November 19, 2021

Warren Calls for Senate Armed Services Committee Investigation into Coverup of the Baghuz Airstrike that Killed Approximately 70 Women and Children and Was Flagged As A Potential War Crime

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - Today, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), sent a letter to Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chairman of SASC, requesting that the Committee launch a formal inquiry to review the findings and implications of a recent New York Times report detailing how the U.S. military hid an airstrike in Baghuz, Syria that killed dozens of civilians and was flagged as a potential war crime by legal analysts.

“The Senate Armed Services Committee must seek answers about this strike and its aftermath and hold anyone found to be in violation of law or established procedures to account,” wrote Senator Warren.

The letter comes after the New York Times published a report earlier this week detailing a U.S. airstrike by an American Special Operations Unit  that killed dozens of civilians in Baghuz, Syria and appears to have then been  covered up by military and civilian Department of Defense (DoD) officials.. 

The report succinctly described the scope of the failure:

The Baghuz strike was one of the largest civilian casualty incidents of the war against the Islamic State, but it has never been publicly acknowledged by the U.S. military. The details … for the first time, show that the death toll was almost immediately apparent to military officials. A legal officer flagged the strike as a possible war crime that required an investigation. But at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike. The death toll was downplayed. Reports were delayed, sanitized and classified. United States-led coalition forces bulldozed the blast site. And top leaders were not notified. 

The Defense Department’s independent inspector general began an inquiry, but the report containing its findings was stalled and stripped of any mention of the strike.

Senator Warren calls on Chairman Reed to open an inquiry to investigate the claims in the report, writing: “The Armed Services Committee has an important role to play in determining the facts about the strike, and the investigations conducted by DoD officials in its aftermath. I therefore request that the Committee immediately launch a formal inquiry into this alleged war crime and cover-up, including hearings – both in public and in executive session so that the Committee can obtain classified testimony – as expeditiously as possible.” 

Senator Warren seeks testimony from officials who exercised authority over this operation and calls for any subsequent investigation to investigate the legal and policy justifications for the strike; the civilian harm that resulted from the strike; and the U.S. military’s response to the reported civilian casualties, including attempts to conceal the civilian toll and block investigations. 

Senator Warren has long led the call for accountability for U.S. military operations that kill innocent civilians: Following the August 29, 2021 unmanned airstrike that killed ten civilians in Afghanistan, Senator Warren and Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) sent a letter to  Secretary Austin to use the tragedy of civilian harm to look into the Pentagon’s history of accidentally targeting innocent civilians and significantly under-investigate and undercount civilian casualties. In July, Senator Warren and Representative Khanna sent a letter urging Secretary Austin to review why significant undercounts of civilian casualties persist and why DoD made zero ex gratia payments to grieving civilians last year despite authorization and funding from Congress. In June 2020, Senator Warren and Representative Ro Khanna introduced the Protection of Civilians in Military Operations Act, bicameral legislation that would enhance reporting on civilian casualties resulting from U.S. military operations, improve investigations into civilian casualties, and strengthen resources for the Department's policies and practices relating to civilian casualty prevention and responses.