US military hushed up Syria strike that killed dozens of civilians — NY Times

Investigation indicates army personnel actively suppressed probe of 2019 bombing that hit women and children in country’s east

Smoke rises from buildings following an airstrike on the rebel-held besieged town of Arbin, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on January 2, 2018.  (AFP / ABDULMONAM EASSA)
Illustrative: Smoke rises from buildings following an airstrike in Arbin, in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus on January 2, 2018. (AFP / ABDULMONAM EASSA)

The US military covered up a series of airstrikes in 2019 that likely killed dozens of Syrian civilians during the campaign against Islamic State, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

The strikes in Baghuz, in Syria’s east, targeted a group of women and children huddled by a river, that had been identified as such by Air Force personnel monitoring the area. According to the report, personnel were shocked by the bombings and it was not immediately clear who had ordered them.

Some 80 people were killed in the bombings.

It later became clear that the strikes had been called in by a secretive special forces task force that was conducting ground operations in the area, and which often operated without updating other forces in the area.

The Times report, based on interviews with current and former officials with knowledge of the event, found that some personnel believed the strikes may have constituted war crimes. Despite efforts by some to see the incident properly investigated, it never was, with reports on the matter delayed and sanitized.

“Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No one wanted anything to do with it,” Gene Tate, who worked on the case for the Defense Department’s inspector general’s office, told The Times. “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.”

In an email sent to the Senate’s Armed Services Committee and obtained by The Times, an Air Force lawyer, Lt. Col. Dean W. Korsak, wrote that “senior ranking US military officials intentionally and systematically circumvented the deliberate strike process,” that personnel entered false log entries, “clearly seeking to cover up the incidents.

In response to The Times’ inquiries, the US military acknowledged that 80 people were killed and asserted that at least 16 of them were fighters. It said many others may have been combatants, as women and children under IS were sometimes involved in fighting.

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