National Security

ISIS Trying To ‘Bait’ US Into Striking Positions Full Of Civilians, Says US Military

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The Islamic State is attempting to “bait” U.S. forces into striking targets full of civilians, forcing the military to adjust its tactics, according to a U.S. military spokesman.

The Pentagon released a video Friday purportedly showing ISIS forces, surrounded by civilians, firing on Iraqi Counterterrorism Service forces in western Mosul.

“What you see now is not the use of civilians as human shields,” Army Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led operation against ISIS, in a briefing to Pentagon reporters Thursday. “ISIS is smuggling civilians into buildings so we won’t see them and trying to bait the coalition to attack.”

The tactic has become commonplace in the ongoing fight to retake Mosul, according to Air Force Col. John Thomas, spokesman for U.S. Central Command.

“Our Iraqi partners and CJTF (Combined Joint Task Force) have seen the tactic of ISIS [intentionally] placing civilians in harm’s way,” said Thomas in a statement Friday. “While the video cannot portray intent, it does show actions, including knowingly establishing firing positions while civilians were present.”

The release of the video comes three days after a report by Bellingcat, an investigative journalism organization, claimed to confirm that a U.S. strike on a Syrian mosque March 16 killed at least 38 people.

Scrocca said the new tactic has “caused some adjustments” to U.S. procedures going forward. That said, officers in the field still have the authority to call in strikes.

The fight for West Mosul has forced Iraqi Security Forces into a street-by-street battle, where every inch of territory is fiercely fought over.

“This is the most significant urban combat to take place since World War II,” said Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, in late March. “It is tough and brutal.”

Thomas said that coalition forces did not respond when ISIS attacked from positions surrounded with civilians on March 16.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that Bellingcat investigated a strike on a mosque in Mosul, the investigation focused on a Syrian mosque.

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