Trump’s Mosul Attack Left Up To 300 Civilians Dead

Mosul is the northern Iraqi city at the center of an offensive to drive out the Islamic State, and last Friday the American-led military coalition in Iraq said it was investigating claims that many civilians, maybe up to 300, had been killed in recent American airstrikes in Mosul.

The New York Times noted that, if these claims are true, this series of airstrikes would rank among the highest civilian death tolls in an American air mission since 2003, when the United States went to war in Iraq.

Unfortunately, these reports of civilian deaths in Mosul were received immediately following two incidents in Syria where the coalition is battling the Islamic State from the air. Local residents and activists say dozens of civilians have been killed.

This surge of reported civilian deaths has raised questions about whether America’s once-strict rules of engagement designed to minimize civilian casualties have been relaxed under Trump’s administration. It is common knowledge that Donald Trump has vowed to fight the Islamic State more aggressively. However, American military officials stated last Friday that the rules of engagement have not changed, though they do acknowledge that heavier air strikes in Iraq and Syria were designed to strike the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

Colonel John J. Thomas is a spokesperson for the United States Central Command. He said the military is currently determining whether the explosion which occurred in Mosul was caused by a coalition or American airstrike, or whether it was a booby-trap or bomb placed by the Islamic State.

“It’s a complicated question, and we’ve literally had people working nonstop throughout the night to understand it. The explosion and the reasons behind it had ‘gotten attention at the highest level.’”

He said that, at the moment, they don’t know who is responsible. On the other hand, Iraqi officers say they know exactly what happened. Major General Maan al-Saadi is Commander of the Iraqi Special Forces. General al-Saadi said the civilian deaths were the result of a coalition airstrike that his men had called in; an airstrike designed to take out snipers on the roofs of three homes in the Mosul Jidideh neighborhood.

What the special forces didn’t know, though, is that the basements in these homes were filled with civilians.

“After the bombing we were surprised by the civilian victims, and I think it was a trap by ISIS to stop the bombing operations and turn public opinion against us.”

al-Saadi has now demanded that the coalition’s air campaign be paused in order to assess what happened and to take whatever measures necessary to prevent further civilian deaths. Another Iraqi Special Forces officer said there had been a definite relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since Donald Trump became president.

Iraqi officers had been highly critical in the past of the Obama administration’s rules, saying that many airstrike requests were denied because of the risk to civilians; however, the officer said it’s become much easier today to call in airstrikes. Donald Trump has indicated that, under his presidency, the authority for launching strikes will more than likely be delegated to the Pentagon and commanders in the field.

Chris Woods is Director of Airwars, a non-profit group monitoring civilian deaths from airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. He said that the number of reported civilian fatalities had increased from 465 in December 2016, to 1058 in March this year.

“We don’t know whether that’s a reflection of the increased tempo of the campaign or whether it reflects changes in the rules of engagement. But the recent spike in numbers does suggest something has shifted.”

What has shifted, according to American military officials, is that the Iraqi military is engaged in its biggest fight so far: the battle to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. The campaign to retake West Mosul has involved block-by-block fighting in an urban environment, creating a dangerous situation for civilians. Captain Jeff Davis is a spokesperson for the Pentagon.

“There’s been no loosening of the rules of engagement. There are three major offensives going on right now, at the same time: the battle for West Mosul; the encirclement of Raqqa, Syria, the Islamic State’s de facto capital; and the fight for the Tabqa Dam in Syria.”

Their current investigation is determining whether an airstrike set an explosion off in Mosul, or whether Islamic State fighters were responsible.

“There are other people on the battlefield, too. It’s close quarters.”

The Mayor of Mosul, Abdulsattar Alhabu, estimates that around 300 civilians have been killed in airstrikes in recent days in Mosul.

“The repeated mistakes will make the mission to liberate Mosul from Islamic State harder, and will push civilians still living under Islamic State to be uncooperative with the security forces.”

Both the United States military and Iraqi authorities have launched formal investigations into events surrounding the United States’ airstrike on the Iraqi city of Mosul; an air strike that left many people dead.

The Washington Post reports that “if confirmed, the March 17 incident would mark the greatest loss of civilian life since the United States began strikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria in 2014.”

A Jadida resident noted that they “felt the earth shaking” like it was an earthquake, but they soon discovered that it was, in fact, an airstrike.

“Dust, shattered glass and powder were the only things my wife, myself and three kids were feeling. We heard screams and loud crying coming from the house next door. After the bombing stopped I went out with some neighbors and found that some houses on my street were leveled.”

The disturbing news from Mosul followed another recently opened investigation into a United States airstrike – an airstrike on an Al Qaeda target in northern Syria. It’s rumored that this strike may have killed dozens of civilians hiding in a nearby mosque.

Analysts believe that the increase in civilian deaths could well be the result of a shift in the anti-Islamic State campaign under President Trump. After all, Donald Trump had earlier promised to “bomb the sh*t out of them,” and called for more unfettered action against the jihadists.

In fact, it’s difficult to confirm the details of what occurred on March 17. A week after the strike, more than 100 bodies were pulled from the rubble, but Iraqi authorities do not agree on the details. Mosul’s civil defense chief, Brigadier General Mohammed Mahmoud, insisted that in the absence of a crater in the road, a missile strike was the likely culprit, whereas Iraqi military’s joint command claimed the deaths were caused by an Islamic State car bomb which destroyed houses sheltering dozens of people.

Whatever the truth, the civilians of Mosul are now trapped between an Iraqi-United States-led offensive and a vicious militant group that’s clinging onto the city; both of which are putting them in danger. Meanwhile in Mosul, the dead are still being counted.

CNN Politics reported that President Donald Trump vowed to wipe Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth, saying he wants the United States to start winning wars again.

In the first nine weeks that Donald Trump has been President of the United States, the country boosted its presence on the ground in Iraq and Syria, the rules have been loosened for counter-terrorism missions in parts of Yemen, allowing the Pentagon to act without authorization from the White House, and discussions are being held about doing the same in Somalia and Libya.

The concern is that this relaxing of policy could remove a layer of checks and balances which would likely result in an increase in civilian deaths.

The Soufan Group is a risk consultancy firm, and they say the fight against ISIS is now at a critical stage. The number of civilian casualties is expected to rise, even with the greatest of care.

“As the battlefield shrinks and the fighting intensifies, efforts to achieve the crucial objective of destroying Islamic State in its current form, and the moral imperative of protecting civilian life and property, will inevitably become increasingly imbalanced towards the former.”

So, what’s next?

Civilian casualties could increase because, in western Mosul, the fight is one of dense urban warfare, which means that it’s very challenging trying to avoid civilians. And the weapons used by the coalition are not helping to protect civilians: their weapons are simply not designed for densely populated cities.

“We shouldn’t be using weapon in cities, like bombs or artillery weapons, because the chances of collateral damage are huge, especially in cases where Daesh are using civilians as human shields.”

A coalition spokesperson explained that officers take care to use munitions that are proportional to their targets.

“If we’re trying to take out some ISIS snipers perhaps on a roof, we’re not going to use a large bomb that’s going to destroy a building. We’re going to make sure that we use a proportionate munition that will kill the fighters but leave the buildings standing. We want to return Mosul to the people of Mosul, you know, in one piece.”

[Featured Image by Felipe Dana/AP Images]