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Votel Details Mosul Strike Investigation to Congressional Committee

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, March 29, 2017 — The commander of U.S. Central Command told the House Armed Services Committee today that Centcom will get to the truth of reports surrounding a March 17 coalition strike in Mosul, Iraq, targeting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorists that allegedly killed as many as 200 civilians.

Gen. Joseph Votel, U. S. Central Command commander, receives a brief from Capt. Sheppard, 389th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in-charge, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 23, 2017. The general is the commander of all down-range operations in the 20-country inclusive central region in the Middle East. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eboni Reams) CENTCOM commander visits Airmen and Soldiers
Gen. Joseph Votel, U. S. Central Command commander, receives a brief from Capt. Sheppard, 389th Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in-charge, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, Feb. 23, 2017. The general is the commander of all down-range operations in the 20-country inclusive central region in the Middle East. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eboni Reams)

Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel emphasized that the coalition goes to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties.

Votel called these situations tragic and heartbreaking. “We acknowledge our responsibility to operate at a higher standard,” he said. “It is my responsibility as a combatant commander to ensure that our forces operate in accordance with those goals and standards.”

The coalition is doing “everything humanly possible” to prevent civilian casualties in its operations, the general said, but he acknowledged that he agrees with the initial assessment that “there is a fair chance that our operations may have contributed to civilian casualties.”

Gathering Evidence and Perspective

He detailed for the committee what the command is doing to ascertain the truth.

“We have a general officer assigned as the investigating officer to help us address and understand and discover the facts of this case,” he said. “We were able to visit the actual site yesterday and gather both additional evidence and perspective on this situation.” The command also is reviewing more than 700 weapon-system videos to ensure investigators understand the effects of the munitions dropped in the vicinity, he added.

VIDEO | 01:33 | Centcom Commander Discusses Civilian Casualties in Mosul

The investigation will look at command-and-control, the munitions employed and the fusing for those munitions, Votel said, and Centcom also will examine the intelligence gathered before the incident.

Importantly, the investigation will also look at the behavior of the enemy and actions ISIS may have played in any civilian casualties, Votel told the panel.

“While we consider and establish accountability over our actions in this incident, I think it is also important to clearly recognize that the enemy does use human shields, has little regard for human life and does attempt to use civilian casualty allegations as a tool to hinder our operations,” Votel said. “And so they bear responsibility for this, as well.”

Votel emphasized that Mosul is a crowded and complex urban environment and that the coalition has not changed its rules of engagement. He said the command will work with all interested parties as part of the investigation.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)