The U.S. Central Command has called for an investigation after a drone strike that targeted a senior al-Qaeda leader in northwest Syria on Friday may have killed civilians, according to a statement by the military. 

CENTCOM spokesman Captain Bill Urban said in a statement that “U.S. forces conducted a kinetic strike near Idlib, Syria, December 3, targeting a senior al-Qaeda leader and planner.”

“The strike was conducted using a precision strike method from MQ-9 aircraft.”

An “initial review of this strike indicates the potential for possible civilian casualties,” Urban added. “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 U.S. Central Command. We are initiating a full investigation of the allegations and will release the results when appropriate,” Urban said.

CENTCOM spokesperson Lt. Colonel Karen Roxberry confirmed to Military Times that the intended al-Qaeda target was killed in the drone. “To protect intelligence sources and potential follow-on operations, we cannot release the target’s name at this time,” Roxberry said.

“We are in the immediate aftermath of the event and still conducting a thorough assessment,” she said to Military Times. “We know of the potential for civilian casualties based on the self-report, but do not want to speculate. We are taking this matter seriously and will ensure that there is a comprehensive investigation.”

Reaper drone with hellfire missiles
A Reaper drone with two Hellfire missiles attached warms up prior to an operation. (USAF)

The Pentagon is currently conducting two reviews of civilian casualties from U.S. airstrikes.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered a review of a March 2019 airstrike against ISIS in Syria in which it has been reported that dozens of women and children may have been killed. The New York Times did a lengthy investigation and reported on this strike earlier last month.

Austin spoke to the media back in November saying that he is “committed to adjusting our policies and our procedures to make sure that we improve.” He will hold senior leaders accountable for putting those into effect, the secretary added.

Austin said he believes “leaders in this department should be held to account for high standards of conduct and leadership… And for my part as secretary of Defense, I have every intention to uphold that standard.”

Secretary Austin speaking with troops
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaking with troops in California. (DVIDS)

In the 2019 operation, American special operations troops were advising a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) unit when they called for an airstrike stating that they were in imminent danger of being attacked by ISIS fighters. 

The troops on the ground reported no civilians in the area. Later, however, a drone operator reported that there may have been women and children present. The Army has appointed General Michael X. Garrett, head of Army Forces Command to head up the investigation. 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday that Garrett will report on parts of an investigation already conducted while also conducting “further inquiry into the facts and circumstances” of the airstrike.

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