Pentagon Launching Probe Into Deadly Airstrike

Pentagon Launching Probe Into Deadly Airstrike

( – On November 13, The New York Times published an account of a horrific US-led airstrike in Baghuz, Syria, that claimed the lives of about 70 civilians, including several women and children. The Times’ editors submitted a copy of the report’s findings to the United States Central Command a week before publishing it, prompting Defense Department officials to acknowledge the incident publicly for the first time.

On March 18, 2019, personnel stationed in Qatar witnessed an American F-15E Strike Eagle conduct an airstrike a group of civilians. A second airstrike came shortly after, stunning the individuals who were watching the live footage of the event.

A legal officer assigned to the observation post immediately flagged the incident for review, believing it could constitute a war crime. However, the military never conducted an independent investigation of the incident. Eventually, the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General (DoD IG) conducted an internal review of the deadly airstrike after two whistleblowers reported the event. The DoD IG submitted its report in early November.

Cornered, the Department of Defense Finally Takes Action

On November 29, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby held a press briefing discussing the recent release of the Defense Department’s annual Global Posture Review, an assessment of Pentagon’s weapons and troop outlays across major global regions outside the United States.

After a brief question-and-answer session, Kirby announced Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a review of the “civilian casualty incident” in Baghuz, Syria, in 2019. Sec. Austin appointed General Michael X. Garrett, the head of the US Central Command, to lead the investigation.

According to Kirby, Gen. Garrett will review previous incident reports and oversee a new inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deadly 2019 incident. The investigation will take a five-phased approach, looking into:

  1. US personnel’s “compliance with the law of war;”
  2. The civilian casualties resulting from the incident;
  3. Whether or not accountability is warranted;
  4. If previously identified “mitigation measures” were effectively implemented; and
  5. Whether official procedures for similar engagements “should be altered.”

Gen. Garrett will have 90 days to complete his report. The operative question at this point remains the same as on day one: will Pentagon officials hold anyone accountable for the actions of that fateful day?

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