Air strike in Syria
Air strike in SyriaiStock

The US military covered up 2019 air strikes in Syria that killed up to 64 women and children, a possible war crime, during the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist organization, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

According to the report, the two air strikes near the town of Baghuz were ordered by a classified American special operations unit tasked with ground operations in Syria.

The newspaper said that US Central Command, which oversaw US air operations in Syria, acknowledged the strikes for the first time this week and said they were justified.

Central Command reiterated in a statement issued on Saturday and quoted by Reuters that 80 people were killed in the strikes, including 16 ISIS fighters and four civilians.

The military said it was unclear if the other 60 people were indeed civilians, partly because women and children could have been combatants.

The US army said the strikes were "legitimate self-defense," proportional and that "appropriate steps were taken to rule out the presence of civilians."

The statement added that the number of civilians among the 60 fatalities could not be determined because "multiple armed women and at least one armed child were observed" in video of the events.