The Department of Defence has confirmed that an Australian airstrike or nearby Coalition airstrikes in the Al Shafaar neighbourhood of Mosul on 13 June 2017 may have caused civilian casualties.
An Australian investigation found that it is not possible to determine the number of civilian casualties that occurred as a result of the airstrikes. The Coalition assesses that between six and 18 civilians may have been killed.
It is also not possible to determine if the civilian casualties occurred as a result of the Australian airstrike, the nearby Coalition airstrikes, or from other actors.
Chief of Joint Operations, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, said the Australian strike was requested by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and was in full compliance with the law of armed conflict and applicable rules of engagement.
“The Australian Defence Force takes all feasible precautions to minimise the risk of civilian casualties,” AIRMSHL Hupfeld said.
The strikes occurred during ISF operations to retake West Mosul. Daesh 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,” AIRMSHL Hupfeld said.
Post-strike assessments confirmed the 500lb precision-guided munition struck the intended target and achieved the effect desired by the Iraqi ground commander.
The civilian casualties were claimed to have been located in a building in the vicinity of the Australian and Coalition strikes.
AIRMSHL Hupfeld said that while there was no specific intelligence to indicate civilians were present at the targeted site, it was impossible to be sure under the urgent circumstances facing the Iraqi forces at the time.
“There is a degree of uncertainty surrounding this incident. We know that the Australian strike does not precisely correspond with the information provided in the claim; however, it was close by. We do not definitively know how these people were killed,” AIRMSHL Hupfeld explained.
Australia was first advised of the potential claim in January 2018. The Coalition assessed the claim to be credible in December 2018 and announced the finding today.
Australia has previously announced involvement in three separate potential civilian casualty allegations resulting from strikes conducted during Operation Okra. These all occurred during the Mosul offensive on 30 March 2017, 3 May 2017, and 7 June 2017. Australian strike aircraft concluded operations in January 2018.
AIRMSHL Hupfeld said, “Any loss of civilian life is highly regrettable and we treat all allegations seriously. Ultimately we have determined that it is possible civilians were unintentionally killed by the Coalition during these strikes.”