- A US Military drone unit struck Syria's largest dam in 2017, despite it being on a 'no-strike' list, The New York Times reported.
- The New York Times reported that the strike used some of the largest conventional bombs.
- Tens of thousands were at risk of flooding in a narrowly avoided catastrophe, according to the report.
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A US Special Operations drone unit struck the largest dam in Syria in 2017, despite the location being on a US military "no-strike" list because of potential flooding risks for hundreds of thousands nearby, according to The New York Times.
According to two former senior officials with Task Force 9, the responsible unit, operators used some of the largest conventional bombs in its arsenal, including one that weighed 907 kilograms.
Task Force 9 struck the 18-story Taqba dam along the Euphrates River on March 26, 2017, The Times reported citing former officials in the unit, despite a US military report that indicated that a strike on the dam could cause flooding that could kill tens of thousands who live nearby and wipe out entire surrounding villages.
At the time of the strike, ISIS occupied the region in Syria and oversaw the operation of the dam.
According to The Times, the US was blamed by ISIS, Russia, and the Syrian government for the strike at the time. Then-Lieutenant-General Stephen J. Townsend, however, dismissed the charge as "crazy reporting."
"The Tabqa Dam is not a coalition target," Townsend said after the blast.
US Central Command, the US military command center that oversees combat operations in the Middle East could not immediately be reached for comment, but a spokesperson for the agency told The Times that only the dam's operating towers were targetted, instead of the walls of the dam itself.
According to the report, it was through a mix of luck and a team of sharp local engineers that a major flood was avoided.
Syrian engineers on the scene told The Times that one of the bombs dropped remained unexploded on the fifth floor of the complex, and they were able to safely dispose of the bomb, which may have otherwise taken out the structure.
The two former drone operators said that critical equipment for the operation of the dam was destroyed, and the dam's reservoir rose 50 feet, nearly spilling and forcing northern dams in Turkey to momentarily pause their water flow.
According to the report, a ceasefire was temporarily declared between warring sides in Syria to allow engineers to restore the dam's function and avoid disaster.
"The destruction would have been unimaginable," the dam's former director told The Times on condition of anonymity. "The number of casualties would have exceeded the number of Syrians who have died throughout the war.