Mosul shows difficulty of removing militants from urban area

The U.S. military says it is investigating the blast, which may have been caused by an Islamic State truck bomb that was either hit by the airstrike or detonated by the militants near a building packed with dozens of civilians.

Feb 13, 1991 - At the beginning of the Persian Gulf War, a USA bombing attack in Iraq was alleged to have killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Ameriya air raid shelter, which the United States insisted was being used for military communications.

Townsend said Tuesday there is a "fair chance" the US launched the strike.

Evidence gathered on the ground in Mosul "points to an alarming pattern of USA -led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside", the report stated. But he says the munitions used by the US should not have been able to bring down the entire building, raising questions about USA involvement.

Army General Joseph Votel said during a congressional hearing that in addition to the casualties in western Mosul, the battle for eastern Mosul, between mid-October and late January, had lead to 490 members of the Iraqi security forces being killed with over 3,000 wounded.

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

Votel said the formal investigation will help clarify if there were other things that may have contributed, hinting at suspected ISIS involvement.

Townsend also said he believes US airstrikes are not to blame in a separate instance of alleged civilian casualties, in Syria.

"The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of global humanitarian law", senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera, who carried out field investigations in Mosul, said on Tuesday.

Helicopters circling west Mosul strafed Islamic State positions beyond the city train station, the site of heavy back-and-forth fighting in recent days, and thick black smoke rose into the sky, Reuters reporters on the ground said. The explosion damaged a number of buildings, including the one where IS was holding 130 civilians as human shields and where snipers were deployed on its roof, Rasool said.

"It is very possible that Daesh blew up that building to blame it on the coalition in order to cause a delay in the offensive on Mosul and cause a delay in the use of coalition air strikes", Milley said, using an Arabic term for Islamic State.

"It is there that the enemy has invested two-and-a-half years of defensive preparations", he said. "Although our partners and the coalition have made mistakes that harmed civilians, we have never targeted them - not once". In Mosul, the Iraqi government said it asked civilians to remain in place to prevent large-scale displacement.

IS militants were brazenly using civilians as human shields, Colville said, and urged the coalition to "avoid this trap". Faced with their toughest fight against IS yet, Iraqi and coalition forces have increasingly turned to airstrikes and artillery to clear and hold territory in Mosul's west.

  • Leroy Wright