- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The top U.S. commander in Iraq and Syria said Tuesday there was “a fair chance” a U.S. airstrike against a suspected Islamic State stronghold in western Mosul over the weekend resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi civilians.

The staggering number of Iraqi civilians reportedly killed during the airstrike, which leveled a building in the western Mosul neighborhood of Mosul al-Jadida, was also the result of the terror group’s abhorrent practice of using human shields to defend their besieged sanctuary of Mosul, Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend told reporters at the Pentagon.

“We probably had a role in those casualties,” the three-star general said, citing reports that U.S. warplanes had carried out multiple strikes in the neighborhood where the mass casualties were reported. That said, “the enemy had a hand in this,” he added, noting that there was no logical reason for that many civilians to willfully gather in a single building under assault by American airpower.

When asked whether fighters from the Islamic State, or ISIS or ISIL, had forced Iraqi civilians into the building — either as human shields, or as a way to accuse U.S. forces of targeting Iraqi civilians — Gen. Townsend replied: “It sure looks like they were.”

Coalition officials and members of U.S. Central Command are reviewing over 700 video feeds taken over the last 10 days, focusing on the western Mosul neighborhood where the strike took place. The review is part of the ongoing U.S. inquiry into the events leading up to the fatal attack.

Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler, the coalition’s top officer in charge of air operations in Iraq and Syria, is leading the investigation into the strike.

The fact that the targeted building was obliterated as a result of the strike is an argument against U.S. involvement, Gen. Townsend said. The munitions used during U.S. and coalition strikes into the dense, urban terrain of west Mosul are specifically designed not to create the damage seen in the strike under investigation. The wreckage caused by the strike in question “contradicts our involvement” in the incident, he added.

Command officials are also looking to confirm civilian casualty claims in recent airstrikes near Tabqa Dam in northern Syria and a March 17 strike in Idlib that the Pentagon says killed a number of top al Qaeda leaders, but which civilians claim willfully targeted a local mosque.

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