NPR has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense for failing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for documents relating to the possibility of civilian casualties from the raid that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
The media outlet filed the lawsuit last week in the Southern District of New York, more than two years after NPR reported that two civilians were killed and a third was wounded from U.S. helicopter fire during the raid.
The van that the individuals were traveling in failed to heed the U.S. helicopter’s “warning shots, and instead accelerated toward the helicopter,” according to U.S. Central Command’s version of events, while relatives of the victims told NPR that the men were “unarmed operators of a van service, not combatants,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The sole survivor told NPR that he did not know what was happening during the helicopter attack, and that he was just trying to escape death,” it continues.
CENTCOM cleared the troops of wrongdoing last year after it announced an investigation following NPR’s Dec. 2019 report about the civilian deaths.
The lawsuit alleges that CENTCOM “has failed to comply with its obligations under FOIA” and has “not issued a final determination in response to [NPR’s] requests and has yet to produce a single document.”
NRP, through the lawsuit, is looking to get the judge to order the Defense Department to fulfill the FOIA request.
The suit also invokes recent U.S. strikes that resulted in civilian casualties. It notes that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley called an Aug. 29 drone strike in Afghanistan that accidentally targeted a civilian — killing him and nine others, many of whom were children — “righteous,” even after there had been media reports of civilian casualties.
The Pentagon has since acknowledged that Zemari Ahmadi was not a terrorist and had no ties to the threats facing U.S. troops, who were conducting a noncombatant emergency operation evacuating at-risk Afghans and third-country nationals who were afraid of living under the new Taliban regime.
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Additionally, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered an investigation into the March 2019 drone strike that killed civilians in Syria late last month.
The strike occurred on March 18 of that year and killed 80 people, some of whom were civilians, though it was first reported by the New York Times roughly two weeks ago. CENTCOM, which oversaw the aerial war campaign in Syria, acknowledged that 80 people were killed in the strike, 16 of whom were fighters and four were civilians, while the status of the other 60 people was unclear.
Neither CENTCOM nor the Pentagon responded to requests for comment.