US defends air strikes that killed civilians in Syria

Aftermath of air strike in Baghuz on 18 March 2019.

The US military has defended as “legitimate” an air strike attack which killed dozens of people in Syria in 2019.

The attack on so-called Islamic State fighters killed 80 people, as the group made their last stand.

The US identified 16 of the dead as militants, and four as civilians.

But officials could not conclude on more than 60, and a spokesperson told the BBC it was “highly likely” more civilians were killed.

An independent investigation into the strike was never conducted, according to a New York Times report which accused the military of a cover-up.

The air strikes occurred on 18 March 2019 in the town of Baghuz in eastern Syria – then the last stronghold of the so-called IS caliphate.

Three bombs were dropped by US jets on a large group of people, despite drone footage showing the presence of civilians, according to the New York Times.

Commanders ignored alarm expressed in the immediate aftermath and a subsequent investigation into the incident by the defence department’s inspector general was “stripped” of any mention of the strike, the newspaper reported. It added that no thorough independent investigation had ever happened.

“Leadership just seemed so set on burying this. No-one wanted anything to do with it,” Gene Tate, an official who worked on the case and said he was forced out of his job, told the newspaper.