DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Julian Kemper


July 3, 2023

Written by

Anna Zahn and Clarie Alspektor

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DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Julian Kemper

Civil society demands transparency over latest US military civilian harm investigation

On June 29th 2023, Airwars joined 20 human rights, humanitarian and civilian protection organisations in sending a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin calling for greater commitments to transparency and due process over its on-going investigation into the May 3rd strike in Syria that killed Lutfi Hassan Masto.

Within hours of the US strike local sources reported that Masto was a civilian, not the ‘senior Al-Qaeda leader’ the US military claimed him to be.

Soon after the incident, The Washington Post released an investigation including interviews with terrorism experts raising doubts around the likelihood of Al Qaeda operations in the area, alongside additional testimonies from Masto’s family members. The Department of Defense has now said it will conduct an inquiry into the incident – known as an AR15-6.

Signatories of the letter, including Center for Civilians in Conflict, Zomia Center and Human Rights Watch, are demanding that the Pentagon ensure that this inquiry is carried out in accordance with the commitments outlined under the new Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan announced last year.

The letter also acknowledges the legacy of civilian harm that the Department of Defense has yet to take full responsibility for. “Our organizations ask how we are in the position that, once more, significant evidence indicates the Department of Defense carried out a lethal strike that killed a civilian, in the name of fighting terrorism,” it read.

The organisations stated that “civilian deaths are not unfortunate anomalies, but rather a systemic problem requiring committed leadership and accountability, (…) the May 3 strike in Idlib, Syria, demonstrates that more must be done to address years of systematic misidentification of targets, confirmation bias in the targeting process, and a widespread absence of transparency and accountability.”

In response to this incident, Airwars researchers have released a series of excerpts from other civilian harm investigations in Iraq and Syria – placing this latest investigation in context. This is part of an on-going project coding and reviewing these declassified assessments and linking them up to the original harm allegations.

Read the letter in full here

▲ DoD photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Julian Kemper