RAF jets were flying in Mosul region where US-led coalition air strike 'killed more than a hundred civilians'

Sara Elizabeth Williams
Iraqi authorities blamed Isil for the deaths - Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

The Ministry of Defence was facing questions last night after it admitted that British jets were flying in the region of west Mosul where a coalition air strike is feared to have killed more than a hundred civilians fleeing Isil. 

A spokesman said the RAF was providing "close air support " to ground forces in the city, where on March 17 a US-led air strike destroyed several buildings in the neighbourhood of al-Jadidah. 

They refused to confirm whether British jets were directly involved in the strike, but said they had seen "no evidence" of causing civilian deaths. 

An Iraqi woman and her daughter stand on a street holding white flags as Iraqi security forces secure Mosul's Al-Dawasa neighbourhood on March 13 Credit: AFP

"As operations to liberate western Mosul and Raqqa intensify, the RAF continues to provide precision close air support to ground forces engaged in difficult urban combat," the spokesman said. 

"We conduct detailed assessments after each strike and review information from organisations such as Airwars and we have not seen evidence that we have been responsible for civilian casualties so far.

"Through our rigorous targeting processes we will continue to seek to minimise the risk of civilian casualties, but that risk can never be removed entirely.”

It comes after Iraqi officials denied claims that over a hundred civilian deaths in Mosul that have caused international outrage were caused by an airstrike by the US-led coalition.

The US-led coalition has confirmed that its aircraft targeted Isis fighters in Mosul’s al-Jadidah neighbourhood on 17 March, at Iraq’s request. 

It added in a statement that it took every allegation of civilian deaths seriously and that Iraqi forces have been committed to protecting civilians in the advance on the militant stronghold of Mosul. 

Iraq forces take third of west Mosul

U.S. Brigadier General Matthew Isler, Deputy Commanding General Operation Inherent Resolve, said he could not provide details of the military investigation into civilian deaths in western Mosul on March 17.

Iraq's military said in a statement on Sunday that 61 bodies were recovered from a collapsed building that Islamic State had booby-trapped. 

It also cited witnesses saying that the building was booby-trapped and militants had forced residents inside basements to use them as shields.

It added that there was no sign of an airstrike against a "destroyed" house where the casualties were thought to have taken cover. “All walls were booby-trapped and there is no hole that indicates an air strike," the statement said. However, bystanders in Mosul spoke of carnage in the immediate aftermath of the 17 March blast, with more than 50 bodies being dug out from beneath one home alone.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed at least 100 deaths, which contradict the Iraqi government's figures. 

A large cloud of smoke rises during fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State militants as civilians walk toward Iraqi security forces after fleeing their homes on the western side of Mosul, Iraq. 

Bashar al-Kiki, the head of the provincial council for Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, said "dozens" of bodies were still buried under rubble in the city.

Sources on the ground confirmed a sharp increase in the number of large car bombs being deployed by Isil in the battle for western Mosul. If the deaths are found to have been a result of an airstrike, it would be one of the deadliest coalition attacks on civilians in recent history.

“All walls were booby-trapped and there is no hole that indicates an air strike," the statement said.

Journalists and local officials were reportedly denied access to the site yesterday after reports blamed a coalition strike for the deaths. 

Meanwhile, a pause in operations announced on Saturday to review tactics in the wake of the rising civilian death toll did not appear to have taken place. 

Members of the Iraqi National Security Service drive through eastern Mosul

Bystanders in Mosul spoke of carnage in the immediate aftermath of the 17 March blast, with more than 50 bodies being dug out from beneath one home alone.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed at least 100 deaths. Bashar al-Kiki, the head of the provincial council for Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, said "dozens" of bodies were still buried under rubble in the city.

Yet in its statement, the Iraqi military said just 61 people had been killed, contradicting those leading rescue efforts. It also cited witnesses saying that the building was booby-trapped and militants had forced residents inside basements to use them as shields.

Sources on the ground confirmed a sharp increase in the number of large car bombs being deployed by Isil in the battle for western Mosul.

If the deaths are found to have been a result of an airstrike, it would be one of the deadliest US attacks on civilians in recent history.

The uncertainty around the Mosul attack comes less than two weeks after US warplanes were accused of killing at least 46 people in a raid in northwest Syria. The Pentagon confirmed US airstrikes in the area and said it is investigating the incident.  

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