By Terri Moon Cronk
A formal investigation has begun into the March 17 deaths of civilians in western Mosul, Iraq, the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman said Thursday.
Addressing Pentagon reporters by teleconference, Army Col. Joseph Scrocca said OIR commander Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend directed that the investigation get underway rather than continue with the credibility assessments.
Scrocca said the U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in mid-March left the coalition with some culpability and it would be disingenuous to continue with credibility assessments.
“Since we believe a coalition strike contributed in at least some way to the civilian casualties, Lt. Gen. Townsend has directed that the civilian casualty assessment move directly to a formal 15-6 investigation for all allegations in the west Mosul neighborhood where the strikes occurred on or around March 17,” he said.
A full investigation will allow OIR to analyze other aspects of the case that have significant bearing, such as strike procedures and the impact of ISIS tactics, Scrocca said.
The investigating officer also can make recommendations to the commander to adjust and improve operations in western Mosul, he added.
ISIS Tactic Caught On Video
ISIS knows the great extent to which the coalition goes to protect civilians, Scrocca said.
“What you see now is not the use of civilians as human shields,” he said. “Now, it’s something much more sinister. ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them, trying to bait the coalition to attack, to take advantage of the public outcry and deter action in the future.”
For the first time, he said, officials caught this tactic on video yesterday as armed ISIS fighters forced civilians into a building, killing one who resisted, and then using the building as a fighting position against Iraqi counterterrorism service forces, the spokesman said.
Scrocca said officials had suspicions of the tactic, and yesterday’s video now provides proof and offers signs of what to look for.
Goal: Zero Civilian Casualties
“Our goal is and has always been zero civilian casualties, but there is a legal and moral imperative to protect our own forces and accomplish the mission against an evil enemy that is equally as important as protecting civilians,” he said.
“We will continue to assess and adjust our tactics to account for civilians on the battlefield while striking ISIS whenever and wherever we safely can,” the colonel said.
The Iraqis have proven to be a tenacious, brave, professional fighting force as they place their lives in harm’s way to protect Iraqi civilians and to defeat ISIS in Mosul, Scrocca added.
And the U.S.-led coalition is showing sustained success against fierce resistance in a tough fight, he said
“But ISIS will continue to cause massive human suffering if the [Iraqi forces] and coalition do not prevail,” he warned. “And the coalition will not abandon its commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’ inhumane tactics.”