(JustPatriots.com)- This week, US Central Command acknowledged a previously undisclosed 2019 airstrike that killed up to eighty people, mostly women and children. However, CENTCOM argued that the strike was justified because it killed ISIS fighters who were attacking coalition forces.
CENTCOM’s acknowledgment comes after the New York Times published an investigative report on the strikes over the weekend in which former and current Pentagon officials alleged it was a cover-up of a likely war crime.
CENTCOM, however, dispute that allegation.
The strike was carried out on the town of Baghuz along the Iraq/Syrian border on March 18, 2019, as Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with US air support, were fighting the last remnants of ISIS in Syria.
According to the New York Times report, two bombs were dropped on a crowd of women and children who were trying to escape the fighting on the banks of the Euphrates. This crowd had been identified as civilians by a US drone operated out of Qatar. The Times reported that drone operators were stunned when they saw first one bomb then another drop on the survivors.
The New York Times investigation determined that the airstrike on Baghuz was ordered by Task Force 9, a special forces unit operating independently from the operations center in Qatar.
CENTCOM spokesman Captain Bill Urban explained this week that this battle was ISIS’ last stand. Among the thousands of fighters were family members including women and children – many of whom were combatants. Urban said before the airstrikes were ordered, coalition forces made multiple entreaties to ISIS, asking them to allow civilian family members to leave the area. But these entreaties were rebuffed by ISIS.
According to Urban, on the date in question, ISIS launched a counterattack on SDF positions. The attack lasted several hours and an SDF position was at risk of being overrun. That was when US special forces called in an airstrike. At the time, Urban explained, they were unaware that a drone with high-definition video footage was flying in the area. So they were relying on a standard-definition feed from another drone.
According to CENTCOM’s account, the drones over Baghuz used all their Hellfire missiles, so special forces called in F-15s which dropped the bombs in question.
The strikes killed eighty people, including at least sixteen ISIS fighters and four confirmed civilians. According to Captain Urban, the status of the remaining dead could not be determined, though there were women and children among them. Urban said that at least two women and one child had been armed combatants at the time of the strike.
Captain Urban, while acknowledging the strike, added that the internal investigation conducted into the action deemed the strikes were “legitimate self-defense strikes.”
However, no independent investigation into the strikes has been conducted.