Austin orders investigation of Syria airstrike that killed civilians

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a renewed investigation into a 2019 airstrike in Syria that resulted in the deaths of civilians after the attack was first reported in detail by the New York Times earlier this month.

U.S. Army Forces commander Gen. Michael Garrett has been assigned to conduct the investigation, which will review “reports of investigation already conducted” while also conducting “further inquiry into the facts and circumstances” of the strike, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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The investigation stems from a March 2019 strike on ISIS in Baghouz, Syria, in support of U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces, who called for air support after they were attacked by ISIS fighters.

While the Syrian fighters, U.S. special operations forces operating in the area, and an unmanned aerial vehicle overhead flying above the battlefield reported no civilians in the area where the strike was to be carried out, later reports from a UAV operator said there may have been civilians in the area bombs were dropped.

The New York Times report earlier this month details that there were mostly women and children in the area the bombs were dropped, possibly resulting in the deaths of 70 civilians.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
(VANO SHLAMOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Garrett will have 90 days to finish the review that will cover “civilian casualties that resulted from the incident, compliance with the law of war” and “whether accountability measures would be appropriate,” Kirby said.

The general will also be tasked with recreating the timeline of the original inspector general investigation into the strike after it was “stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike,” the New York Times reported.

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Sept. 23, 2014: In this photo released by the U.S. Air Force, a pair of U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle flies over northern Iraq.. (AP)

Sept. 23, 2014: In this photo released by the U.S. Air Force, a pair of U.S. F-15E Strike Eagle flies over northern Iraq.. (AP)

The new review comes after Austin mentioned both internal and external reviews of U.S. airstrikes at a Nov. 17 briefing, saying the military was “committed” to getting right both how it conducts strikes and its transparency about them.

“The American people deserve to know that we take this issue very seriously. And that we are committed to protecting civilians and getting this right both in terms of how we execute missions on their behalf and how we talk about them afterwards,” Austin said at the time. “And I recognize that and I’m committed to doing this in full partnership with our military leaders.”

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