The US military said it would open an investigation into the possibility a recent drone strike caused civilian casualties, with Pentagon officials claiming the attack had been intended to target a 'senior al-Qaeda leader.?
US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees military operations across the Middle East, announced the upcoming probe on Friday, hours after an MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle bombed an unspecified location in Idlib province in what CENTCOM described as a "precision strike."
"We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them. The possibility of a civilian casualty was immediately self-reported to US Central Command," spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement obtained by CNN.
Friday's drone mission follows another strike on Idlib in September, which was alleged to have killed a senior terrorist operative. The military claimed no civilians had been killed in that attack. The use of US air power in Syria has slowed in recent years - at least in terms of what the Pentagon is willing to publicly acknowledge.
Last month, a New York Times investigation suggested an air strike in March 2019 had hit "a large crowd of women and children huddled against a river bank" near the town of Baghuz, and may have resulted in the Pentagon's largest civilian casualty incident in the country. Following the Times probe, CENTCOM reluctantly admitted it may have killed up to 80 people, including some non-combatants, though it argued the women and children may have been working on behalf of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group at the time they perished.
Another high-profile American strike on the Afghan capital Kabul over the summer - among the last US combat operations in its 20-year war in the country - was later found to have killed 10 civilians, including eight children. While the Defense Department initially deemed that strike a success, it later acknowledged these deaths, following a Times investigation.