The Pentagon says airstrikes it carried out on a house were the deadliest in Iraq since 2003, and the final death toll could be as high as 141 people.
The Pentagon has admitted that airstrikes it carried out on a house in western Mosul killed at least 105 civilians in one of the deadliest attacks anywhere in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
The final toll could be as high as 141, an investigation into the 17 March attack has found, with 36 people still unaccounted for. Nearly all those killed had taken shelter in a house as a battle raged between Islamic State (Isis) forces who were in the area and Iraqi military special force units.
Searing images of bodies being dug from the pancaked ruins of the house were broadcast around the world amid allegations that the fight for Mosul’s densely packed neighborhoods was too often being ceded to high-flying jets to avoid ground clashes with Isis.
A Pentagon investigation released on Thursday found that Isis fighters had planted explosives in the house, causing secondary explosions that caused the house to collapse.
The report said thata US jet dropped a 500lb bomb shortly after 8am, targeting two Isis fighters who had taken up positions on the roof of the the house in the Jadidah neighborhood.
Dozens of civilians died on one day of coalition air strikes on the suburb of Mosul Jadida
It says the bomb should have killed the pair, but instead caused a blast that leveled the house, which was made of reinforced concrete and considered by locals to be the sturdiest structure in the area.
Four more civilians sheltering in another home were killed by debris from the blast. US Central Command said it did not know civilians had taken shelter in the home.
US officials say they went through close to 700 hours of footage taken from jets during, before and after the attack and sent investigators to the scene in the aftermath. The investigation compared explosive residue from the type of bomb dropped by the fighter jet with residue found at the scene.
“Post-blast analysis detected residues common to explosives used by Isis, but not consistent with the explosive content of a GBU-38 munition,” US Central Command said in a statement.
After a visit of the scene five days after the attack and witnessed rescuers digging through heaped piles of wreckage where the house once stood. Witnesses said close to 150 people had been in the home when it was bombed. Most locals interviewed said that people had willingly taken shelter. However, several also claimed that Isis had urged fighters to use the home as a refuge.
Witnesses made no mention of secondary explosions and instead pointed to houses all around that had endured similar destruction. Airstrikes caused immense damage on the day of the battle, with bombs regularly targeting homes from 8am until late afternoon. Iraqi ground forces called in the airstrikes.
Damage to the house had been so catastrophic that only a handful of people – as few as six – survived. Many more survived the explosion itself, but died before rescuers could free them from the rubble. A full rescue effort was not launched until four days after the attack, because Iraqi ground forces said the area was too dangerous to send in search and rescue teams.
One woman, Lina Shaab Ahmad, who dug herself out of the front of the house, said she was taken to a nearby clinic by Iraqi forces who showed little concern for her or those still buried.
Other survivors said they suspected they were an embarrassment to Iraqi forces who worried that exposure of the atrocity may lead to the ground campaign being halted.
Airstrikes were indeed stopped over western Mosul for more than two weeks. And, ever since, the going has been tough through maze like streets still filled with trapped civilians.
Iraqi and US forces say that more than 90% of the city has now been freed from Isis, with only a pocket in the northwest remaining under the terror group’s control.
The Jadidah attack accounted for about one-quarter of civilian casualties in the war against Isis, the US said. “Our condolences go out to all those that were affected,” Major General Joe Martin said. “The coalition takes every feasible measure to protect civilians from harm.”