The US military is investigating a strike in Syria earlier this month that “may have resulted” in a civilian being killed, according to a statement from US Central Command.
The strike, carried out on May 3 in northwest Syria, targeted a senior al-Qaeda leader, Central Command said in a tweet announcing the operation that day. The combatant command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and the surrounding region, said it would provide more information “as operational details become available.”
Officials boasted about the success of the operation, confident that the strike had achieved its mission, even though it was difficult to positively identify the target of the strike, since the US has no military footprint in northwest Syria, an area still recovering from the effects of a devastating earthquake.
There were no reports of any other casualties of the drone strike.
In the two weeks that have passed since the operation, Central Command has not released any more information about the intended target. CENTCOM “has been made aware of allegations that the strike may have resulted in a civilian casualty” and is investigating to see where the strike “may have unintentionally resulted in harm to civilians,” Central Command spokesperson Michael Lawhorn said in a statement.
The Washington Post first reported that the US military is investigating whether a civilian was killed in the strike.
The issue of civilian casualties is a sensitive one for the Pentagon, and especially Central Command, following a drone strike in the closing days of the withdrawal from Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians, including seven children. The military had initially claimed that it had targeted and killed an ISIS-K operative, pointing to secondary explosives as proof that the target was storing explosive material.
But the explanation eventually fell apart, and the military acknowledged that the operation was a terrible mistake. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ultimately decided no one would be punished over the botched operation, even as he instructed Central Command and Special Operations Command to improve policies and procedures to prevent civilian harm more effectively.
Austin committed to adjusting Defense Department policies to better protect civilians, even establishing a civilian protection center of excellence, saying at the time that “leaders in this department should be held to account for high standards of conduct and leadership.”