US admits accidentally killing 105 civilians in Mosul in March, as 35 more reported dead in new strike

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 12:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 May, 2017, 8:35pm

A US military investigation on Thursday acknowledged that more than 100 civilians were killed in a US air strike on a building in the Iraqi city of Mosul in March during operations against Islamic State militants.

The admission came as a monitor group said a further 35 civilians were killed on Thursday in US-led coalition air strikes in an eastern Syrian town held by the Islamic State group.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the latest strikes hit a series of residential buildings in Mayadeen, a town in Syria’s oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor.

“Among the dead are at least 26 relatives of IS fighters, many of them women and children, including Syrians and Moroccans,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. “The other nine are Syrian civilians and include five children.”

The international alliance is providing air cover for twin offensives on the Islamic State’s remaining bastion cities: Raqa in northern Syria and Mosul in neighbouring Iraq.

On Thursday, a Pentagon investigation concluded that at least 105 civilians died in an air strike in Mosul in March.

The probe concluded that the US strike in the Al-Jadida district inadvertently triggered explosives placed in the building by Islamic State fighters, causing it to collapse.

Local officials and eyewitnesses have said as many as 240 people may have died in the strike.

It appeared to be the single largest incident of civilian casualties involving the US-led coalition since it started operations against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

Prior to this investigation, the coalition said that at least 352 civilians had been killed since the campaign started. That estimate is far lower than those provided by outside groups.

Air Force Brigadier General Matthew Isler, who oversaw the investigation, told reporters that 101 civilians inside the building were killed, four civilians were killed in the neighbouring building, and 36 civilians were still not accounted for.

Prior to the March 17 strike, Iraqi forces were about 100 metres away and could see two snipers on the second floor of the building. However, Isler said, there were blind zones and the forces could not see parts of the building.

The coalition had been monitoring the area since the operation for western Mosul began weeks before. However, for two days before the strike took place, the coalition did not have overhead surveillance of the area because of the weather, Isler said.

When the 230kg bomb was dropped on the building targeting the snipers, it triggered explosives inside the concrete structure, collapsing it onto civilians.

The United States and nearby Iraqi forces did not know there were civilians in the building or that it had been rigged with explosives, the probe found.

“This investigation determined that ISIS deliberately staged explosives and snipers to harm civilians,” Isler said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

He added that the coalition took responsibility for the air strike.

The investigation found that the chemical signature found in the residues was not associated with the bomb used by the United States, but rather with explosives usually used by Islamic State militants.

It said that analysis concluded that the amount of explosives in the US bomb, about 90kg, was not enough to bring down the building. The investigation added that the bomb was dropped at the front of the building while structural engineers found that the damage and crater was at the back of the building.

“While we welcome the US investigation into the Jadida airstrike, we are curious to know whether any lessons were learned and what steps were taken to ensure such horrors do not occur again,” human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse