US military opens investigation after possible civilian casualties in Syria strike against al-Qaeda leader


By Oren Liebermann, CNN

The U.S. Central Command opened an investigation after a drone strike against a top al-Qaeda leader in northwestern Syria on Friday could have killed civilians, a central command spokesperson said.

The strike in Idlib, Syria, was carried out by an MQ-9 Reaper, targeting a top Al Qaeda leader and planner, Captain Bill Urban said in a statement. The name of the target was not disclosed, although he said the strike against the leader would disrupt Al Qaeda’s operations and its ability to plan attacks.

An initial examination of the strike indicated the possibility of civilian casualties.

“We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent it,” Urban said. “The possibility of a civilian casualty was immediately reported to the US Central Command. We are initiating a full investigation into the allegations and will publish the results where appropriate. “

In September, the military carried out another strike in northwestern Syria targeting a senior al Qaeda official.

Recognition of potential civilian casualties and immediate initiation of investigation comes after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the revision of a strike in Syria in March 2019, which the Pentagon recently admitted to killing civilians.

In mid-November, the US Central Command first acknowledged that previously undisclosed airstrikes in Syria were carried out days before the fall of ISIS in 2019. killed several civilians, including women and children.

This disclosure follows the publication of a New York Times investigation in strikes.

On November 17, Austin told reporters at a press conference that he was “committed to adjusting our policies and procedures to make sure we get better” and that he would hold senior leaders accountable for ensuring that they are implemented. artwork.

Austin said he believed “the leaders of this department should be held accountable for high standards of conduct and leadership.”

“And for my part as Secretary of Defense, I have every intention of meeting this standard,” Austin added.

But the Defense Ministry has yet to hold anyone responsible for a drone strike on August 29 in Kabul, Afghanistan, in which 10 civilians, including seven children, were killed. An examination of the Air Force strike revealed that significant mistakes had been made but that there had been no violation of the law, including the law of war.

There are currently two reviews related to civilian casualties of US military strikes.

The first is a study on civilian damage conducted by the RAND Corporation that Congress ordered in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. The second, also conducted by the RAND Corporation, focuses on civilian casualties in Syria. Austin said it was under a security review.

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