Over 200 civilians killed in US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, Mosul op halted

Iraqi Counter Terrorism Forces aiding civilians outside Mosul (Photo: Jewan Abdi).

The operation to retake western Mosul from Islamic State (IS) was halted on Saturday because of the high rate of civilian casualties, Reuters reported.

Reports of hundreds of civilian casualties due to US-led coalition airstrikes in Syria and Iraq have led to the United Nations venting concerns about military operations.

The outcry has forced the US military to launch investigations regarding the reported deaths of more than 200 civilians in three airstrikes during the past week.

The UN issued a press release on Friday voicing a profound concern regarding reports of a high number of civilian casualties in Al Aghawat al Jadidah, a densely populated neighbourhood in Mosul.

“The coalition has opened a formal civilian casualty credibility assessment on this allegation and we are currently analyzing conflicting allegations and all possible strikes in that area,” said Colonel Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve.

Another airstrike in northern Syria on 16 March resulted in the death of more than 40 civilians in a mosque local sources said. The Pentagon denied claims of striking the mosque but evidence has mounted in support of the claim.

Allegations also speak of IS using civilians as human shields, leading to civilian casualties.

“International humanitarian law is clear,” said Lise Grande, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in a UN press release on Friday. “Parties to the conflict — all parties – are obliged to do everything possible to protect civilians. This means that combatants cannot use people as human shields and cannot imperil lives through indiscriminate use of fire-power.”

At least 400,000 Iraqis are trapped in west Mosul, controlled by IS, UN refugee agency UNHCR said ‎on ‎Thursday.‎

“We fear for the families who are caught in the conflict,” said Grande. “Everything must be done to avoid civilian casualties.”

The fight to push IS out of the western parts of Mosul have intensified during the past week. According to security experts the operation will continue until at the least the summer due to both the high number of civilians in the city and the number of IS fighters in the group’s stronghold in Iraq. The US-led coalition has conducted more than 19,000 airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria since the summer of 2014.