The US military said it would open an investigation into possible civilian casualties inflicted in a recent drone strike on Syria, with Pentagon officials claiming the attack was meant to target a 'senior al-Qaeda leader.?
US Central Command, which oversees military operations around the Middle East, announced the upcoming probe on Friday, hours after an American MQ-9 Reaper drone bombed an unspecified location in Idlib province in what the CENTCOM said was a "precision strike."
"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 US Central Command," CENTCOM spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement obtained by CNN.
Friday's drone mission follows another strike on Idlib in September, which was also alleged to have killed a top terrorist operative. The military claimed no civilians were killed in that attack. The use of US air power on the country has slowed in recent years - at least in terms of what the Pentagon is willing to acknowledge publicly.
Last month, a New York Times investigation suggested a previous American air strike in March 2019 hit "a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank" near the town of Baghuz, and may have resulted in the Pentagon's largest civilian casualty incident in Syria. Following the Times probe, CENTCOM reluctantly admitted that it may have killed up to 80 people, including some civilians, though still argued that the slain women and children may have been working on behalf of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group at the time they were bombed.
Another high-profile American strike on Kabul, Afghanistan over the summer - among the last US combat operations in its 20-year war on the country - was later found to have killed 10 civilians, including eight children. While the Defense Department initially deemed that strike a success, it later acknowledged the innocent deaths, in that case also following a Times investigation.