Press Room

STATEMENT: Mosul Air Strike Investigation Shows Urgent Need for Review of Coalition Tactics

WASHINGTON (May 25, 2017)—In response to the release of the summarized findings of the US investigation into the March 17, 2017, air strike in Mosul that left up to 200 civilians dead, Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) Executive Director Federico Borello issued the following statement:

“While CIVIC welcomes the timeliness and public release of the summary, we need to know what actions will be taken to prevent such cases of civilian harm from occurring in the future, and what will be done to make amends to the affected families. 

“The report states that the Target Engagement Authority (TEA) didn’t know that ISIS had booby-trapped the building or that many civilians had taken shelter there. But most civilians did not leave western Mosul, and ISIS tactics of booby-trapping buildings and using civilians as human shields is well-known.

Not knowing about a specific booby-trap is understandable—assuming the absence of civilians is not. In Afghanistan, the US military learned the hard way and adopted a default assumption that civilians could be present at all targets. Iraqi and coalition forces should have done the same and taken the necessary precautions, including considering alternatives tactics to engage ISIS.

“The brutality of ISIS does not absolve the US and its allies of responsibility to protect civilians from harm; indeed, the coalition’s duty to harm as few civilians as possible is even greater because of it. That means US tactics must change.

“That’s why CIVIC has repeatedly cautioned against over-reliance on air power by the US-led coalition in the fight against ISIS in densely populated areas, as well as for better training of Iraqi forces on the use of force to protect civilians. There is obviously a lot of work that remains to be done.

“We also call for Iraq and the United States to fully acknowledge the harm this incident has done to the families of the victims, and to make amends to both dignify the victims and assuage anger and resentment amongst the population.

The bottom line is that ISIS wants mass casualty events. The US and Iraqis should have known better and not given it to them.”

Recommendations

The US has often publicly said it cares about civilians’ well-being, but actions must back up the rhetoric. The US should commit to making the protection of civilians a strategic priority for counter-ISIS operations.

To demonstrate that commitment, CIVIC recommends:

  • Commission an independent assessment on US operations in Iraq and Syria to ensure that the US is learning and adapting its operations to minimize civilian harm in the campaign against ISIS.
  • Theater commanders should issue a tactical directive stating the intent of the anti-ISIS coalition to protect civilians as mission critical to defeat ISIS.
  • Exercise tactical patience to reduce civilian harm when responding to ISIS targeting coalition aircraft from rooftops and when called upon to support Iraqi ground forces, who are under fire from ISIS.
  • Assume presence of civilians when engaging ISIS fighters located in civilian structures such as homes given the likelihood of ISIS using civilians as human shields and patterns of internal displacement.
  • Avoid, to the extent feasible, use of air strikes as a primary tool in densely populated areas, and consider tactical alternatives, for example, the possible use of ground force engagement through properly trained Iraqi forces conducting more door-to-door clearing operations to minimize civilian harm.
  • Ensure that heavy weapons, such as artillery, are not used in deliberate or dynamic strikes, including close air support, in populated areas given the likelihood of civilian harm that can incur from blast fragmentation of such weapons to civilians and civilian infrastructure.
  • Issue a public commitment from the White House to spare no effort to prevent civilian casualties and to make amends (acknowledgment and monetary payments) to civilians harmed.
  • Increase verification and vetting of targeting intelligence from ground allies, such as the Iraqi Security Forces.
  • Hold accountable those found responsible/negligent in mass casualty incidents, whether US or allied.

Background:

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Notes to editors:

Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC)'s mission is to improve protection for civilians caught in conflicts around the world. We call on and advise international organizations, governments, militaries, and armed non-state actors to adopt and implement policies to prevent civilian harm. When civilians are harmed we advocate for the provision of amends and post-harm assistance. We bring the voices of civilians themselves to those making decisions affecting their lives.

Contact

For media inquiries please contact:
Christopher Allbritton at +1 (917) 310-4785 or chris@civiliansinconflict.org