Canberra, Feb 1 (IANS) The Australian Ministry of Defence on Friday confirmed that an Australian air strike in the Iraqi city of Mosul in June 2017 against the Islamic State (IS) may have killed several civilians.
Although a probe could not determine the exact number of deaths in the June 13 bombing of the Al Shafaar neighbourhood, “the coalition assesses that between six and 18 civilians may have been killed”, the ministry said in a statement sent to Efe.
The strikes occurred during Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) operations to retake West Mosul.
Calculations by the Australian national broadcaster ABC brought to 35 the number of civilians killed in the guided missile attack involving two Australian F/A-18F aircraft.
The ministry also stated it was “not possible to determine if the civilian casualties occurred as a result of the Australian, the nearby Coalition airstrikes, or from other actors”.
The head of the Joint Operations, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, said the attack was carried out at the request of Iraqi Security Forces and in compliance with the law of armed conflict and applicable rules of engagement.
“On this occasion, it was assessed that the enemy intended to attack Iraqi forces from the targeted location, threatening imminent loss of life or serious injury.”
The IS were attacking ISF positions and fleeing civilians with a combination of small arms, heavy machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades.
The ISF identified three enemy personnel in a building and four enemy personnel in the adjacent courtyard, armed with heavy weapons.
“Based upon the proximity of the enemy to the Iraqi forces, the nature of the target and the circumstances of the fighting in Mosul at the time, I can confirm that this action complied with Australia’s rules of engagement and the Laws of Armed Conflict,” Air Marshal Hupfeld said.
“The Australian Defence Force takes all feasible precautions to minimise the risk of civilian casualties,” Hupfeld said of the incident which was first reported in January 2018, when Australia ended its airstrikes in Iraq.
Australia previously confirmed its involvement in three cases of potential civilian deaths as a result of air strikes in 2017 during Operation Okra, also in the Mosul region.