The three people familiar with the findings, who spoke on condition that they were anonymous to discuss the details of the confidential report, said that 56 people had been killed, but that 52 of them were hostile warriors, although that assessment classified all adult men. in the strike as warriors, whether they were armed or not. Officials also said 17 people had been injured, 15 of them civilians.
The Baghuz attack was part of a series of investigations by The Times last year into airstrikes that killed civilians, including a failed drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, which killed 10 innocent people in August. Another Times investigation, based on a string of Pentagon strikes, revealed systemic failures to prevent civilian deaths in US airstrikes against the Islamic State.
Last week, the series was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting. John F. Kirby, Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged that the reporting was “not convenient, not easy and not easy to deal with.”
In response to The Times’ inquiry, Austin ordered a standardized reporting process on civilian casualties, the creation of a military “center of excellence” and the completion of a comprehensive new policy on the issue that has been going on for more than two years. That policy review is still ongoing, with details of the original plan expected by the end of June, Pentagon officials said.
“Protecting innocent civilians is fundamental to our operational success and is a strategic and moral imperative,” Austin said in a memo on Tuesday.
The Baghuz strike came in the last days of the offensive to clear Islamic State fighters of their self-proclaimed caliphate, which had once spread over areas of Syria and Iraq. U.S. F-15 attack jet planes repeatedly bombed a riverbank where scores of women, children and injured people had taken refuge.
Air Force personnel at a Qatar headquarters watching drone footage taken high above the scene immediately reported the attack, saying about 70 civilians may have been killed, informing leaders a formal investigation was needed.