The newspaper said the U.S. Central Command, which oversaw U.S. air operations in Syria, acknowledged the attacks for the first time this week and said they were justified.
In a statement on Saturday, the Central Command reiterated the report it gave the newspaper that 80 people had been killed in the attacks, including 16 Islamic State fighters and four civilians. The military said it was unclear if the other 60 people were civilians, in part because women and children could have been combatants.
In Saturday’s statement, the military said the attacks were “legitimate self-defense”, proportionate and that “appropriate steps were taken to rule out the presence of civilians.”
“We abhor the loss of innocent lives and take all possible measures to prevent them. In this case, we have self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintentional loss of life,” the Central Command said.
The number of civilians among the 60 killed could not be determined because “several armed women and at least one armed child were observed” in video of the events, it said, adding that the majority of the 60 were likely combatants.
The Central Command said the attacks took place while the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were under heavy fire and in danger of being overrun, and the SDF had declared the area free of civilians.
The Secretary of Defense’s Inspector General launched an investigation into the incident on March 18, 2019, but its report was eventually “removed” from any mention of the bombing, and a thorough, independent investigation never took place, according to the Times. The newspaper said its report was based on confidential documents and descriptions of classified reports, as well as interviews with directly involved staff.
An air force attorney present at the operations center at the time believed the strikes were possible war crimes and later warned the Secretary of Defense and the Senate Armed Services Committee when no action was taken, the Times said.