US military officials have finally admitted that amid growing criticisms for claiming without evidence that the target had detonated a bomb killing himself and his entire family.
Laying out a chronology of the raid, the officials – who spoke on condition of anonymity -- also conceded that they cannot be certain about their initial claim that the Daesh leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, detonated the bomb that killed him and his family at his residence in the Syrian village of Atmeh near the Turkish border, AP reported Friday.
They, however, continue to claim – without evidence – that the explosive was set off by him or someone else on the third floor of the building where he allegedly lived.
Speaking to a small group of reporters, two senior US military officials involved in the planning or execution of the operation provided the most details to date on the February 2 raid, still pushing back against local residents and other activist groups insisting that the American operation killed as many as 13 people, including civilians.
Sources on the ground in the Syrian northwestern border town told media outlets that at least 12 civilians were killed in the raid. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, also confirmed that six children were killed in the immediate area.
The officials also revealed that the US, which wanted to capture al-Qurayshi alive, had made plans to turn him over to another government. One official said the US would have detained him temporarily, but there were no plans for a long-term US detention.
They declined to provide further details, saying they wanted to protect “government-to-government” discussions.
Previously the Pentagon and US President Joe Biden had insisted that al-Qurayshi blew up himself, his wife and two children. The military officials again reiterated on Thursday that they believe that is “the most likely scenario but have no evidence to back that up,” according to the report.
The latest, though still shadowy, explanations were offered after the Biden administration and the Pentagon came under sharp criticism recently for failing to provide evidence of a number of national security claims, including proof of their efforts to avoid civilian casualties in operations such as the Syria raid, their account of an alleged suicide bombing in Afghanistan in August, and the persisting claims about a looming Russian invasion of Ukraine.
A prominent CNN news anchor also blasted last week the Biden administration’s recent suggestion that journalists who don’t trust their claims are siding with terrorists or foreign powers, pointing out that the US government has a long history of “lying to the American people.”
The on-air criticism of the administration by Jake Tapper was prompted by two separate incidents earlier this month in which White House and State Department spokespersons clearly implied that journalists challenging the validity of their official statements were siding with Washington’s enemies.
In one incident, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was challenged by a reporter to offer evidence proving her claim that Daesh (ISIS) leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi had detonated himself with a suicide device during a US raid in Syria.
“As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard to the lives of his own family or others in the building, he chose to blow himself up,” US President Joe Biden also claimed.
The exchange between Psaki and the reporter onboard the presidential plane coincided with a similar argument over the reliability of information provided by the US government at the State Department, where Spokesman Ned Price claimed that Russia was preparing to stage a ‘false flag’ attack as a pretext to invade Ukraine.
“There’s a long history in this country that long predates the existence of everybody at this table…of the US Government lying to the American people,” Tapper underlined during his news show early this month. “Lying for the right reasons maybe, or because they had the wrong information or they’re backing their guys, but it is our job to challenge.”
During the show, CNN contributor Abby Phillip also cited US military’s drone strike in Kabul last August -- in which the administration originally claimed that Daesh terrorists were targeted but it was shortly proven that the strike had actually killed only civilians -- as an example of why journalists should question the government’s claims.
Meanwhile, persisting questions about the administration’s credibility are coming at a critical moment as it is revealing intelligence about Russia’s plans for Ukraine, while often not providing evidence to back up its assertions.
Moreover, an AP journalist as well as several village residents have also confirmed seeing body parts scattered near the site of the US commando raid in Syria.
On Thursday, according to the AP report, the military officials further acknowledged they have no video of the house explosion in Syria or of the efforts to get civilians out of the house.
US Military officials also stated for the first time that individuals in the targeted house shot at the troops before the Americans started to enter the building after the explosion, the report noted.
A Daesh member, described as a lieutenant of al-Qurayshi’s, and his wife were on the second floor, with as many as five children. Officials said US forces killed the militant and his wife in a gun battle. One was barricaded in a small room and shooting from there; another fired while coming through the door.
According to the AP journalist who went to the site, blood could be seen on the walls and floor of the remaining structure, which contained a wrecked bedroom with a child’s wooden crib on the floor. On one damaged wall, a blue plastic children’s swing was still hanging. The kitchen was blackened with fire damage.
Explaining the lack of video of the house explosion, the unidentified American officials further claimed that the team was watching the building, and overhead surveillance was focused on the surrounding area to detect any potential threats to the force. They said there is also no body-cam video.