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Pentagon Faults Review of Deadly Airstrike but Finds No Wrongdoing

The three people familiar with the findings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of the confidential report, said that 56 people had been killed, but that 52 of them were enemy fighters, although that assessment classified all adult males in the strike as fighters, whether they were armed or not. The officials also said 17 people had been injured, 15 of whom were civilians.

The Baghuz attack was part of a series of investigations by The Times last year into airstrikes that killed civilians, including a botched drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed 10 innocent people in August. Another Times investigation based on a trove of Pentagon reviews of strikes revealed systemic failures to prevent civilian deaths in the United States’ air war against the Islamic State.

Last week, the series was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, acknowledged that the reporting was “not comfortable, not easy and not simple to address.”

In response to The Times’s investigation, Mr. Austin ordered a standardized reporting process on civilian harm, the creation of a military “center of excellence” and the completion of a comprehensive new policy on the issue that has been in the works for more than two years. That policy review is still underway, with details of the initial plan expected by the end of June, Pentagon officials said.

“Protecting innocent civilians is fundamental to our operational success and is a strategic and moral imperative,” Mr. Austin said in his memo on Tuesday.

The Baghuz strike occurred in the last days of the offensive to clear Islamic State fighters from their self-proclaimed caliphate, which had once sprawled across areas of Syria and Iraq. American F-15 attack jets made repeated bombing runs on a riverbank where scores of women, children and wounded people had taken shelter.

Air Force personnel at a headquarters in Qatar who were watching drone footage taken from high above the site immediately reported the strike, saying that about 70 civilians may have been killed, and notified leaders that a formal investigation was required.

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