Damascus rejects Pentagon findings, demands troop withdrawal
The Syrian permanent mission to the UN stated on Friday that the US must withdraw its troops from the country at once and pay reparations for the deaths of dozens of civilians in a 2019 airstrike in the town of Baghuz.
Damascus categorically rejected a Pentagon report claiming it was not at fault for the attack, declaring its conclusions represent “an admission of negligence that calls for accountability.”
The Pentagon had released a report on Tuesday claiming the March 18, 2019 airstrike targeting an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) encampment in Syria’s Baghuz, initially believed to have killed some 70 people, did not violate the rules of engagement or laws of war.
Washington’s assessment ultimately claimed that of the 56 people it determined to have died in the 500-pound bomb blast, just four were civilians. The report also claimed that while “civilians were within the blast radius” resulting in civilian casualties, the decision to drop the massive bomb had “demonstrated awareness for non-combatants.” However, in determining who was considered a terrorist, it used an Obama-era standard classifying all killed military-age males as combatants by default.
The Syrian mission to the UN dismissed the Pentagon’s conclusions as a “clear attempt to absolve the US occupation forces in Syria of their direct responsibility for civilian casualties under the pretext of fighting the terrorist organization ‘ISIS’” and rejected any claims that “efforts have been made to distinguish between civilians and members of ‘ISIS’” as “empty justifications” for the murder of civilians.
“These biased investigations cannot deny the fact that a crime against humanity has occurred in Baghuz,” the mission told Newsweek on Friday. “Any justifications provided by the US administration for not violating the law of war or the rules of engagement are to circumvent the fact that the US forces deployed in Syria are illegal and they launch military strikes, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, without the approval or coordination of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic.”
Despite the report supposedly clearing the US military of any wrongdoing, the full text remains classified, with just a two-page summary released to the public. The site of the blast itself was quickly bulldozed, and the initial internal reports were “delayed, sanitized, and classified,” according to the New York Times.
The report’s conclusions stood in stark contrast to remarks from US personnel on the ground at the time, with one military analyst reportedly stating that “we just dropped [the 500-pound bomb] on 50 women and children” and others questioning whether they had just witnessed a war crime.
While US Central Command had previously admitted that 80 people had been killed in the strike and just 16 were alleged ISIS terrorists, the military defended its actions by suggesting 60 more could have also been terrorists, since “women and children in the Islamic State sometimes took up arms.”
The Pentagon’s recent report contradicted even those watered-down findings, admitting only that “administrative deficiencies contributed to the impression that the [Department of Defense] was not treating this [civilian casualty] incident seriously, was not being transparent, and was not following its own protocols” regarding civilian casualty incidents.
International civil society groups have eviscerated the Pentagon’s civilian casualty reporting protocols for their toothlessness, most recently following an incident in Afghanistan in which an Afghan NGO worker and nine family members – including seven children – were killed in an airstrike supposedly targeting an ISIS terrorist. That investigation, too, found no “misconduct or negligence” on the part of the killers.