Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that neither the army commander nor anyone involved in the airstrike “acted improperly or with malicious intent” or “deliberately wanted and sought to kill civilians.”
Kirby emphasized what he called the transparency of the American strike investigation and verification, and said the Pentagon would use the information to try to prevent future harm to civilians. “We admit that yes, we killed several innocent civilians, women and children, in 2019 in Bagouz, Syria. You can see it all. We acknowledge that we have made these mistakes. in killing innocent people.”
The audit identified problems that led to numerous delays in reporting possible civilian casualties to the armed forces, including missed deadlines and incomplete information that prevented a full assessment. According to Kirby, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was “disappointed” to learn of these problems.
In late November, Austin ordered a review of the strike on Baghouz, placing General Michael Garrett, the four-star commander of the US armed forces, in charge.
On March 18, 2019, US allied Syrian Democratic Forces requested air support when they came under attack from ISIS forces, according to a statement by Capt. Bill Urban, spokesman for US Central Command. US and coalition forces surrounded the last ISIS stronghold in Bagouz, Syria, but in the final days of the fighting, ISIS launched a counterattack of its own.
A nearby F-15 fighter dropped three 500 lb precision bombs to assist the SDF. Hours after the strikes, Urban said a UAV operator reported possible civilians in the area when the bombs were dropped.
According to Urban, a military investigation launched after the strikes in Syria found they were “legitimate self-defense strikes” in support of the SDF, which killed “at least” 16 ISIS fighters. The strikes also killed “at least” four civilians and injured eight others, but the military was unable to “conclusively characterize the status” of the more than 60 people killed in the strikes, leaving open the possibility of a much higher civilian death toll.
On Tuesday, Kirby said an audit of the strike showed a total of 73 people had been killed, of which 52 were enemy fighters. All but one were adult males and one fighter was a child. Two enemy soldiers were wounded in the battle. The strike killed four civilians, including one woman and three children. Another 15 civilians were injured, including 11 women and four children.
“There was no need to hold anyone personally responsible for what happened that day,” Kirby said. “In view of the information [the ground forces commander] At the time, he made the best decisions he could, in the fog of war, in the middle of a fight against a very determined enemy in a concentrated area in Syria who fought very, very aggressively against our SDF colleagues.”
“You make the best decisions you can in a war. Do you always do it right? No. And it’s sad for all of us.”