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Pentagon launches new investigation into airstrike on Syria, which killed civilians

Civil defence members conduct search and rescue works at debris of a building after airstrikes by Assad regime, Russia kill 19 civilians in Bauon village of Idlib, de-escalation zone, Syria on 7 December, 2019 [Ahmet Z. Hatib/Anadolu Agency]
Civil defence members conduct search and rescue works after airstrikes hit Syria on 7 December 2019 [Ahmet Z. Hatib/Anadolu Agency]

The Pentagon has launched a new investigation into an airstrike on Syria by the US military which killed dozens of civilians in 2019, following a recent report by the New York Times alleging that the civilian casualties were concealed.

The investigation was announced yesterday by Pentagon Press Secretary, John Kirby, who said that the Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, picked the commander of US Army Forces Command – Gen. Michael X. Garrett – to lead the probe.

According to Kirby, Garrett is to have 90 days to complete the investigation, which will determine whether those involved in the strike were fully aware of the potential harming of civilians, whether it was justified or not, and whether "accountability measures" should be taken.

The strike was conducted near the Syrian town of Baghuz on 18 March 2019, as the US coalition and its allies were closing in on the terror group, Daesh, in their last stronghold in the country. 70 people were killed in that attack, consisting mainly women and children.

In what it described as "one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war," the NYT report, released earlier this month, revealed that a US legal officer "flagged the strike as a possible war crime." Despite that, "at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike."

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Along with the strike not being publicly acknowledged by the military, it also reportedly downplayed the death toll. "Reports were delayed, sanitised and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified," the report said, adding that the findings of a Pentagon investigation were "stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike."

Following the strikes, the Pentagon launched its initial investigation, after which it released a statement claiming that it found the military's action was in "self-defence" and was "proportional", as well as that "appropriate steps were taken to exclude the presence of civilians."

With the investigation set to be completed in three months, the incident is one of many war crimes carried out by the US military using airstrikes, which are notorious for their proclivity to civilian casualties.

In September, it was reported that US-led airstrikes have killed at least 22,000 civilians in the Middle East and Africa over the past two decades of the war on terror, with most of the casualties being in Iraq and Afghanistan.

READ: US-trained death squads are the dark legacy of the war on terror

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