Fires in Baghouz, Syria in the final days of attacks by the US and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to remove the Islamic State, March 2019
UPDATE, NOV 30:
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a new high-level investigation into the US airstrike in northeastern Syria in March 2019 that killed about 80 civilians, including scores of women and children.
Gen. Michael Garrett, the four-star head of the Army’s Forces Command, will lead a 90-day inquiry into the strike carried out by the Special Operations unit Task Force 9.
The investigation will also consider the US military initial, inadequate examinations of the attack.
The House and Senate Armed Services Committees are also investigating the strike near Baghouz, the last organized position in Syria of the Islamic State, on March 18, 2019.
ORIGINAL ENTRY, NOV 14: The US military killed scores of women and children in airstrikes in northeast Syria in March 2019, then covered up the attacks.
The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces had reduced the Islamic State to its last organized position in Syria, in the town of Baghouz near the Iraq border, on March 18.
In a nearby dirt field on the bank of a river, an American drone monitored the frontline. There were no fighters present, only a large crowd of women and children.
But an F-15E attack jet suddenly cut across the drone and dropped a 500-pound bomb. A second jet dropped two 2,000-pounds bomb.
About 80 people had been killed.
An analyst at the US air command center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, asked, “Who dropped that?” Another responded, “We just dropped on 50 women and children.”
“Leadership Set on Burying This”
A legal officer assessed that the strike was a possible war crime requiring an investigation. But rather than carry out the inquiry, US officials hid the strike. The death toll was minimized, as reports were delayed and sanitized. The bombing site was bulldozed.
A report by the Defense Department’s independent inspector general was stalled and purged of any reference to the airstrikes.
Gene Tate, an analyst who worked in the inspector general’s office, explained:
Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No one wanted anything to do with it.
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.
Tate said he was eventually forced out of his job because of his criticisms.
The bombing was ordered by a classified US special operations unit, Task Force 9, which had not notified the Qatar operations center of its intention to strike. Air Force lawyer Lt. Col. Dean Korsak, alerted by an inteligence officer in Qatar, ordered the F-15E squadron and the drone crew to preserve all evidence. He notified his chain of command about the possible war crime.
The inquiry never happened. Instead, the ground unit that ordered the strike carried out the only assessment. It claimed a legal bombing, with only a few civilians slain.
Korsak alerted the Defense Department’s independent inspector general. However, he saw no progress in two years. So earlier this year, the lawyer e-mailed the Senate Armed Services Committee, notifying them of material he collected:
I’m putting myself at great risk of military retaliation for sending this….Senior ranking U.S. military officials intentionally and systematically circumvented the deliberate strike process.
Korsak said that there was a good chance, “the highest levels of government remained unaware of what was happening on the ground”.
“Misleading Information” and Denying Civilian Deaths
After a months-long investigation by the New York Times, US Central Command finally acknowledged the strikes and the death toll. However, it claimed justification for the attacks and questioned the extent of civilian casualties. The military said that bombs killed 16 fighters and four civilians, and that it was unclear if the other 60 victims were combatants as women and children in the Islamic State sometimes were armed.
Capt. Bill Urban, the Command’s chief spokesman, maintained:
We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them. In this case, we self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life.
But CIA officers were so alarmed about the strikes of Task Force 9 that they notified the Department of Defense inspector general. His report is still top secret, but a former task force officer said it covers about 10 incidents in which the unit struck targets while knowing that civilians would be killed.
Nevertheless, the officer said the report determined that all strikes were legal.
Officers in the Qatar operations center suspected that Task Force 9, invoking “self-defense” in 80% of its strikes, was including misleading information for justification. However, they did not pursue the issue until the Baghouz attack.