December 6, 2021

The World Live Breaking News Coverage & Updates IN ENGLISH

The World Live Breaking News Coverage & Updates IN ENGLISH

How US hid an airstrike that killed dozens of civilians in Syria’s Baghuz

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How US hid an airstrike that killed dozens of civilians in Syria’s Baghuz
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How US hid an airstrike that killed dozens of civilians in Syria’s Baghuz
How US hid an airstrike that killed dozens of civilians in Syria’s Baghuz

NEW YORK: In the last days of the battle against the Islamic State group in Syria, when members of the once-fierce caliphate were cornered in a dirt field next to a town called Baghuz, a US military drone circled high overhead, hunting for military targets. But it saw only a large crowd of women and kids huddled against a river bank.
Without warning, a US F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s field of vision and dropped a nearly 227-kg bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 907-lg bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors.
It was March 18, 2019. At the US military’s busy combined air operations centre at al-Udeid air base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief, according to one officer who was there.
“Who dropped that?” a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone, two people who reviewed the chat log recalled. Another responded, “We just dropped on 50 women and children.” An initial battle damage assessment quickly found that the number of dead was actually about 70.
The Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the IS, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the US military. The details show that the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. 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. US-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified.
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. “Leadership seemed so set on burying this. No one wanted anything to do with it,” said Gene Tate, an evaluator who worked on the case for the inspector general’s office. Tate said he criticised the lack of action and was eventually forced out of his job.
An investigation by NYT found that the bombing had been called in by a classified US special operations unit, Task Force 9, which was in charge of ground operations in Syria. The task force operated in such secrecy that at times it did not inform even its own military partners of its actions. In the case of the Baghuz bombing, the US air force command in Qatar had no idea the strike was coming, an officer who served at the command centre said. An air force lawyer in charge of determining the legality of strikes reported them to his superiors, saying it was a possible war crime and regulations required a thorough, independent investigation. But a thorough, independent probe never happened.
This past week, after NYT sent its findings to US Central Command, which oversaw the air war in Syria, the command acknowledged the strikes for the first time, saying 80 people were killed but the airstrikes were justified. It said the bombs killed 16 fighters and four civilians. As for the other 60 people killed, the statement said it was not clear that they were civilians, in part because women and children in the IS sometimes took up arms.
The only assessment done immediately after the strike was performed by the same ground unit that ordered the strike. It determined that the bombing was lawful because it killed only a small number of civilians while targeting IS fighters, the command said. Therefore, no formal war crime notification, criminal investigation or disciplinary action was warranted, it said, adding that the other deaths were accidental.

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