A Pentagon investigation into a March 2019 drone strike in Baghuz, Syria, that killed dozens of people, including women and children, resulted in no disciplinary action for the service members involved.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tapped U.S. Army Forces commander Gen. Michael Garrett last November to investigate the strike after the New York Times reported on it. The Pentagon released an unclassified version of the report on Tuesday, which found that there was "no malicious or wrongful intent" behind the strike, though he did allege "policy compliance deficiencies."


The Islamic State launched a counterattack against the Syrian Democratic Forces on March 18, 2019, and the SDF then requested a defensive coalition airstrike. At the time, the U.S. Ground Force commander “repeated received confirmation that no civilians were in the strike areas, and authorized supporting aerial strikes,” but “unbeknownst to the GFC, civilians were within the blast radius,” the report found.

There were 73 casualties in the United States's retaliatory strike, 52 of which were enemies, and 51 of them were adult men, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters during Tuesday's briefing. Two male enemies were also wounded, while "four civilians were killed, one female and three children, and 15 civilians were wounded, 11 women and four children."

Garrett concluded that there were no rules of engagement or law of war violations and that the Ground Force commander “did not deliberately or with wanton disregard for civilian casualties, and did not violate the [law of war].”

There were “numerous policy compliance deficiencies at multiple levels of command [that] led directly to numerous delays in reporting this CIVCAS incident,” Garrett’s report says, noting that “the original review of the incident to determine whether the allegations of CIVCAS were credible and the AR 15-6 investigation report were both submitted after their respective deadlines.”

Austin said he was “disappointed to learn that several aspects of the original incident review missed deadlines, accepted informational deficiencies that prevented making complete assessments, and was left open for many months” in a memo to undersecretaries, commanders of the combatant commands, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In January, the secretary issued a directive calling for the DOD to establish a civilian protection center immediately, develop more standardized operational reporting for possible civilian harm, review how the military responds to civilian harm, and to incorporate guidance for how civilian harm can occur from a full spectrum of armed conflict.

Austin’s memo also called for a group of defense officials to create a "Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan" within 90 days.


Last August, during the military’s final days in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years, the U.S. launched a drone strike to prevent what it believed to be an imminent attack on U.S. troops evacuating thousands of people who were believed to be at risk under the new Taliban regime. The Pentagon has since acknowledged the target had no terror ties. He and nine other civilians died in the strike, many of whom were his family members.

Austin has signed off on an investigation led by U.S. Air Force Inspector General Lt. Gen. Sami Said that concluded there were no illegalities with the strike and there were no punishments resulting from it either.