WASHINGTON, May 25, 2017 — Secondary explosions of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-placed munitions were responsible for the deaths of 105 civilians in Mosul, Iraq, in March, according to the results of a DoD investigation into the tragedy. Air Force Brig. Gen. Matthew Isler told Pentagon reporters that there is no way the munition a U.S. plane dropped March 17 in the Jadidah neighborhood could have caused the extensive damage that killed 101 people in a house and four in a neighboring house. Isler noted that an Iraqi investigation of the incident concurred with his findings.
Isler was the officer appointed to investigate the incident and is now based at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He submitted his report to Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Martin, the commander of Combined Joint Forces Land Component Command for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. Martin stressed the United States takes great care to avoid civilian casualties.
Minimizing Risk of Collateral Damage
“Our objective is always to minimize the risk of collateral damage and any potential harm to noncombatants,” Martin said from his headquarters in Baghdad. Isler led a team well-versed in weapons, engineering, explosives and law. The team visited the site of the incident in Jadidah and spoke with Iraqi civilians, news agencies and non-governmental agencies to gain information on the incident.
On March 17, Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service forces were engaging ISIS in the Jadidah district of West Mosul. The Iraqi forces were close enough to have the structure under visual surveillance, Isler said.
The structure was a well-built house used by a local leader. Neighbors used the building to shelter from the fighting as it had 30-inch thick concrete walls. “CTS visual observers had been in direct visual observation of the area for over two days, and had not observed civilians enter or use the structure,” Isler said. “Neither coalition nor CTS forces knew that civilians were sheltered within the structure.” But ISIS knew, as they had a fighting position built into the house and two snipers were engaging CTS forces from the house. CTS commanders asked for a strike on the structure and went through the rigorous checklist to launch a strike, Isler said.
Officials authorized a GBU-38 joint direct attack munition with a delayed fuse.
“At [8:24 a.m.] on 17 March 2017, in accordance with the applicable rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict, a coalition U.S. aircraft delivered a single GBU-38 precision-guided munition against two ISIS snipers engaging the Iraqi CTS,” Isler said. “Neither coalition nor CTS forces knew civilians were sheltered in the bottom floors of the structure.”
Terrorists Purposely Brought Explosives Into the Building
The bomb went where it was supposed to and detonated on the second floor of the structure. “The detonation ignited a large amount of explosive material which ISIS fighters had previously placed in the rear of the house,” Isler said. “This secondary explosion triggered a rapid failure of the structure which killed the two ISIS snipers, 101 civilians sheltered in the bottom floors of the structure and four civilians in the neighboring structure to the west,” the general said.
The bottom line from Isler’s investigation is that ISIS knew there were civilians sheltering in the structure. The terrorists purposely brought explosives into the building and placed them in areas that would ensure a catastrophic collapse if the structure was bombed. Then the terrorists set up a fighting position that would draw an airstrike.
Isler’s investigation has been briefed up the chain of command and all concur with his conclusions.