A Pentagon investigation into a US air strike that killed dozens of people in Syria in 2019 found that the initial review of the attack by the military was mishandled with reporting delays but stopped short of calling for disciplinary action.
The inquiry found that most people killed in the attack were Daesh fighters and that military officials didn’t violate the laws of war or deliberately conceal casualties, reports the New York Times.
The Pentagon investigation found that the US ground force commander received a request for air strike support and received confirmation that no civilians were in the strike area.
The 18 March 2019 attack in question took place near the Syrian town of Baghuz and resulted in one of the largest civilian casualty incidents in the war against Daesh.
The inquiry took place after the New York Times investigated allegations that officers tried to hide civilian casualties and that some 70 people had been killed in the strike, but this was never publicly acknowledged by the US military.
A US legal officer at the time said the strike was a possible war crime and that it warranted an investigation, according to the 2021 investigation by the New York Times. “But at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitised, and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” it reported.
“The Defence Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.”
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who appointed the head of the army’s forces command to carry out the probe, said that he was disappointed in how the investigation was handled: “The process contributed to a perception that the department was not committed to transparency and was not taking the incident seriously – a perception that could have been prevented by a timely review and a clear explication of the circumstances surrounding the strike.”