command (USCENTCOM), the unified combatant command which oversaw US air operations in Syria, has officially acknowledged the series of strikes against targets near Baghuz, Syria, on March 18, 2019.
Responding to the New York Times report, USCENTCOM detailed in a Saturday statement that American forces had confirmed 16 Daesh* fighters and four civilians were among the 80 killed.
"We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them," read the command's statement. "In this case, we self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life."
USCENTCOM argued the strikes were "legitimate self-defense," and that it was unclear if the other 60 individuals - all women and children - were also militants.
Citing US personnel interviews, confidential documents and classified reports, the NYT detailed that the deadly strikes were quickly questioned by US personnel with the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC).
"Who dropped that?" asked one analyst in a secure chat.
"We just dropped on 50 women and children," replied another analyst, according to two people who acquired the chat log.
US forces dropped both a 500-pound (227-kilogram) and a 2,000-pound (907-kilogram) bomb on the area near the town of Baghuz.
Lt. Col. Dean W. Korsak, a US Air Force lawyer who flagged the strikes as a possible war crime, first attempted to get service leadership to investigate the strike.
At the time, an initial assessment after the strikes determined that there was a small number of civilian fatalities. After failing to make headway with Air Force leadership and criminal investigators with the service, Korsak alerted the US Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.
The US Air Force lawyer also emailed the US Senate Armed Services Committee, informing members that an American unit had purposefully submitted falsified strike log entries in an attempt to "cover up the incidents" on March 18, 2019. Korsak also said that US military officials had "intentionally and systematically circumvented the deliberate strike process."
Gene Tate, an evaluator tasked with the case for the inspector general’s office, revealed to the outlet that Pentagon leadership "seemed so set on burying this."
"No one wanted anything to do with it," Tate said. "It makes you lose faith in the system when people are trying to do what’s right but no one in positions of leadership wants to hear it."
Tate - a former Navy officer who worked for both the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Counterterrorism Center - asserted that he was forced out of his job after raising concerns about leadership's handling of the strikes.
*Daesh (aka ISIL, ISIS) is a terrorist organization banned in Russia and other countries.