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Pentagon admits 2023 airstrike killed civilian, not al Qaeda leader

An internal investigation found American forces “misidentified the intended Al Qaeda target and that a civilian, Mr. Lufti Hasan Masto (Masto), was struck and killed instead,” according to a U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) statement on the findings.


The probe also concluded that while the strike was “conducted in compliance with the law of armed conflict as well as Department of Defense and CENTCOM policies,” it “revealed several issues that could be improved.”


CENTCOM said it could not publicly share many facts and findings of the investigation, as they involve classified information.


“We are committed to learning from this incident and improving our targeting processes to mitigate potential civilian harm,” CENTCOM said, adding that it “acknowledges and regrets the civilian harm that resulted from the airstrike.”


The U.S. military initially claimed that it had killed a senior al Qaeda leader in the May 3, 2023, strike in northwest Syria. Instead, it targeted Masto, a 56-year-old shepherd.


CENTCOM ordered an investigation last June, weeks after The Washington Post published a May 18 report on the strike, in which Masto’s relatives asserted he had no ties to terrorists.


U.S. officials quickly walked back the claims a senior al Qaeda figure had been killed and wrapped its probe in November but did not publicly admit until Thursday that it had mistaken Masto as an al Qaeda official.


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