GENEVA (Reuters) – UN war crimes investigators urged the United States on Wednesday to carry out thorough probes into civilian casualties caused by U.S. airstrikes in Syria to ensure that those responsible for any violations are held to account.
The UN Commission of Inquiry reiterated a “recommendation to the United States and all parties to conduct credible, independent and impartial investigations into incidents entailing civilian casualties in which their forces are implicated”.
The panel called on Washington to ensure those responsible for violations are held accountable and to make their findings public.
In November, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a review of a 2019 strike in the Syrian town of Baghouz that caused civilian casualties, the Pentagon said at the time.
The New York Times had reported that the strike killed up to 64 women and children, a possible war crime.
The New York Times report accused the U.S. military of a cover-up, stating that an independent probe into the deadly attack was never conducted.
The report said the air strike launched on March 18, 2019 in the town of Baghouz in eastern Syrian province of Dayr al-Zawr, then a stronghold of the Daesh terrorists, targeted a large gathering of suspected targets despite drone footage showing the presence of civilians there.
Three bombs were dropped by U.S. fighter jets on the large gathering, according to the New York Times, and a subsequent investigation into the incident was “stripped” of any mention of the strike.
“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 was later sacked from his job, told the newspaper.
The report found that the strike “was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war,” albeit never publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military.
“The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified,” the report noted.
The independent experts also called for easing Western sanctions on Syria to mitigate their impact on civilians who are grappling with shortages and “skyrocketing” inflation.