How the U.S. Hid an Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria

The military never conducted an independent investigation into a 2019 bombing on the last bastion of the Islamic State, despite concerns about a secretive commando force.

Uncovering the truth. Over several months, The New York Times pieced together the details of a 2019 airstrike in Baghuz, Syria, one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State.

Key Findings From the Baghuz Airstrike Investigation:

The U.S. military carried out the attack.

Task Force 9, the secretive special operations unit in charge of ground operations in Syria, called in the attack. The strike began when an F-15E attack jet hit Baghuz with a 500-pound bomb. Five minutes later, the F-15E dropped two 2,000-pound bombs.

The death toll was downplayed.

The U.S. Central Command recently acknowledged that 80 people, including civilians, were killed in the airstrike. Though the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials, regulations for investigating the potential crime were not followed.

Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified.

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.

American-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site.

Civilian observers who came to the area of the strike the next day described finding piles of dead women and children. In the days following the bombing, coalition forces overran the site, which was quickly bulldozed.

A Syrian videographer, Gihad Darwish, captured airstrikes in the area matching that description as he filmed from a rocky bluff above the camp. The footage shows that ground troops may not have been able to see the group of civilians.

Pentagon Chief Orders Briefing on 2019 Syria Airstrike That Killed Dozens

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