U.S. probe: more than 100 civilians killed in Mosul airstrike
A Pentagon investigation has concluded that at least 105 civilians died in an anti-IS strike in the Iraqi city of Mosul in March, officials said, but they blamed the toll on a secondary explosion of jihadist munitions.
A U.S. aircraft delivered a single precision-guided bomb into a building in west Mosul on March 17, with the aim of killing a pair of snipers on the second story of the structure in the al-Jadida neighborhood, which at the time was under Islamic State control.
But the bomb also caused a large cache of IS explosives to detonate, leading to the catastrophic collapse of the building that had civilians sheltering downstairs, officials said on Thursday.
"The secondary explosion triggered a rapid failure of the structure which killed the two IS snipers, 101 civilians sheltered in the bottom floors of the structure and four civilians in the neighboring structure to the west," said US Air Force Brigadier General Matt Isler, the lead investigator.
Isler said another 36 civilians who are "believed to be connected" to the building remained unaccounted for, but they had likely fled the area shortly before the strike. He said he was "very confident" in the final toll.
It was the single deadliest incident for civilians stemming from a coalition strike since anti-IS operations in Iraq and Syria began nearly three years ago.
The United States had previously only acknowledged that it "probably" had a role in the civilian deaths.
The investigation comes amid broader claims that US forces under President Donald Trump are killing more civilians as the military fulfills a plan to "annihilate" the Islamic State group.
The Pentagon denies this and says its rules of engagement remain unchanged and insists its precision-targeting abilities are the best in the world.
Liberating Mosul from "Islamic State"
What has happened in Mosul since the operation to retake the city from the so-called "Islamic State" started in October? Photo essay by Nadine Berghausen
Iraqi army discovers a mass grave: while Iraqi troops advanced further into territory held by the so called “Islamic State” in their campaign to recapture Mosul, they found a mass grave which holds about 100 bodies, many of them decapitated. AP footage shows bones and decomposed bodies dug out of the ground by a bulldozer. This Iraqi federal police officer holds a stuffed animal he found on the site
Evidence of brutality: the grave, found near the town of Hammam al-Alil near Mosul, proves to be a dark testimony to the Islamic State′s brutality. IS militants have carried out a series of massacres since seizing large areas of southern and central Iraq in 2014. This photo shows a member of the Iraqi security forces inspecting a building that was used as a prison by Islamic State militants in Hammam al-Alil
Freed from terror: these displaced Iraqi men from the Hammam al-Alil area celebrate their liberation as they return to their homes after the recapture of their village from Islamic State by Iraqi forces
Oil fields on fire: oil wells have been set ablaze by IS in an apparent response to the ongoing military offensive to drive the extremist group out of its stronghold. A military commander said more than 5,000 civilians have been evacuated from eastern parts of Mosul and taken to camps. The surprise attack showed that even while under siege, the group could still sow chaos in parts of Iraq far from its base in Mosul
What is the fight for Mosul all about? Smoke rises during clashes between peshmerga forces and IS militants in the town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul. Initially used by IS to establish their caliphate and henceforth the key source of prestige and resources, Mosul is also the base for IS′ chemical weapons operation. The ancient Assyrian city has also been a vital source of tax revenue and forced labour
The role of the Iraqi army and its allies: Iraqi special forces take cover as their unit comes under fire from an Islamic State sniper. Together with Kurdish peshmerga and Shia militias, Iraqi forces intensified fighting and moved into more densely populated areas of the city without air support from the US-led coalition due to the high risk of civilian casualties
Kurdish peshmerga: meanwhile, Kurdish peshmerga forces decided to focus on other strongholds of resistance in northern Iraq and on the Kurdish-controlled city of Kirkuk, where IS initiated a campaign of violence in response to the advances of the Iraqi army towards Mosul
Fleeing from the fighting: the United Nations says over 34,000 people have been displaced from Mosul since the operation began on 17 October, with about three quarters settled in camps and the rest in host communities
Officials say the US takes every precaution to avoid hitting civilians, including by aborting missile strikes at the last moment if a civilian unexpectedly wanders into the target zone.
"Our condolences go out to all those that were affected," said Major General Joe Martin. "The coalition takes every feasible measure to protect civilians from harm. The best way to protect civilians is to defeat IS."
No condolence payments have been made, Isler said, though such a move has not been ruled out.
According to Isler, Iraqi counterterrorism service (CTS) troops had been moving into the al-Jadida neighborhood in west Mosul when they came under fire from the IS snipers.
Mosul was a former IS bastion but the jihadists now only control about 10 percent of the city.
Bad weather had kept surveillance drones from gathering video of the area for two days and CTS and coalition forces -- not knowing civilians were in the building -- ultimately called in a strike, Isler said.
The precision-guided bomb selected -- a GBU-38 carrying 192 pounds of explosives -- was rigged to cause only localised damage to the building, but it ignited a large amount of ordnance which, unbeknownst to the coalition, IS fighters had previously placed inside.
"Post-blast analysis detected residues common to explosives used by IS, but not consistent with the explosive content of a GBU-38 munition," Central Command said in a statement. "Engineering and weapons analysis indicates that the GBU-38 should have resulted in no more than 16-20 percent damage to the structure, localised to the front of the second floor."
Officials said IS may have deliberately rigged the building to explode and then used the snipers to intentionally provoke an air strike.
As of the most recent Centcom official tally, a total of 396 civilians had been killed since the beginning of the bombing campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria nearly three years ago.
The 105 figure from the March incident would push that number beyond 500.
Airwars, a London-based collective of journalists and researchers that tracks civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, claims a minimum of 3,350 people have died in coalition strikes. (AFP)
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