Erika Solomon in Beirut — Financial Times March 25, 2017
The US military has confirmed that forces in the coalition it leads carried out an air strike in the Iraqi city of Mosul that locals say killed more than 200 civilians, as the death toll from the campaign against Isis rises.
In a statement issued on Sunday, US Central Command said that “an initial review of strike data” indicated that the US-led anti-Isis coalition “struck Isis fighters and equipment, March 17, in west Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties”.
The military added that the strike was at the request of Iraqi security forces and that it was opening an investigation “to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties”.
The civilian death toll in Iraq and Syria is rising as the coalition carries out air strikes against the jihadis, who hold territory in both countries. The battle has been particularly intense in Mosul, one of Isis’s most prized strongholds, where Iraq government forces are trying to reclaim the west of the city having already recaptured the east.
Donald Trump, US president, has also called for more aggressive tactics against Isis, and his administration has been reportedly considering new rules of engagement.
Officially, there has been no change, but groups such as Airwars, a non-governmental organisation that monitors the anti-Isis operations, say there has been a dramatic rise in civilian casualties. In the past two weeks alone, hundreds of civilians have been killed by coalition strikes in Syria and Iraq.
“Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of Isis’s inhuman tactics of terrorising civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighbourhoods,” the US military statement said.
But many locals see the incident differently. “For the sake of taking out an Isis vehicle, or some Isis snipers on a roof, they’re willing to kill dozens of innocent people?” asked one Mosul resident, who asked not to be named.
Local officials say that 240 bodies had been pulled from collapsed buildings in the area.
The death toll in Mosul has also been high because of fierce street-by-street clashes in the area, which have been particularly lethal in the narrow alleyways of western Mosul’s old city.
Some Iraqi officials say Isis rounds up civilians in the area and forces them to stay where it had positioned some of its forces. Residents say another reason that death counts are also high is because often, dozens of residents cram themselves into the available buildings in an area that has a basement or is deemed to be safer amid intense clashes.
Iraqi military commanders paused Mosul operations on Friday, a move a spokesman for Iraq’s federal police said was because of the growing casualties.
“The recent high death toll among civilians inside the old city forced us to halt operations and review our plans,” he said on Saturday, according to Reuters news agency. “It’s time for weighing new offensive plans and tactics. No combat operations are to go on.”