Allies ramp up bombing in ‘brutal’ Mosul battle
IRAQ: The US-led coalition has intensified the battle for Mosul even as it admits that its bombs probably killed more than 130 civilians in a single airstrike two weeks ago.
Warplanes have increased the number of sorties by 14 per cent this month, with an average of 500 bombs being dropped on west Mosul each week, but Iraqi forces are still encountering fierce resistance on the ground.
A US commander has revealed that 774 Iraqi troops have lost their lives in Mosul so far; 490 in the eastern half of the city and 284 in the continuing battle for west Mosul. At least 4600 have been injured. The US yesterday began a formal inquiry into what caused the worst loss of civilian life at the hands of western forces since the start of operations in Iraq.
The inquiry was announced in Washington by General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command. He said it would look into all the circumstances in which a coalition airstrike is believed to have been ordered on a row of houses in west Mosul on March 17, killing about 137 people.
Details of casualties not previously released among Iraqi troops paint a gloomy picture of an offensive that has become bogged down in the winding streets of Mosul’s old city, with civilians paying the price of any attempt to accelerate the advance.
In a briefing to journalists at the Pentagon on Wednesday evening Lieutenant- General Stephen Townsend, overall leader of the coalition fight against Isis, said: ‘‘It is the toughest and most brutal close-quarters combat that I have experienced in my 34 years of service.’’ He has previously commanded troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The fighting is centred on the Old City surrounding the al-Nuri mosque, where Abu Bakr alBaghdadi, the Isis leader, proclaimed his caliphate nearly three years ago.
Thousands of Mosul residents have fled from the areas held by the jihadists but tens of thousands more are trapped in their homes, surrounded by the fighting and with no defence against the shelling and airstrikes from above.
Coalition helicopters circling west Mosul strafed Isis positions beyond the city’s main train station yesterday, Reuters reporters said. Heavy, sustained gunfire could be heard from the Old City area, where Isis fighters were hiding among residents and using the alleyways, traditional family homes and snaking narrow roads to their advantage, fleeing residents said.
The circumstances surrounding the airstrike on March 17 are hotly disputed, although witness and survivor accounts suggest that Isis fighters were near or even on top of the row of houses when they was hit. They allege that Iraqi ‘‘spotters’’ called in strikes even though they were aware that civilians were sheltering in the basement. - The Times