More Than 100 Lives of Civilians Claimed in the Battle for Mosul
The difficult urban fight that the US and coalition forces are encountering against ISIS.
The United States acknowledged on Thursday that bombing an Iraqi building in March set off a series of Islamic-State planted explosives, resulting in more than 100 civilian deaths and underscoring the difficulty of rooting out the extremist group's fighters from its remaining urban strongholds.
The bomb dropped on a building in the city of Mosul set off explosive materials that ISIS militants had already been placed inside, causing the structure to collapse, the Pentagon said in describing the conclusion of a two-month investigation. The civilians inside were seeking refuge.
The bombing led to the largest single incident of civilian deaths in the nearly 3-year-old campaign. And it illustrates the difficult urban fight US and coalition forces are encountering, including what US officials describe as ISIS militants deliberately enticing attacks on buildings, where they've staged explosives and know civilians are inside. The civilians either enter unwittingly or are forced in and locked up.
US Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler, said to AP that while the US-led coalition takes responsibility for the airstrike alone. The consequences that followed were circumstantial.
A coalition munition was not responsible for the structural failure of the building and the deaths of the civilians inside.
He also said that ISIS has tried to set up similar incidents since then, prompting Iraqi and coalition forces to adjust combat tactics and watch locations more carefully in advance of strikes.
The battle for Mosul is key to eliminating ISIS from Iraq. But it has grown riskier for civilians as the battleground shrinks in the highly-populated older section of the city. Humanitarian officials have predicted civilian casualties would spike as more than 4,00,000 civilians were trapped in the city's west. A similar scenario could emerge in ISIS' self-declared capital of Raqqa, Syria, which US-backed militia are expected to start trying to retake soon.
In a telephone briefing with Pentagon reporters, Isler said the 500-pound precision-guided bomb dropped by a US aircraft on 17 March was intended to kill two ISIS snipers, who posed a threat to Iraqi counter-terrorism forces.
The probe found that the US bomb triggered secondary explosions from devices clandestinely planted and strategically placed around the second floor of the concrete building. Isler, the lead investigator, said neither the Iraqi troops nor the Americans who authorised and conducted the airstrike knew civilians were in the basement and first floor of the building, or that explosive materials were present.
However, the US has no video or eyewitness accounts of ISIS militants planting the explosives, Isler said. Enemy fighters warned people in the building next door to leave the area the night before the explosion.
ISIS militants knew there were innocent civilians in the building that collapsed, he said, and possibly gave them the same warning. He said the neighbours refused to leave and as a result, were told by ISIS that "what happens to you is on you."
Isler said 101 civilians in the building were killed and another four died in a nearby building. He said 36 civilians remain unaccounted for. They may have been killed in the explosion or fled before or after the attack. The deaths represent about a quarter of all civilian deaths associated with US airstrikes since the air campaign began in 2014.
In this case, the civilians weren't herded into the building. Isler said it was a home owned by a well-regarded Iraqi, who invited people to take shelter there because it was sturdy and well-built.
Describing a lengthy engineering and scientific analysis, Isler said:
The bomb dropped by the US aircraft struck the roof and detonated, with localised damage to the front and second floor areas of the building. The 500-pound bomb contained nearly 200 pounds of explosive weight. Analysts estimate that it would have taken at least four times that amount of explosives or at least 1,000 pounds precisely placed along the walls to bring the building down.
Lead investigators conclude that ISIS staged a large amount of explosives around the walls of the second floor, underneath the snipers’ position, ensuring that a coalition strike would trigger the second blast and much more destruction.
The area was under surveillance for weeks ahead of the strike. But cloudy weather meant the coalition was unable to maintain constant video on the building for two days leading up to the attack. Isler also went on to add:
ISIS militants had easy access to the second floor and could have quickly planted explosives out of sight of others. The Iraqi military saw civilians leaving the building in the days before the attack, but may have missed people entering.
Two weeks after the bombing, coalition video caught ISIS fighters forcing civilians into a different building through holes in the walls and then planting propane containers, he said. The fighters then launched an attack on Iraqi forces, hoping to draw a similar US airstrike on civilians. Isler concluded by saying,
The coalition did not take the bait and no civilians were harmed.
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