Yesterday, US Central Command announced that Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve launched an airstrike against an Islamic State mortar team while it was positioned “in between two empty school buildings.” The announcement is part of a US military effort to stay ahead of criticism from media and international non-governmental organizations for striking jihadists as they use protected sites to attack allied forces.
The US military is sensitive to hitting protected targets such as hospitals and schools; an accidental strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières-run hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan in Oct. 2015 killed 42 people and sparked international condemnation.
The CENTCOM announcement is not without precedence. On Dec. 8, CENTCOM released a statement that it struck Islamic State forces at a Mosul hospital who were launching attacks on Iraqi troops. According to CENTCOM, the Islamic State was using the hospital as “a base of operations and command and control headquarters.” [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, US military bombs Mosul hospital as Iraqi troops retreat.]
Full text of CENTCOM’s Jan. 1, 2017 press release:
At the request of the Iraqi Security Forces, the Coalition struck an ISIL mortar tube, which was firing on Iraqi Security Forces in East Mosul, Jan. 1. A precision guided artillery round hit the mortar tube in between two empty school buildings. No civilians were in the area and minimal damage was reported to the buildings.
ISIL is known to use facilities such as mosques, hospitals, and schools, which are protected under the rules of international law as weapons storage facilities, fighting positions, and bases for its terrorist operations. We have seen this tactic used in ever greater numbers as the Iraqi Security Forces successfully push further into Mosul.
While the Coalition takes extraordinary effort to protect civilians and strike appropriate military targets, we will continue to strike ISIL wherever and whenever our partner’s lives are in danger in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict. All Coalition strikes are coordinated with and approved by the government of Iraq. ISIL’s days in Mosul are coming to an end. Supported by the Coalition, the Iraqi Security Forces will soon liberate their city and return it to the people of Iraq.