The first public announcement of the U.S. using a “roof-knock” operation was made last Tuesday at a press briefing by Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence for the anti-ISIS Operation Inherent Resolve. In the briefing, Gersten described a strike against an ISIS cash distribution center on April 5, in Mosul, Iraq. “The bulk cash distribution site was used by ISIS to distribute money to fund terrorist activities,” Lieutenant Commander Ben Tisdale, a U.S. spokesman, said in a statement.

Prior to the attack—while air assets where on watch, circulating the clear sky above their AO—the U.S. recognized that their target contained several civilians, including the wife and children of one of the additional targets—an ISIS operative recognized as the emir of finance for ISIS. “He was the major distributor of funds to Daesh fighters. We watched him come and go from his house, we watched his supplies, we watched the security that was involved in it. And we also watched, occasionally, a female and her children in and out of the quarters.”

That’s where Maj. Gen. Gersten began looking for alternatives to avoid collateral damage and to give a heads-up to the civilians, encouraging them to leave prior to the strike. In addition to leaflets, another possible solution was brought to discussion.

One of Gersten’s experts (according to Gersten) suggested the Israeli tactic known as “roof knock,” which had been widely used in the recent Israeli conflicts in the Middle East. “We went so far as to actually put a Hellfire [missile] on top of the building and air-burst it so it wouldn’t destroy the building, but would instead simply knock on the roof to ensure that she and the children were out of the building,” he recounted. “Then, we proceeded with our operations.” Shortly afterward, two Mk84 general purpose (2,000 lb) bombs struck the facility, destroying “millions” of dollars in cash, but resulting in the death of six civilians nearby.

Despite the fact that “the men who were in that building literally trampled over her to get out of that building,” according to Gersten, the wife was able to escape. “We watched her and observed her leaving the building. As she cleared the building, we began to process the strike.” But then, he said, she ran back inside the building. It was “very difficult for us to watch, and it was within the final seconds of the actual impact,” Gersten recounts.

The Israeli roof-knock procedure has been used extensively in the recent conflict in Gaza. This procedure is just one of several dedicated procedures for warning civilians of a pending action in their vicinity that might put them at risk. The IDF uses other tools, such as media PSYOPs to give warning or to evacuate a certain AO. The Israelis do so by dropping leaflets, commandeering radio stations, or even calling all of the phones inside the target, all to ensure that any civilians will have an opportunity to get out of harm’s way.
Although some people might suggest that the U.S. failed in the practice of this particular tactic, it is highly important to keep in mind that such scenarios are dynamic, and the reality changes in a matter of seconds. It is also important to note that, according to Gersten, they were never briefed by the Israelis on the technique. “We’ve certainly watched and observed their procedure. As we formulated a way to get the civilians out of the house, this was brought forward from one of our experts.”
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