Civil Defense Lt. Col. Taha Ali. said Wednesday that 278 bodies have been pulled from the rubble caused by the bombing of residential homes in the al-Jadida neighborhood of what was once Iraq’s second-largest city, the Los Angeles Times reports. However, Sabah Numan, a spokesman for the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, disputed that figure, claiming 61 bodies had been recovered and the total death toll from the bombardment was likely in the 100-130 range.
U.S. military commanders have acknowledged carrying out the deadly air strike, with Iraqi and U.S. officials, as well as survivors of the attack, claiming Islamic State (IS) fighters took up positions on and in adjoining homes where hundreds of civilians were sheltering. According to Numan, IS booby-trapped the building and parked a vehicle full of explosives nearby, which helps explain the unusually high death toll. Col. Ali, meanwhile, said it was unclear how many bodies were still trapped beneath the rubble.
The strike ranks as the deadliest by far committed by the U.S.-led coalition during the war against IS. Based on the figure of 278 killed, it is also the deadliest single air strike of the 15-year American-led war against terrorism and the deadliest since U.S. stealth warplanes bombed a Baghdad air raid shelter during the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraqi forces, backed by U.S.-led coalition air strikes and U.S. Special Forces troops, are continuing to push further into IS-held territory in western Mosul. Agence France-Presse reports as many as 15,000 residents are fleeing the city daily, greatly straining humanitarian resources. The United Nations said it is expanding camps for displaced people around the city as the number of refugees hits 300,000.
The high number of civilian casualties in the battle for Mosul prompted U.S. and Iraqi officials to announce a change in tactics to be employed as the fierce fighting continues. Earlier this week, the Iraqi military said it would slow the offensive into the densely populated old district of the city and reduce the number of coalition air strikes. However, credible but as yet unverified reports claim coalition strikes continue to kill and injure civilians, including an alleged April 4 bombing in the Tal-Afar neighborhood that reportedly killed 20 civilians, including many children.
Many Mosul residents also claim many coalition air strikes are going unreported, and that recently, bombings have become more indiscriminate. “Before, they were extremely accurate,” local resident Nashwan Ahmeel, who is recovering in a hospital from shrapnel wounds suffered during a coalition attack, told USA Today. “When they were trying to take out a sniper, only the sniper was hit. When they attacked a motorcycle weaving between cars, they only hit the motorcycle.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump vowed to “bomb the shit out of” IS fighters, kill their innocent families and take Iraq’s oil. Over the past month, the Trump administration has worked to dismantle Obama-era constraints on the use of force designed to protect innocent life. Changes include declaring more places “areas of active hostilities” and granting military and CIA forces greater autonomy to launch strikes without presidential approval in countries including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.
There has been an exponential increase in the killing of innocent civilians in nations targeted by America’s war against terrorism since Trump became commander-in-chief. Last month alone, several mass casualty events have been reported, including 49 civilians killed when a U.S. air strike hit a mosque in Aleppo province, Syria and 33 civilians killed in an air strike on a school sheltering families near Raqqa, Syria. In the Trump administration’s first major ground raid, dozens of civilians — including an eight-year-old American girl — and a U.S. Navy SEAL were killed in a botched assault on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen. In February, at least 18 Afghans, mostly women and children, died in a U.S. strike in Helmand province.
But it is in Mosul where U.S. bombs have killed the most innocent people. Before the Jadida massacre, the independent U.K.-based monitor group Airwars claimed as many as 370 civilians were killed in nearly a dozen strikes in and around the city. The United Nations reports 548 civilians were killed throughout Iraq in March, with Nineveh governorate — where Mosul is located — suffering 367 civilian deaths, the most of any Iraqi province.
On the ground in Mosul, many victims and survivors of the U.S.-led attacks have lost confidence in the coalition. “People don’t want liberation like that,” resident Zeyad Suleiman told USA Today. “People once trusted them but now they don’t.”