Senior US general orders Twitter to announce that drone attack on al Qaeda leader may have killed civilians


The senior general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East ordered his commanders to: announce on twitter Al-Qaeda leaders were targeted in a U.S. drone strike in Syria earlier this month, according to multiple defense officials, even though it has not yet been confirmed who was actually killed in the airstrike.

Nearly three weeks later, U.S. Central Command still does not know if civilians died in their place, officials said. CENTCOM did not begin its investigation into the incident, officially known as the Civilian Casualty Reliability Assessment Report, until May 15, 12 days after the strike. That review is in progress.

A defense official with direct knowledge of the situation told CNN that some of CENTCOM commander Gen. rice field.

Two other officials denied the allegations, saying they were unaware that officials were surprised or opposed to the announcement.

In any case, the statement, which was eventually posted on Twitter from the official CENTCOM Twitter account, did not identify the alleged al-Qaeda executive, raising further questions about what happened.

“At 11:42 a.m. local time on May 3, US Central Command conducted a unilateral attack in northwestern Syria targeting al-Qaeda cadres,” the tweet read. “We will provide further information as operational details become available.”

This tweet has not been deleted and CENTCOM has not tweeted about the strike again.

This episode explores how thoroughly CENTCOM implements its military civilian casualty mitigation policy (the process to prevent, mitigate, and respond to civilian casualties caused by U.S. military operations). questioning.

The policy was formulated in 2022 after a failed US drone strike in Kabul in August 2021 killed 10 civilians.

Brigadier General of the Department of Defense Spokesperson. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is “absolutely” confident in the Pentagon’s civilian casualty mitigation efforts.

“Regarding the CENTCOM strike, as you know, they conducted that strike on May 3. They are investigating allegations of civilian casualties,” Ryder said at a Pentagon press conference. rice field. “So I think our record speaks for itself in terms of how seriously we take these things. There are very few countries in the world that do that. The Secretary has full confidence that we will continue to adhere to the policies we have put in place.”

Following a Washington Post report that questioned the attack last week, Centcom acknowledged that the operation may have caused civilian casualties, and said in a statement that it was “investigating” the incident. rice field. An investigation into civilian casualties did not begin until a week after the Post began submitting information to CENTCOM suggesting that civilians had been killed in the airstrikes.

CENTCOM has not yet launched a formal investigation into the attack, known as the 15 to 6 investigation, a defense official told CNN. Officials said any investigation into civilian casualties must first determine that non-combatants were actually killed in the airstrikes. Next, the commander should determine that there are other unresolved operational questions that require more thorough investigation. Less than a week after the false Kabul attack, a 15-to-6 investigation was launched.

Shortly after the attack, defense officials told CNN they strongly believed Mr. Krilla and his staff had killed an al-Qaeda leader, but did not say why. But they also knew that it would likely take days to definitively confirm the person’s identity. The United States has no military presence in northwestern Syria, a region still recovering from the effects of a devastating earthquake.

However, as the days passed, CENTCOM was unable to identify the killer. Some defense officials told CNN they thought it was a red flag.

As of May 8, CentCom had still not confirmed the identity of the individual, defense officials said, and they began receiving information from The Washington Post questioning whether civilians had been killed. . After receiving information from the newspaper, CENTCOM launched an investigation on May 15 into whether there were any airstrikes and civilian deaths.

Defense officials told CNN that there was still disagreement within the administration over the identity of the person killed. Some intelligence officials continue to believe that the targets of the attacks were al-Qaeda members, even if they were not senior leaders. But there is growing belief within the Pentagon that the man (identified by his family as Lutfi Hassan Mesut, father of 10, aged 56) was a farmer with nothing to do with terrorism. ing.

Mesut’s family told CNN that Mesut was out pasturing sheep when he was killed. According to his brother, Lutfi never left his village during the Syrian uprising and did not support any political faction.

A distant relative, Mohammed Sajie, who lives in Kulkaniya, also told CNN it was not known whether Lutfi was for or against the Syrian regime.

“There’s no way he was in al Qaeda. He doesn’t even have a beard,” he said.

The Syrian Civil Defense Force, also known as the White Helmets, told CNN that they arrived at the attack site after being contacted by a local emergency number.

“The team noticed only one missile crater next to the man’s body,” White Helmets said, confirming that the man was also pasturing sheep.

“His wife, neighbors and others were at the scene when the team arrived,” the group added.

white helmet Tweeted on May 3rd They said they had recovered the body of Mesut, who they described as a “60-year-old civilian” who died in a missile attack while her sheep were grazing. Officials said CENTCOM was aware of the White Helmets’ tweets, but the group’s information had not yet been deemed credible enough to begin consideration.

The May 3 incident bears striking similarities to another Centcom operation. Ten Afghan civilians, including seven children, were killed in a US drone strike in Kabul on the final day of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pentagon initially claimed to have eliminated the ISIS-K threat and defended the operation for weeks, with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. He even said.

A suicide bombing at Kabul’s international airport three days ago killed 13 US military personnel, adding to pressure to act against any potential threat to CENTCOM, officials said at the time. believed an attack was imminent.

Austin ultimately said that despite directing Central Command and Special Operations Command to improve policies and procedures to more effectively prevent harm to civilians, no one would be punished for a failed operation. finally decided.

Austin is instrumental in coordinating DoD policy to strengthen civilian protection, and has also pledged to establish a Civilian Protection Center in 2022.

“High standards of behavior and leadership should be expected from leaders in this sector,” Austin said at the time.

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