According to a statement by Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis, dozens of core Al Qaeda leaders are believed to have been killed in a U.S led airstrike in Jinah, Syria last week.
Captain Davis delivered a written statement and then briefly took questions from reporters regarding the strike. Opponents in Syria have accused U.S. forces or targeting and destroying a mosque located near the target site, but post-strike aerial photography was released alongside the written statement clearly showing the mosque remaining intact where it stood, adjacent to the target building.
“I wanted to draw your attention to it, because I think there are a lot of reports suggesting that we had targeted a mosque,” he said. “We did not. Of course, you know we never would.”
The air strike saw participation from both manned and unmanned aircraft and occurred at approximately 7PM local time, about seventeen miles southwest of Aleppo. The identities of those killed in the strike have not yet been confirmed, but Davis claims it is likely that a number of high-value targets were present for the meeting.
“We struck a meeting of senior Al Qaeda terrorists — some of these were likely high-value individuals,” Davis said. “We’re currently assessing that.”
According to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attack was not on a strategic Al Qaeda meeting, but was instead of a religious complex. According to their accusations, forty-nine innocent civilians were killed in the attack, a claim the United States has fervently denied.
According to Davis, officials watched the building prior to the air strike for “some time,” before choosing to authorize the attack that included both missiles and precision bombs. He went on to clarify that, even if the structure had been a part of a religious complex, it would still be an authorized target, as guidelines clearly dictate target assessment should be based on what the structure is being used for at the time of the strike, rather than the building’s intended use.
Despite groups within Syria claiming the attack was on civilians, the Pentagon’s photograph showing the mosque in question as intact after the strike was reportedly taken as shortly as five minutes after the attack took place.
It seems likely that the location for the meeting was chosen specifically because of the potential political fallout of such a strike, as Al Qaeda has long been aware of the U.S. policy of trying to avoid religious structures, schools, and hospitals without first undergoing extensive scrutiny. By choosing such locations for meetings among high level members, they afford themselves a certain degree of protection, or at least a delay in a potential attack.
“We take all allegations of civilian casualties seriously,” Eric J. Pahon, a Defense Department spokesman, said. “This strike was conducted after we learned that senior Al Qaeda leaders were in the area and were attending this meeting.”
Pahon described the structure as a “partially constructed community meeting hall,” and not a mosque like the other structure in the image.
Rescue workers wearing white helmets were seen on the site of the air strike soon after it occurred, and reports began emerging within hours of civilian casualties. The U.S. investigation into the attack, as well as the identities of those killed, is still underway.
Image courtesy of Getty Images