Austin orders new review of deadly 2019 airstrike in Syria

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, left, speaks during a meeting with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, at the Pentagon, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) (Manuel Balce Ceneta, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a new review of a U.S. airstrike in Syria in March 2019 that killed dozens, including women and children, to assess the extent of civilian casualties and whether the strike violated the laws of war.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday that Austin chose the commander of U.S. Army Forces Command, Gen. Michael X. Garrett, to conduct the review. Garrett will have 90 days to complete his inquiry, which Kirby said would include a determination of whether “accountability measures” should be taken against those involved in the attack.

The attack, first reported in detail earlier this month by The New York Times, happened near the town of Baghuz, in eastern Syria near the Iraq border. The Times reported that a military legal officer had quickly flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation, but that a multiple stages the military made moves to conceal the strike and downplayed the death toll.

After the Times story was published, Austin requested and received a briefing on the matter from Gen. Frank McKenzie, the command of U.S. Central Command. McKenzie's command has said an initial investigation concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defense in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from the Islamic State group.