The U.S. military conducted a drone strike in Syria, and there are initial indications of possible civilian casualties, U.S. Central Command announced.
The Friday kinetic strike, near Idlib, targeted a senior al Qaeda “leader and planner," CENTCOM said. It was conducted using a precision strike method from an MQ-9 aircraft.
“We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them. The possibility of a civilian casualty was immediately self-reported to U.S. Central Command. We are initiating a full investigation of the allegations and will release the results when appropriate,” said Capt. Bill Urban, a CENTCOM spokesman.
Lt. Col. Karen Roxberry, another CENTCOM spokeswoman, told the Washington Examiner the strike resulted in the unnamed al Qaeda's member's death, adding officials cannot release the target's name "to protect intelligence sources and potential follow-on operations."
"We are in the immediate aftermath of the event and still conducting a thorough assessment. We know of the potential for civilian casualties based on the self-report, but do not want to speculate," Roxberry added. "We are taking this matter seriously and will ensure that there is a comprehensive investigation."
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CENTCOM has opened an investigation into the possibility of civilian casualties.
Officials also said the killing of the unnamed al Qaeda operative “will disrupt the terrorist organization’s ability to further plot and carry out global attacks threatening U.S. citizens and our partners.”
The military has disclosed two other strikes in Syria in recent months, including the Oct. 22 killing of Abdul Hamid al Matar, whom U.S. Maj. John Rigsbee, a Central Command spokesman, described as a “senior al Qaeda leader” and the targeting of a different al Qaeda “senior” leader the month before.
The investigation comes amid other searches into the possibility of civilian casualties.
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered an investigation into a March 2019 drone strike, reported by the New York Times last month, that also allegedly killed civilians. The strike occurred on March 18 of that year, and it killed 80 people, some of whom were civilians. CENTCOM acknowledged at the time that 80 people were killed in the strike, 16 of whom were fighters and four civilians, while the status of the other 60 people were unclear.
An evaluator who worked on the case for the inspector general alleged that “leadership just seemed so set on burying this.”
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Weeks ago, Austin signed off on a separate investigation into a more recent drone strike that also resulted in the loss of civilian life.
Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen. Sami Said investigated the Aug. 29 botched strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed 10 civilians, including the target, who was later determined not to be tied with any terrorist group. He concluded there were no illegalities with the strike, though he issued recommendations to prevent similar mistakes. Austin signed off on his conclusions.