The US military covered up 2019 airstrikes in Syria that killed up to 64 women and children, a possible war crime, during the battle against Islamic State, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

In a statement on Saturday, Central Command reiterated the account it gave the newspaper that 80 people were killed in the strikes including 16 ISIS fighters and four civilians. The military said it was unclear if the other 60 people were civilians, partly because women and children could have been combatants.

According  to the report ,The two back-to-back airstrikes near the town of Baghuz were ordered by a classified American special operations unit tasked with ground operations in Syria,.

In Saturday’s statement, the military said the strikes were “legitimate self-defense,” proportional and that “appropriate steps were taken to rule out the presence of civilians.”

Central Command said ,”We abhor the loss of innocent life and take all possible measures to prevent them. In this case, we self-reported and investigated the strike according to our own evidence and take full responsibility for the unintended loss of life,”.

Central Command said the strikes took place while Syrian Democratic Forces were under heavy fire and in danger of being overrun and the SDF had reported the area clear of civilians.

The number of civilians among the 60 fatalities could not be determined because “multiple 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 Defense Department’s inspector general launched an inquiry into the March 18, 2019, incident, but its report was ultimately “stripped” of any mention of the bombing and a thorough, independent probe never took place, according to the Times.

The  Times said ,An Air Force lawyer present in the operations center at the time believed the strikes were possible war crimes and later alerted the Defense Department’s inspector general and the Senate Armed Services Committee when no action was taken.

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