A New York Times investigation found that the US military tried to hide the 2019 Syria strike, which “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against Daesh” with 70 reported deaths.

The US bombs killed 70 people, mainly women and children.
The US bombs killed 70 people, mainly women and children. (AFP)

The United States has confirmed a 2019 airstrike in Syria was "legitimate," after a New York Times investigation found that the military had concealed the death of dozens of civilians.

US Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Sunday that the strike was "legitimate self-defence," "proportional" and that "appropriate steps were taken to rule out the presence of civilians."

"We self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life," said CENTCOM spokesperson Captain Bill Urban.

Urban said the investigation could not "conclusively characterise the status of more than 60 other casualties."

He also said that some women and children, "whether through indoctrination or choice, decided to take up arms in this battle and as such could not strictly be classified as civilians."

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Times investigation

The New York Times published the results of its investigation on Saturday saying a US special task force operating in Syria dropped three bombs on a cluster of civilians near Daesh group bastion of Baghouz.

The bombs killed 70 people, mainly women and children.

The report says a US legal officer "flagged the strike as a possible war crime" but that "at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike."

The investigation drew from confidential documents, interviews with personnel directly involved and officials with top security clearance.

"The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitised and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified," the report said.

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'Circumventing the safeguards'

According to the Times, the strike was carried out despite the presence of civilians by the special operations unit "Task Force 9." 

Each bombardment was meant to be preceded by checks, sometimes lasting days or weeks.

But "over time, some officials overseeing the air campaign began to believe that the task force was systematically circumventing the safeguards created to limit civilian deaths," the report said.

On March 18, 2019, Task Force 9 circumvented oversight by reporting imminent danger and invoking self-defence, as in many other strikes during this conflict, according to the Times.

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Source: AFP