US official says there’s a ‘fair chance’ airstrike killed civilians in Mosul

Updated 9:31 PM EDT, Tue March 28, 2017
02:22 - Source: CNN
A walk through the devastation of West Mosul

Story highlights

Townsend: ISIS may have been using civilians as human shields

Iraqi official: 112 bodies have been pulled from the site of a March 17 airstrike

CNN —  

The top US commander in Iraq said “there’s a fair chance” that a US airstrike in west Mosul killed civilians on March 17.

“We have an investigation going on, but our initial assessment … shows we did strike in that area, there were multiple strikes in that area, so is it possible that we did that? Yes, I think it is possible,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters Tuesday.

“Because we struck in that area, I think there’s a fair chance that we did it.”

Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said the US has sent experts to the scene of the airstrike in west Mosul to investigate allegations of civilian casualties.

He said investigators are assessing whether ISIS was fighting from the building with civilians in order to “lure” the US “deliberately, or they were just using them as human shields to try to protect their fighting position.”

“We know ISIS were fighting from that position in that building. And there were people that you really can’t account for in any other way why they would all be there unless they were forced there. So that’s my initial impression, the enemy had a hand in this, and there’s also a fair chance our strike had some role in it,” Townsend said.

On Monday, a senior Iraqi health official said 112 bodies had been pulled from the site of a March 17 US-led coalition airstrike in west Mosul.

Both the Iraqi and US defense departments have launched investigations into possible civilian deaths in airstrikes between March 17 and 23.

ISIS’ last stronghold in Iraq

US and Iraqi forces have been trying to regain control of Mosul – Iraq’s second-largest city – from ISIS since October.

ISIS had a firm grip on Mosul since 2014, but suffered a huge blow when Iraqi security forces took control of eastern Mosul in January.

But the arduous fight for western Mosul continues.

CNN’s Arwa Damon, reporting from western Mosul, said the destruction is widespread. But many families couldn’t escape because ISIS has been using civilians as human shields.

She said it’s not surprising many civilians would be packed in one place.

“In an effort to protect themselves, a lot of families would cram into homes that they believed would be the sturdiest,” Damon said. “But as the fighting pushed forward, as airstrikes were called in, there have been significant civilian casualties.”