US Bombed Syria Dam on ‘No-Strike List,’ Risked Killing Thousands of Civilians

Syria’s largest dam was supposed to be off-limits during the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State, but nearly five years ago, the Pentagon bombed it anyway, jeopardizing tens of thousands of civilians’ lives, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River is an 18-story structure. It holds back a 25 mile-long reservoir over a valley that houses hundreds of thousands of people. It was also “a strategic linchpin” controlled by the Islamic State, the newspaper noted.

A series of explosions ripped through the dam on March 26, 2017, knocking workers to their knees and causing a power outage, fire and equipment failures. As the reservoir began to riseLocal authorities issued an appeal to people living downstream to leave. Experts say the entire dam could have collapsed if one of the bombs had not been dropped.

After the attack, Azmat Khan, Dave Philipps and Eric Schmitt reported to the police. Times:

The Islamic State, the Syrian government, and Russia blamed the United States, but the dam was on the U.S. military’s “no-strike list” of protected civilian sites and the commander of the U.S. offensive at the time, then-Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said allegations of U.S. involvement were based on “crazy reporting.”

“The Tabqa Dam is not a coalition target,” he declared emphatically two days after the blasts.

Members of a top-secret U.S. Special Operations unit called Task Force 9Two former senior officials claim that they used some of the most powerful conventional bombs in the U.S. arsenal to strike the dam, including at least one BLU109 bunker-buster bomb, which was designed to destroy thick concrete structures. They had done it despite a warning from the military not bombing the dam as the damage could cause flooding that could kill tens to thousands of civilians.

The revelation of Task Force 9’s role in the assault on the Tabqa Dam follows a pattern described Previous Times’ investigations. As the newspaper noted on Thursday, “The unit routinely circumvented the rigorous airstrike approval process and hit Islamic State targets in Syria in a way that repeatedly put civilians at risk.”

Phillips, Khan and Schmitt reported:

Responding to questions fromTimesThe U.S. Central Command oversaw the air war against Syria. It acknowledged the dropping of three bombs weighing 2,000 pounds, but denied that they were targeting the dam or avoiding procedures. A spokesperson said that the bombs struck only the towers attached the dam and not its dam. While top leaders were not informed beforehand, the command had preapproved limited strikes on the towers.

“Analysis had confirmed that strikes on the towers attached to the dam were not considered likely to cause structural damage to the Tabqa Dam itself,” Capt. The statement was made by Bill Urban, the chief spokesperson for the command. Noting that the dam did not collapse, he added, “That analysis has proved accurate.”

However, witnesses from Syria were interviewed by the TimesTwo former U.S. officials, who were directly involved with the air war, stated that the situation was far worse than the Pentagon claimed.

According to the newspaper:

Critical equipment was destroyed and the dam stopped working completely. The reservoir quickly grew 50 feet and nearly poured over the dam, which engineers thought would have been disastrous. Authorities had to intervene in an emergency situation that grew so dire. dams upstream in Turkey cut water flow into Syria to buy time, and sworn enemies in the yearslong conflict—the Islamic State, the Syrian government, Syrian Defense Forces, and the United States—called a rare emergency cease-fire so civilian engineers could race to avert a disaster.

Because they feared reprisal from their colleagues, engineers who worked at the dam said that it was only through quick work and much of it done at gunpoint, while opposing forces watched on, that the dam was saved.

“The destruction would have been unimaginable,” said a former director at the dam. “The number of casualties would have exceeded the number of Syrians who have died throughout the war.”

As a direct result, the ongoing conflict has claimed at least 95,000 lives in Syria. according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project.

Journalist Ben Norton argued that “the U.S. military intentionally bombed a dam in Syria that was on its ‘no-strike list’ of protected civilian sites, because it knew it could kill tens of thousands.”

Debunking Pentagon officials’ claims that they target militants with precision, a report released in September by Airwars — a military watchdog that monitors and seeks to reduce civilian harm in violent conflict zones — found that airstrikes conducted by the U.S. killed between 22,000 and 48,000 civilians during the first two decades of the so-called “War on Terror” pursued in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. 97% of the casualties were from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Meanwhile, “no disciplinary action was taken against” Task Force 9, the Times reported Thursday. “The secret unit continued to strike targets using the same types of self-defense justifications it had used on the dam.”

“While the dam was still being repaired, the task force sent a drone over the community next to the dam,” wrote Phillips, Khan, and Schmitt. “As the drone circled, three of the civilian workers who had rushed to save the dam finished their work and piled into a small van and headed back toward their homes.”

“More than a mile away from the dam, the van was hit by a coalition airstrike,” they added. “A mechanical engineer, a technician, and a Syrian Red Crescent worker were killed.”

Although Airwars reported These civilian deaths occurred in 2017, but they have never been officially recognized by the U.S. military.