US Mosul airstrike 'killed at least 105 Iraqi civilians'

US Mosul airstrike 'killed at least 105 Iraqi civilians'
The Pentagon has confirmed that an airstrike on Mosul by US forces in March killed more than a hundred civilians.
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Iraqi civilians have paid a heavy price in the battle for Mosul. [Getty]

An airstrike on Mosul by US forces in March killed at least 105 Iraqi civilians, a Pentagon investigation revealed on Thursday, but officials blamed the high death toll on a secondary explosion of Islamic State group munitions.

On March 17, US aircraft shot a "precision-guided bomb" carrying 192 pounds (87kg) of explosives into a building in west Mosul to target a pair of Islamic State group snipers in the al-Jadida neighbourhood.

The bomb hit a large cache of Islamic State group explosives, the Pentagon said, leading to a large explosion which caused the building to collapse. Civilians had been sheltering downstairs.

Bad weather had kept surveillance drones from gathering video of the area for two days, and Iraqi counterterrorism services (CTS) and coalition forces - apparently not knowing civilians were in the building - ultimately called in a strike, US officials said.

It was the single deadliest incident involving coalition forces since anti-IS operations in Iraq and Syria began three years ago.

"The secondary explosion triggered a rapid failure of the structure which killed the two ISIS snipers, 101 civilians sheltered in the bottom floors of the structure and four civilians in the neighbouring structure to the west," said US Air Force Brigadier General Matt Isler, the lead investigator.

Read more: Meet Awra, the four-year-old
blinded in that Mosul airstrike

Another 36 civilians remain unaccounted for, Isler said, but it is believed they fled the area and survived the attack.

The United States had previously only acknowledged that it "probably" had a role in the civilian deaths. No condolence payments have been made to families of the victims, Isler said, though such a move has not been ruled out.

Officials say the US takes every precaution to avoid hitting civilians, including by aborting missile strikes at the last moment if a civilian unexpectedly wanders into the target zone.

"Entire families are being killed inside their homes, where they are stuck between ground fighting and airstrikes," Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East Deputy Director of Campaigns, said in response to the US investigation.

"As the battle for Mosul draws to an end, there is no doubt that, once uncovered, the civilian death toll will raise alarm bells about the conduct of hostilities on all sides."

As of the most recent Centcom official tally, a total of 396 civilians had been killed since the beginning of the bombing campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria nearly three years ago.

The 105 figure from the March incident would push that number beyond 500.

Airwars, a London-based collective of journalists and researchers that tracks civilian deaths in Iraq and Syria, claims a minimum of 3,350 people have died in coalition strikes. 

Nearly 90 percent of Mosul has been recaptured by Iraqi forces, with the Islamic State group holed up in neighbourhoods around the Old City, where at least 250,000 civilians are still trapped and living in dire conditions.

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