The U.S.-led military coalition launched an airstrike that witnesses said killed more than 100 people during a battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants, U.S. officials acknowledged Saturday.
The U.S. announcement came after the Iraqi government said earlier Saturday that it would temporarily halt the battle to retake Mosul from IS jihadists after reports emerged of heavy civilian casualties.
The U.S.-led coalition fighting IS said in a statement that it had "opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment" into the allegation that recent coalition airstrikes killed more than 100 civilians in Mosul's Jidideh neighborhood.
"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,'' a coalition statement said. ISIS is another acronym for the Islamic State group.
'All reasonable precautions'
The statement also said coalition planes "routinely strike" IS targets in the neighborhood, and that coalition forces "take all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians."
Before the U.S. announcement Saturday, Colonel John Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told The New York Times the military was not sure whether the explosion in western Mosul had been caused by an American or other coalition airstrike, or an IS "bomb or booby trap."
But an Iraqi officer told the newspaper he knew exactly what had happened.
Major General Maan al-Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi special forces, told the Times that his men had called in a coalition airstrike to deal with snipers on the roofs of three houses in Jidideh. He said, however, his forces did not know the basements of the houses were filled with civilians.
Nawfal Hammadi, governor of the territory surrounding Mosul, told the French news agency AFP that IS jihadists had gathered civilians in the basement of the building to use them as “human shields.”
"The Daesh [Islamic State] terrorist organization is seeking to stop the advance of the Iraqi forces in Mosul at any cost,” he said, referring to IS by an Arabic acronym.
Iraq’s parliament speaker, Salim al-Jabouri, mentioned the apparent civilian deaths on Twitter on Saturday. He encouraged coalition forces to “spare no effort to save civilians,” but acknowledged the “huge responsibility the liberating forces shoulder.”
Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi, who is from Mosul, described the incident as a "humanitarian catastrophe."
More than a half-million civilians are still believed to remain in IS-held areas of Mosul. Civilians, humanitarian aid groups and monitoring officials have warned about the possibility of increased civilian casualties because of a growing demand for airstrikes and artillery.