US military says difficult to avoid Mosul casualties, probes blast

The Pentagon on Thursday said it would soon release a video showing Islamic State militants herding civilians into a building in the Iraqi city of Mosul and then firing from it, the USA military's latest response to an outcry over a separate explosion thought to have killed scores of civilians.

Federal Police soldiers gesture to other soldiers near the old city, during fighting against Islamic State militants on the western side of Mosul, Iraq, March 28, 2017.

Thousands of residents have fled from IS-held areas inside Mosul, but tens of thousands are still trapped inside homes.

West Mosul is both smaller and more densely populated than the city's east, meaning this stage of the battle poses a greater danger to civilians than those that came before.

Local officials and eyewitnesses say as many as 240 people may have been killed in the Al-Jadida district when a huge blast caused a building to collapse. Airwars, an independent, Britain-based group, says that at least 2,462 civilians have been killed in these strikes.

The incident has heightened fears for the safety of civilians - an important concern for Iraq's Shi'ite-led government as it tries to avoid alienating Mosul's mostly Sunni population. The Iraqi's are now assaulting the most crowded and narrow part of Mosul in what has turned into a bitter urban slog. "Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the Coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS's inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighborhoods". "Yes, I think it is possible", Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters Tuesday.

Hundreds of thousands more civilians are still inside west Mosul, caught up in deadly fighting between the Islamic State group and Iraqi forces. Residents reported two airstrikes hitting a residential area on March 13 and 17.

"The coalition respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality".

Lt Gen Townsend, however, denied that there has been a change in USA policy towards civilian collateral or rules of military engagement, despite a recent spike in civilian deaths. Trump, on the other hand, has talked loosely about heavily bombing Islamic State-held areas and has stepped up direct USA involvement in the fighting. In January, Iraq declared the eastern half of Mosul - the Tigris River divides the city into an eastern and western sector - "fully liberated".

"I'm not targeting civilians; ISIS is", Townsend said Tuesday.

The coalition is supporting Iraqi forces battling the jihadists in Mosul, whose numbers are estimated to have fallen to fewer than 1,000, Scrocca said.

United Nations human rights chief Zeid Raad Al Hussein has also called on the coalition and Iraqi security forces to review their tactics in Mosul in light of the incident, urging them to avoid "traps" laid by IS and take every precaution to prevent civilian deaths.

The bomber detonated the vehicle, an oil tanker laden with explosives, security and hospital officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations. The narrow streets of the city's historic center have made it tougher for Iraqi forces to advance.

  • Arturo Norris