- The US military conducted a drone strike in Northwest Syria on the morning of May 3.
- US Central Command said in a press release that the target was a “senior Al Qaeda leader.”
- Two US military officials told The Washington Post that the strike did not kill the intended target.
Two US military officials said they may not have killed the intended target of an Al Qaeda leader in a drone strike that was carried out on May 3 in Northwest Syria, The Washington Post reported.
“We are no longer confident we killed a senior AQ official,” one official told the Post. Another official said, “though we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda.” Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
The US Central Command released a brief statement on May 3, claiming it had conducted a “unilateral strike in Northwest Syria targeting a senior Al Qaeda leader.” According to the press release, the strike was carried out around 11:42 a.m. in local Syrian time.
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But the two officials are walking back on the claim, and the family of the victim as well as terrorism experts told the Post that the man had no ties to terrorists.
The family told the publication that the man was 56-year-old Lotfi Hassan Misto, a father of 10.
Misto’s son Hassan told the Post that his father carried out his morning routine as usual, eating breakfast and then tending to his sheep.
Misto then took a break for a few hours near his home and had tea with his brother. Around 11:30 a.m., Misto went back to his animals. The father was struck by a missile from an MQ-9 predator drone near the area where he had tea with his brother less than 15 minutes later.
The Post gathered photos and details of the event through interviews with Misto’s family and neighbors. Images were also provided by the Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer humanitarian organization also known as the “White Helmets.”
Four terrorism experts told The Post that Misto was not referenced in any online discussions with jihadists following the attack. The experts added that it’s unlikely that a senior Al Qaeda figure would be operating in the area of the strike.
“Very quickly after this strike, the White Helmets came out and identified the individual with his name and his profession. Locals came forward to say, this guy’s always been a farmer. He’s never had any political activities; he’s never had any affiliation with armed groups,” Charles Lister, the director of Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism programs at the Middle East Institute, told the Post. “The pace and breadth of such push-back was actually quite unusual.”
A spokesperson for US Central Command did not return a request for comment that was sent outside of working hours.
Central Command spokesperson Michael Lawhorn told the Post that officials are aware of reports of civilian casualty.
“Centcom takes all such allegations seriously and is investigating to determine whether or not the action may have unintentionally resulted in harm to civilians,” Lawhorn told the Post.