US reviewing airstrike that corresponds to site where 200 Iraqi civilians allegedly died

PHOTO: Residents pile up body bags in the back of a pick up truck after recovering it from the rubble where there were reported coalition air strikes in the Mosul al-Jadida neighborhood of Mosul, March 24, 2017.PlayMarcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
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The U.S. military admitted that an airstrike in Iraq on March 17 corresponds to a site where 200 civilians allegedly died, but said it is still assessing the particulars of the strike and the validity of allegations of civilian casualties.

"An initial review of strike data from March 16-23 indicates that, at the request of the Iraqi Security Forces, the coalition struck ISIS fighters and equipment, March 17, in West Mosul at the location corresponding to allegations of civilian casualties," stated a media release from the task force Saturday. A formal review of the March 17 operation "is underway to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties," the release said.

The military’s release came after it earlier announced a review of whether any of three airstrikes in Syria and Iraq over the past week were linked to reported deaths of hundreds of civilians.

In addition to the March 17 airstrike in western Mosul that reportedly killed 200 civilians, Central Command also said this week it is reviewing a March 16 airstrike near a mosque in al-Jinnah, Syria, that is said to have killed dozens, and an airstrike Monday, March 20, on a school building outside of Raqqa, Syria, that may have also killed dozens of civilians fleeing local fighting.

The March 17 strike targeted three adjoining houses. Local news reports indicate ISIS may have used civilians in the area as human shields in an effort to guard against airstrikes on the buildings. The Iraqi military's media operations center has claimed that ISIS was responsible for the civilian deaths.

Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the operation against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and beyond, noted on Friday that ISIS has previously demonstrated disregard for civilians and civilian facilities by “using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals and religious sites."

Scrocca added there have been instances where ISIS forced families from their homes to booby-trap them with explosives to delay Iraqi forces.

The Central Command's release on Saturday asserted that the coalition fighting ISIS "respects human life, which is why we are assisting our Iraqi partner forces in their effort to liberate their lands from ISIS brutality. Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’s inhuman tactics terrorizing civilians."

"Coalition forces comply with the Law of Armed Conflict and take all reasonable precautions during the planning and execution of airstrikes to reduce the risk of harm to civilians," the statement said.

The U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 19,000 airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014.

U.S. Central Command has also opened a credibility assessment into an airstrike Monday night, March 20, that targeted a school building near Raqqa, ISIS's de facto capital inside Syria.

The activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleges that an airstrike on the school killed 33 civilians who had been seeking shelter from local fighting.

And, U.S. Central Command is conducting a full investigation and credibility assessment of an airstrike on March 16 in the village of al-Jinnah in northwestern Syria.

U.S. officials said that airstrike killed dozens of al-Qaeda militants who had gathered for a meeting in a building near a mosque across the street. They emphasized that the mosque was not struck and that the building was not affiliated with the mosque. However, locals said that dozens of worshipers were killed in the airstrike and that the targeted building was, in fact, a mosque.

A military spokesman confirmed that earlier this week Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command, ordered a full investigation into the circumstances of the mission.