Syria\u0026#039;s largest dam was supposed to be off-limits during the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State, but nearly five years ago, the Pentagon bombed it anyway, jeopardizing tens of thousands of civilians\u0026#039; lives, the New York Times\u0026nbsp;reported Thursday.\r\n\r\n\u0022The number of casualties would have exceeded the number of Syrians who have died throughout the war.\u0022\r\n\r\nThe Tabqa Dam is a massive, 18-story structure on the Euphrates River that holds back a 25-mile-long reservoir above a valley home to hundreds of thousands of people. It was also \u0022a strategic linchpin\u0022 controlled by the Islamic State, the newspaper noted.\r\n\r\nOn March 26, 2017, a series of explosions battered the dam, knocking workers to the ground and sparking a power outage, fire, and equipment failures. As the\u0026nbsp;reservoir began to rise, local authorities urged people living downstream to flee. The entire dam could have failed, experts say, had one of the bombs not been a dud.\r\n\r\nFollowing the attack, Dave Philipps,\u0026nbsp;Azmat Khan, and\u0026nbsp;Eric Schmitt\u0026nbsp;reported for the Times:\r\n\r\n\r\nThe Islamic State, the Syrian government, and Russia blamed the United States, but the dam was on the U.S. military’s \u0022no-strike list\u0022 of protected civilian sites and the commander of the U.S. offensive at the time, then-Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, said allegations of U.S. involvement were based on \u0022crazy reporting.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022The Tabqa Dam is not a coalition target,\u0022 he declared emphatically two days after the blasts.\r\n\r\nIn fact, members of a top secret U.S. Special Operations unit called\u0026nbsp;Task Force 9\u0026nbsp;had struck the dam using some of the largest conventional bombs in the U.S. arsenal, including at least one BLU-109 bunker-buster bomb designed to destroy thick concrete structures, according to two former senior officials. And they had done it despite a military report warning not to bomb the dam, because the damage could cause a flood that might kill tens of thousands of civilians.\r\n\r\n\r\nThe revelation of Task Force 9\u0026#039;s role in the assault on the Tabqa Dam follows a pattern described in previous Times\u0026#039;\u0026nbsp;investigations. As the newspaper noted on Thursday, \u0022The unit routinely circumvented the rigorous airstrike approval process and hit Islamic State targets in Syria in a way that repeatedly put civilians at risk.\u0022\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nPhillips, Khan, and Schmitt\u0026nbsp;reported:\r\n\r\n\r\nIn response to questions from the Times, U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the air war in Syria, acknowledged dropping three 2,000-pound bombs, but denied targeting the dam or sidestepping procedures. A spokesman said that the bombs hit only the towers attached to the dam, not the dam itself, and while top leaders had not been notified beforehand, limited strikes on the towers had been preapproved by the command.\r\n\r\n\u0022Analysis had confirmed that strikes on the towers attached to the dam were not considered likely to cause structural damage to the Tabqa Dam itself,\u0022 Capt. Bill Urban, the chief spokesman for the command, said in the statement. Noting that the dam did not collapse, he added, \u0022That analysis has proved accurate.\u0022\r\n\r\n\r\nHowever, Syrian witnesses interviewed by the Times, and two former U.S. officials who were directly involved in the air war at the time, said the situation was far graver than the Pentagon let on.\r\n\r\nAccording to the newspaper:\r\n\r\n\r\nCritical equipment lay in ruins and the dam stopped functioning entirely. The reservoir quickly rose 50 feet and nearly spilled over the dam, which engineers said would have been catastrophic. The situation grew so desperate that authorities at\u0026nbsp;dams upstream in Turkey cut water flow\u0026nbsp;into Syria to buy time, and sworn enemies in the yearslong conflict—the Islamic State, the Syrian government, Syrian Defense Forces, and the United States—called a rare emergency cease-fire so civilian engineers could race to avert a disaster.\r\n\r\nEngineers who worked at the dam, who did not want to be identified because they feared reprisal, said it was only through quick work, much of it made at gunpoint as opposing forces looked on, that the dam and the people living downstream of it were saved.\r\n\r\n\r\n\u0022The destruction would have been unimaginable,\u0022 said a former director at the dam. \u0022The number of casualties would have exceeded the number of Syrians who have died throughout the war.\u0022\r\n\r\nAt least 95,000 civilians have died in Syria as a direct result of the ongoing conflict,\u0026nbsp;according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.\r\n\r\nJournalist Ben Norton\u0026nbsp;argued that \u0022the U.S. military intentionally bombed a dam in Syria that was on its \u0026#039;no-strike list\u0026#039; of protected civilian sites, because it knew it could kill tens of thousands.\u0022\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nDebunking Pentagon officials\u0026#039; claims that they target militants with precision, a\u0026nbsp;report\u0026nbsp;released in September by Airwars—a military watchdog that monitors and seeks to reduce civilian harm in violent conflict zones—found that airstrikes conducted by the U.S. killed between 22,000 and 48,000 civilians during the first two decades of the so-called \u0022War on Terror\u0022 pursued in the aftermath of the\u0026nbsp;September 11, 2001\u0026nbsp;attacks.\u0026nbsp;Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria were home to 97% of those casualties.\r\n\r\nMeanwhile, \u0022no disciplinary action was taken against\u0022 Task Force 9, the Times reported Thursday. \u0022The secret unit continued to strike targets using the same types of self-defense justifications it had used on the dam.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022While the dam was still being repaired, the task force sent a drone over the community next to the dam,\u0022 wrote Phillips, Khan, and Schmitt. \u0022As the drone circled, three of the civilian workers who had rushed to save the dam finished their work and piled into a small van and headed back toward their homes.\u0022\r\n\r\n\u0022More than a mile away from the dam, the van was hit by a coalition airstrike,\u0022 they added. \u0022A mechanical engineer, a technician, and a Syrian Red Crescent worker were killed.\u0022\r\n\r\nAlthough Airwars reported these civilian deaths when they occurred in 2017, they have never been officially acknowledged by the U.S. military.