US investigation finds flaws in airstrike near Syrian mosque

US investigation finds flaws in airstrike near Syrian mosque
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A U.S. military investigation has found that a March airstrike targeting al Qaeda leaders in northern Syria was legal, but found targeting shortfalls that failed to note that adjacent buildings were associated with a mosque. 

“A concern from this strike is that all the best information did not make it to the target engagement authority at the time he had to make the decision about the strike,” Paul Bontrager, deputy director for operations for U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Pentagon.

The probe, which included dozens of interviews but no visits to the strike site, also found that there may have been one civilian casualty in the attack that killed about two dozen al Qaeda members, Bontrager said. 

The March 16 airstrike destroyed a school next to a future mosque under construction in the village of Al-Jineh in the northern province of Aleppo. The mosque under construction was damaged.

Religious buildings are usually protected and military must get higher approvals to bomb them if is believed they are being used by the enemy.

Syrian opposition activists have said dozens of civilians were killed in the strike, while human rights group Human Rights Watch ripped the attack as “likely unlawful.” 

“The U.S. seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said in an April statement.

But Bontrager said the United States found no evidence to suggest that the strike caused mass casualties, as initial reports indicated.

“We considered media reports that indicated a large number of civilians were killed, but our investigation did not uncover evidence to support those claims,” Bontrager said. “We are not aware of large numbers of civilians being treated in hospitals after the strike.”

He added that CENTCOM is confident that this was a meeting of al Qaeda members and not of civilians.

“We struck our intended target and eliminated several al Qaeda terrorists.”