US military officials told reporters on Thursday that there could have been more civilian casualties than initially thought in the recent special operations forces raid in northwest Syria that targeted an ISIS leader.
When the raid first happened, President Biden and the Pentagon said ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi blew up himself, his wife, and two children on the third floor of a building once US forces arrived. But other sources said at least 13 people were killed. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said among the 13 killed were four children and three women.
The military officials admitted Thursday that they don’t know for certain if al-Qurayshi detonated the bomb that caused the explosion. They insist the blast was caused by someone in the building and wasn’t the fault of the US, but they admitted there is no video footage of the raid.
The officials also said they couldn’t rule out that more people than al-Qurayshi and his family died. They noted that "multiple bodies" ended up under rubble, and the US forces didn’t have time to count them.
The officials said a lower-level ISIS member was on the second floor of the building with five children. The US forces killed the ISIS fighter and his wife in a gun battle and were able to evacuate four of the children, but a toddler was found dead, and the cause of death was not clear.
The raid came amid heightened scrutiny over the high number of civilian casualties caused by US operations in the Middle East. Thursday’s briefing shows that the White House was not being truthful about the raid on al-Qurayshi right after it happened.
Psaki to reporter asking about those "skeptical" about civilians killed in raid: "Skeptical of the U.S. military's assessment when they went and took out... the leader of ISIS, that they are not providing accurate information, and ISIS is providing accurate information?" pic.twitter.com/7g90mc1x1U— Tommy moderna-vaX-Topher (@tommyxtopher) February 3, 2022
On the day the raid was announced, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it was "confirmed" that al-Qurayshi blew himself up and scoffed at a reporter who asked for evidence. The reporter mentioned that some people are 'skeptical" about US claims when it comes to civilian casualties. Psaki fired back and asked if the skeptics thought ISIS was providing more accurate information than the US military.
"Well, not ISIS, but, I mean, the US has not always been straightforward about what happens with civilians. And, I mean, that is a fact," the reporter responded.