By Arab News
By Hani Hazaimeh
The US-led coalition on Sunday denied that one of its aircraft conducted an airstrike Friday near Kirkuk that claimed the lives of 15 and injured 50 people, US coalition spokesperson Col. John Dorrian told Arab News on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with the daily, Col. Dorrian said investigations have shown that none of the coalition jet fighters conducted any airstrike in the vicinity of the said area, adding that the coalition headquarters is coordinating with Iraqi forces to determine who was behind the strike.
“We have determined definitively that the coalition did not conduct the strike, which may have killed civilians in Kirkuk,” said Col. Dorrian.
“What we have done is entered into a discussion with the Iraqi air force so they can determine if one of their aircraft may have some involvement in that strike. What we did is we checked our flight logs and our strike logs and determined that we have conducted no strikes in that vicinity at the time this incident occurred,” said the spokesperson.
An airstrike killed 15 women on Friday at a shrine near the city of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, local officials and medics said.
“Fifteen women were killed and another 50 wounded in a raid that targeted a Shiite place of worship in Daquq, near Kirkuk,” local council chief Amir Huda Karam was quoted as saying by the AFP.
“The coalition could not have conducted that strike. With that in mind, something bad happened so at this point the Iraqi security forces… my understanding is that they will investigate and determine what happened there. And we will cooperate with their investigation, as they deem appropriate,” the US coalition spokesperson added.
He stressed that the coalition takes every necessary measure to ensure that its targets are hit with utmost precision, based on accurate information gathered by its team of experts.
“The first thing we do is that we always use precision-guided missiles. This means that the bombs that we drop are going to go where they are intended to go,” he said.
He added: “The second thing that we do is that we have a strike cell and we observe a target, [even] if it means observing it for a long time. A team of experts in intelligence evaluates the information and the intelligence that we gather around that target. We also have legal advisers and we coordinate every single one of our strikes with the Iraqi security forces so that our sharing of information can reduce the risks of an errant strike as much as we possibly can.”
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Irbil on Sunday for a closer assessment of the fight against Daesh in northern Iraq and to get the assessment of the Kurdish leaders whose forces launched a new offensive in the operation to wrest Mosul from the militants.
Carter met with Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, as well as with US service members, who are not far from the battle. It is not clear whether Carter raised the issue of airstrike with Iraqi officials during his visit.
“I am not sure if Secretary (Ashton)Carter raised this issue with the Iraqi officials during his meetings, but this piece of information has been forwarded to him and to his media adviser that this [the airstrike] was not a coalition airstrike, but of course we will continue to cooperate with the Iraqis as they determine whether their aircraft were involved,” the spokesperson said.
The Russian Defense Ministry, meanwhile, accused the US-led coalition of targeting civilians, citing the airstrike in Kirkuk.
The ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, said two jets from the US-led international coalition were involved in the strike, alleging that they mistook the procession for Daesh militants.
But Col. John Dorrian said the Russians are trying to deflect the attention away from their own indiscriminate targeting and killing of civilians in Aleppo.
“We only target with precision, while the Russians use indiscriminate tactics,” said the colonel.
“We investigate and determine what happened and try to avoid civilian casualties where they have shown that they are willing to conduct strikes that kill civilians. What we see here is Russian propaganda.”
He reiterated: “The fact remains that this was not a coalition strike and if it were, of course we would investigate all allegations of civilian casualties …. We have definitively determined that we did not conduct that strike and others are evaluating whether they have any involvement.”
Col. Dorrian said the coalition provides logistical support to the Iraqi security forces and the police.
“For example, we helped set up the staging area for soldiers and police, and equipment, at Qayyarah Airfield West. And then we took that airfield that had been destroyed by Daesh and fixed all the damage
that Daesh created there, and just yesterday [Saturday], we declared that airfield to be fully capable of supporting airplanes where the Iraqi C-130s can bring in even more capability. This is the type of support we provide to the Iraqi forces as they advance on Mosul, and will continue to do so,” he said.
“We only provide support through the Iraqi government and in cooperation and coordination with Iraqis,” the coalition spokesperson said.
“We also provide a lot of capability to the tribal forces that are going to support stabilization efforts around Mosul,” he added.