The US-led anti-jihadist coalition accepted that it “probably” had a role in civilian casualties in west Mosul, as the UN and Amnesty International called for greater efforts to protect civilians.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still inside west Mosul, caught up in deadly fighting between the Islamic State group and Iraqi forces who are backed by coalition air strikes in the battle to retake the area from the jihadists.
West Mosul is both smaller and more densely populated than the city’s east, meaning that this stage of the battle poses a greater danger to civilians than those that came before.
“We probably had a role in those casualties,” Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the US-led operation against IS, told reporters in a phone briefing from Baghdad, referring to civilians killed and wounded by aerial bombing in west Mosul.
“If those innocents were killed, it was an unintentional accident of war,” he said.
Townsend described the fighting in the narrow streets of Iraq’s second city as the “most significant urban combat” since World War II and “probably the toughest and most brutal close-quarters combat that I have experienced in my 35 years of service.”
The coalition had previously said it carried out a strike on March 17 in an area of west Mosul in which civilian casualties were reported, and that it had opened an investigation.
Iraq is also investigating civilian deaths in west Mosul, but has sought to place the blame on IS.
UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said on Tuesday that more than 300 civilians have been killed in west Mosul since February 17.
IS has targeted civilians and used them as human shields, while strikes by anti-IS forces have also left civilians dead.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Iraqi and US-led coalition forces “to undertake an urgent review of tactics to ensure that the impact on civilians is reduced to an absolute minimum.”
IS’s “strategy of using children, men and women to shield themselves from attack is cowardly and disgraceful. It breaches the most basic standards of human dignity and morality,” he said.
Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera said field research in east Mosul—which was recaptured from IS in January—showed “an alarming pattern of US-led coalition air strikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside”.