n combat aircraft were not involved in an airstrike against Islamic State militants that allegedly killed at least dozens of civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul, Defence Minister Marise Payne has said.
Senator Payne told Parliament on Monday afternoon that while such operations were complex, the best information the government had was that n Hornet or Superhornet planes did not take part in the strike.
According to international reports, at least two houses were destroyed around the time coalition forces struck Islamic State targets.
“Based on the information that is currently available to us, I’m advised that n strike aircraft were not involved in the airstrike in question,” Senator Payne said. “As you will appreciate, it takes time to fully determine the details of a complex incident like this involving multiple aircraft from multiple nations.
“The ADF takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously.”
Any matter was investigated if allegations were raised, she said.
Defence had previously told Fairfax Media in that “while there are no specific allegations against n aircraft, will fully support the coalition-led ??? investigation into these allegations”.
US Central Command – also known as Centcom – which is in charge of coalition operations in Iraq, said that an initial review indicated that coalition forces had carried out a strike at that location on March 17 at the request of Iraqi troops on the ground.
“Our goal has always been for zero civilian casualties, but the coalition will not abandon our commitment to our Iraqi partners because of ISIS’s inhuman tactics terrorising civilians, using human shields, and fighting from protected sites such as schools, hospitals, religious sites and civilian neighbourhoods,” Centcom said in a statement.
Centcom commander General Joseph Votel said the coalition was investigating the incident.
While there were initial reports based on comments from locals and Iraqi military officials that up to 200 civilians were killed in an airstrike on March 17 in the Jadideh neighbourhood, the Iraqi military have since cast doubt on those reports.
One version of the events has the coalition hitting an Islamic State truck that was packed with explosives and the resulting blast destroying two nearby houses.
But the BBC reported on Sunday night that the Iraqi military had stated on its Facebook page that in fact the blast appeared to have come from a booby-trapped vehicle near one of the houses and that 61 bodies had been pulled from the rubble.
Either way, the Iraqi military said, the IS fighters had been using civilians as human shields at the site.
The Defence statement said that all n Defence Force personnel followed strict rules of engagement that included minimising the risk of civilian casualties and ensuring compliance with international law.
While RAAF planes and personnel are given tasks by the US-led operations centre, the Defence statement said n personnel made their own “sovereign” decisions.
The ADF also reviewed every n strike after aircraft returned to their base, it said. n personnel were obliged to report any evidence of possible civilian casualties, which would then be investigated.
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