Mosul battle: Iraqi forces edge closer to al-Nuri mosque

"I do agree that as we move into these urban environments, it is going to become more and more hard to apply extraordinarily high standards for the things that we're doing, although we will try", General Votel said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

A senior USA general says it will be hard to maintain "extraordinarily high standards" to avoid civilian casualties in Mosul, even as the U.S. military begins a formal investigation into an explosion in the Iraqi city that is believed to have killed scores of civilians.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top US commander of American forces in Iraq, said Tuesday that the increase in civilian casualties has been "fairly predictable" given the heavily populated urban neighborhoods.

Despite Trump's silence, the Pentagon has admitted that one of its airstrikes in Mosul on March 17 may have led to the death of at least 237 civilians. Last week, a United States airstrike reportedly killed more than 200 civilians in Mosul.

"As we move into the urban environment it is going to become more and more hard to apply extraordinarily high standards for things we are doing, although we will try", Votel said during a House Armed Services meeting.

Western Mosul is densely populated and has proven to be a much more hard fight for Iraqi and coalition forces, which have resorted to greater use of artillery and airstrikes to clear and hold territory.

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 Amnesty report said.

Colville added that the rights office tallied the deaths of at least 307 people between February 17 and March 22, including 140 from the March 17 airstrike. Coupled with initial inquiries done by USA technical experts who visited the scene, he said: "My initial assessment is that we probably had a role in these casualties".

"It'll be a more formalized approach to really look into the details of this as much as we can to establish what happened, establish what the facts are, identify accountability and then certainly identify the lessons learned out of that", said Votel.

Iraq is also investigating civilian deaths in west Mosul, but has sought to place the blame on IS.

"If we did it - and I'd say there is at least a fair chance we did - it was an unintentional accident of war", he said. In recent weeks, IS defenders have packed into neighborhoods with narrow streets and trapped civilians, Townsend said.

"It is there that the enemy has invested two-and-a-half years of defensive preparations", he said. 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.

A number of airstrikes in western Mosul have resulted in high civilians casualties, according to residents interviewed by The Associated Press.

Elite troops from the interior ministry's Rapid Response Force were also advancing into the Old City on Wednesday, an official told the Reuters news agency.

  • Leroy Wright