Pentagon denies changing airstrike rules after reports of civilian deaths

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Following three separate allegations of civilian deaths caused by U.S. coalition-led airstrikes, the Pentagon is asserting it has not loosened its rules of engagement in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“There is no indication of that,” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Col. John Thomas told reporters Monday.

Thomas said CENTCOM leaders are “not looking into changing the way we operate other than to say our processes are good and we want to make sure we live by those processes.”

{mosads}“We are cautious and appropriately thoughtful in employing our processes to discriminate appropriately civilian targets from military targets,” he added.

The Pentagon is investigating allegations that coalition airstrikes killed as many as 200 civilians in Mosul, Iraq, by combing through 700 separate video feeds captured over 10 days in the area.

Thomas told reporters during a call at the Pentagon that the investigation is “of the highest priority in Mosul right now and we are spending a lot of our time doing that.”

The Pentagon has acknowledged that it conducted a strike against a suicide truck bomb on March 17, near a building where Iraqi civilians were seeking shelter.

The New York Times on Friday reported that the strike may have killed as many as 200 civilians. If confirmed, it would be among the deadliest airstrikes to hit civilians since the U.S. began the war in Iraq in 2003.

CENTCOM said on Saturday that it opened an investigation “to determine the facts surrounding this strike and the validity of the allegation of civilian casualties.”

Thomas said the Pentagon assessment was looking into whether the coalition airstrikes were responsible for the building destruction and subsequent deaths, or if ISIS planted bombs at the site.

“We know that we were dropping bombs in the immediate vicinity, if not on specific buildings that have made it into the open press,” Thomas said. “We’re dropping hundreds and sometimes tens of meters away from these things, as far as we can tell, our weapons are quite precise … and so we have to look at what we actually struck and then there are intriguing conversations and some intriguing information out there about secondary explosions.”

He added the credibility assessment will take two to three weeks.

The operation to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has been ongoing since last year.

The Pentagon is also investigating two additional incidents of reported civilian casualties caused by coalition airstrikes — one at a school in near the city of Raqqa, Syria, and one near a mosque in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo.

Observer groups reported that at least 30 people were killed at the school and 49 people were killed in the airstrike near the mosque.

Thomas said the school incident is at the start of a “credibility assessment phase” expected to take two weeks or more “to then determine if we have enough evidence or a need to … go forward to a full investigation.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis on Monday responded to the incidents, saying the Pentagon goes out of its way “to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people. The same cannot be said for our adversaries and that is up to you to sort out.”


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