DoD investigates legitimacy of drone strike on Al-Qaeda leader
May 22, 2023

The Pentagon has expressed doubts about the effectiveness of a drone strike carried out earlier this month in Syria, which was believed to have killed a top al-Qaeda leader.

According to a report from The Washington Post, the strike may have instead claimed the life of Lotfi Hassan Misto, an innocent civilian tending to his sheep in northwest Syria.

The drone strike, which took place on May 3, was overseen by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), and the initial claim made by officials was that it had successfully targeted a senior al-Qaeda figure. However, senior Defense officials are now questioning whether the intended target was indeed eliminated, casting uncertainty over the operation’s accuracy.

“We are no longer confident we killed a senior AQ official,” a senior Defense official said. This revelation has raised concerns about the accuracy of intelligence and the potential for civilian casualties resulting from such strikes.

The Post’s investigation included interviews with members of Lotfi Hassan Misto’s family, who confirmed that the strike occurred near his home and chicken farm. These details strongly suggest that Misto, a 56-year-old man was an unintended victim caught in the crosshairs of the operation.

The incident has once again shed light on the long-standing issue of civilian casualties during U.S. counterterrorism operations. Despite efforts to minimize collateral damage, the United States has faced scrutiny over the years for lethal strikes that have unintentionally killed innocent civilians while targeting suspected military objectives.

This incident follows a similar pattern to a failed strike in Afghanistan last August, where 10 civilians were killed instead of the intended ISIS-K target. In that case, the Defense Department acknowledged “execution errors” but found no violations of war and did not hold anyone accountable for the botched attack.

These incidents have prompted calls for reforms in U.S. counterterrorism and drone strike operations. Last year, Democrats urged President Biden to overhaul these operations, leading to the implementation of a new policy in October.

The policy now requires the commander-in-chief’s approval for adding any suspect to a terror list, subsequently enabling military action against them.

CENTCOM is currently investigating the recent incident in Syria to determine the accuracy of the target identification. The doubts raised by senior Defense officials highlight the need for further scrutiny and improvement in intelligence gathering and target selection processes to avoid civilian casualties in future operations.

As the investigation unfolds, it remains imperative for the United States to review its tactics, ensuring that the balance between national security and the protection of innocent lives is maintained.

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