Reporter presses Psaki about civilian deaths in ISIS leader raid, saying US military hasn't been 'straightforward' in the past

Jen Psaki
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  • A reporter pressed Psaki on US claims regarding civilian casualties linked to a raid that killed ISIS's leader.

  • The US said that the civilians were killed when the ISIS leader blew himself up.

  • As Psaki pushed back, the reporter said the US military hasn't always been "straightforward" about civilian deaths.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday got into a back-and-forth with a reporter on Air Force One amid questions over the reliability of information provided by the US military on a raid that resulted in the death of ISIS's leader.

Amid reports that civilians were killed, President Joe Biden on Thursday said that ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi blew himself up as US forces moved in to capture him in northwestern Syria. Biden said the explosion that Qurayshi set off killed members of his family.

"As our troops approached to capture the terrorist, in a final act of desperate cowardice, with no regard for the lives of his own family or others in the building, he chose to blow himself up," Biden said at the White House.

A reporter on Air Force One asked Psaki if the US had evidence to back up the assertion that the ISIS leader detonated a suicide bomb, adding that some people might be skeptical of the US military's claims.

Psaki pushed back, questioning whether skeptics believed the US military was "not providing accurate information, and ISIS is providing accurate information."

The reporter, NPR White House Correspondent Ayesha Rascoe, replied, "The US has not always been straightforward about what happens with civilians. And, I mean, that is a fact."

Underscoring that the president prioritized "doing everything possible" to prevent civilian deaths, Psaki went on to say that the administration would give the military "time to make a final assessment" given the operation took place less than 24 hours ago.

Biden in his remarks on the raid Thursday said that he ordered the use of special forces in the raid, as opposed to an air or drone strike, to reduce civilian casualties.

"We made a choice to pursue a special forces raid at a much greater risk to our own people rather than targeting him with an airstrike," Biden said. "We made this choice to minimize civilian casualties."

The US military has frequently faced criticism from top human rights groups over a lack of transparency surrounding civilian casualties from US operations, particularly airstrikes and drone strikes.

"In the past, the US has often refused to admit that the victims were civilians, even when confronted with detailed evidence from groups like Amnesty International and others demonstrating the victims' civilian status," Daphne Eviatar, Amnesty International USA's director of Security With Human Rights, told Insider in September following an August 29 drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Kabul, including seven children.

Top US generals in testimony to Congress said the military knew within hours of the August 29 strike that civilians had been killed, but the Pentagon did not fully acknowledge this to the public until weeks after.

The strike occurred because the military mistook an aid worker for an ISIS-K militant. The Pentagon's public acknowledgement of the civilian deaths came after reporting from the New York Times and Washington Post contradicted the military's initial narrative on the drone attack. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had previously referred to it as a "righteous strike."

Congressional lawmakers have also rebuked the Pentagon on the issue. Dozens of Democrats sent a letter to Biden last month expressing concerns about drone strikes, calling out the US military for the "consistent underreporting" of civilian casualties in the process.

Read the original article on Business Insider