HOW THE U.S. HID AN AIRSTRIKE THAT KILLED DOZENS OF CIVILIANS IN SYRIA | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

HOW THE U.S. HID AN AIRSTRIKE THAT KILLED DOZENS OF CIVILIANS IN SYRIA

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 U.S. military drone circled high overhead, hunting for military targets. But it saw only a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank.

Without warning, a U.S. F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd. Then a jet dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another.

It was March 18, 2019. At the U.S. military’s busy Combined Air Operations Center at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, uniformed personnel watching the live drone footage looked on in stunned disbelief.

“Who dropped that?” a confused analyst typed on a secure chat system being used by those monitoring the drone. 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 Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military. The details, reported here for the first time, 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, sanitized and classified. U.S.-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified.

The Defense Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.

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