A coalition air strike in Mosul, Iraq on March 17th of this year created an international uproar when it was reported that the civilian casualties that resulted could exceed a hundred dead – prompting human rights groups and international opponents to levy serious criticisms toward the United States and its policies regarding when and where to strike ISIS fighters in their last urban stronghold.
“Absurd statements of the Pentagon representatives justifying civil casualties caused by American bombing in Iraq give more information on the operation planning level and the alleged supremacy of the American ‘smart’ bombs,” read an official Russian statement regarding the incident.
“Why (did) the US-led coalition, having this information, make strikes with their ‘smart’ bombs on buildings with civilians dooming them to a terrible death?” It continued.
The Department of Defense launched a full investigation into the incident, intent on deciphering fact from international politicking – as did the Iraqi government, whose initial findings were laid out in a press release provided by the Defense Department on Monday.
According to Iraqi officials and witnesses, a coalition air strike did indeed impact a building where ISIS fighters were holed up. As Saeed al-Jayashi, a spokesman for the Iraqi military, put it, “The strike was 100-percent accurate and it was correct.”
The civilian casualties were, unfortunately, not a product of Russian fabrication, but were instead the very real victims of a car bomb situated nearby that was detonated inadvertently by the air strike.
According to Iraqi forces on the scene at the time, they were receiving heavy fire from the building they requested the air strike on. Another building next door housed civilians, with a vehicle parked between the two. According to Iraqi Air Force Brig. Gen. Tahseen Ibrahim, Iraq’s Defense Ministry Spokesman, the vehicle was jam-packed with enough explosives to level the entire block.
The vehicle exploded, collapsing the nearby house onto its occupants, killing 61 civilians in the process. Where an airstrike would have produced rubble and debris splayed outward from the point of impact, the civilians were killed by the structure collapsing inward as a result of the vehicle detonation.
“Usually when there is an explosion, the explosion will throw everything to the outside,” Jayashi said. “This we did not see. There was no explosion from the inside out.”
The weapon used for the air strike, the Iraqi officials contend, didn’t possess enough firepower to produce the kind of destruction seen in the nearby structure.
Other civilians rescued from nearby houses reported that they were forced into the structures surrounding the building ISIS combatants were hiding out in. Twenty-six women and children were found in another nearby structure, but their rescue had to be delayed due to the explosives in the building.
“We got to them at night, but the house was contaminated with IEDs and we could not get them out,” Jayashi said. “We came back in the daytime to defuse the explosives and rescue them.”
Iraqi officials claim that the investigation is ongoing, but the circumstances surrounding the civilian casualties are all but certain. ISIS fighters have a long history of utilizing innocent people as shields in an effort to delay or prevent strikes against locations they congregate inside. According to Jayashi, there is no uncertainty among the Iraqi forces that ISIS is attempting to sow fear among civilians that they are not safe anywhere.
The spokesman quoted Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi who said, “There is no value in victory if we are not saving people’s lives.”
He went on to say that, on more than one occasion, Iraqi forces have suffered casualties in an effort to prevent even one civilian death.
The Iraqi investigation, which will likely play a role in the American Defense Department’s parallel one, will be submitted to the Iraqi Prime Minister soon, Jayashi reports.
Of course, for coalition forces, clearing their name is a hollow victory, as they repeatedly emphasize their unceasing efforts to minimize collateral damage in their support of Iraqi Security Forces fighting to root out the terrorist organization in their country.
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