Survivors of a Mar. 17 U.S. air raid that killed up to 270 civilians in Mosul have come forward to dispute the White House claim that the Islamic State staged the incident.
The strike was carried out in Mosul’s al-Jadid district as part of the ongoing endeavor to expel the ISIS militant group from the city. While still under investigation, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command confirmed that a coalition strike was carried out “at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties.”
Administration officials soon after the strike alleged that ISIS had filled a house with explosives and forced a crowd of civilians into the building, apparently in an attempt to blame the American-led coalition for the subsequent casualties. Several witnesses and survivors of the strike, however, tell the Associated Press that the White House account is completely inaccurate.
The house in question belonged to local businessman Tayseer Abu Tawfiq, who had allowed others seeking refuge from the conflict to stay in the house with his family.
One such refugee, Ali Zanoun—one of only two people in the house to survive the Mar. 17 strike—said that ISIS militants never once entered the Tawfiq household, a claim directly at odds with the White House version of events.
Zanoun says he was trapped under rubble for five days after the strike, surrounded by the bodies of over 20 of his family members who were also hiding in the house. “My entire family is gone,” he told ABC News. “They melted. Not even a fingernail or a little bone found.”
Another witness, Khaled—who gave only his first name for fear of reprisal from ISIS—had been forced from his home by ISIS fighters and took refuge in the Tawfiq residence for two days before the deadly American strike. Khaled said he left the house on the afternoon of Mar. 16, one day before the incident, because it was overcrowded. He angrily rejected the White House account of the strike.
“Liars! Is it logical that I would stay in a house with explosives,” Khaled asked.
According to Airwars, a London-based monitor group, U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria have caused over 3,000 civilian casualties since 2014, a figure far above official White House tallies. As residential areas are pulverized with air strikes and ISIS militants take over the houses that remain standing, civilians fleeing the fighting in Mosul are running out of places to hide.
Tawfiq’s next door neighbor, Abdullah Khalil Ibrahim, said he spoke to Tawfiq the night before the strike, and claims no militants had been near the house. Ibrahim warned Tawfiq of the danger of allowing so many people to hide in one place, but Tawfiq replied that he could not turn them away, Ibrahim said.
American air strikes have been integral to the effort to expel the ISIS militant group from its Iraqi stronghold, but excessive civilian casualties recently prompted the U.S.-led coalition to reevaluate its use of air power. After the Mar. 17 strike, the coalition put a brief official pause on the operation, but it has since resumed in force.
While coalition efforts may help to curb the number of civilian casualties inflicted by U.S. air strikes in Mosul, the fighting will likely only increase in intensity as the battle enters the city’s heavily-populated western districts.
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