Was Australia part of a strike on ISIL in a Mosul civilian neighbourhood?

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Mosul civilians after March air strike (screen shot via YouTube).

Marise Payne's exculpatory claim that Australian bombs did not kill civilians in a March Mosul air strike seems incredible when considered in light of FOI documents, writes Kellie Tranter.

WHEN BEING probed in relation to civilian death claims in a Mosul Jadida neighbourhood strike on 17 March 2017, Defence Minister Marise Payne said

" ... based on the information currently available, Australian strike aircraft were not involved in an air strike on 17 March that allegedly resulted in civilian casualties."

Carefully chosen words? Even if the Australian Defence Force (ADF) were not involved in the air strike in question, Freedom of Information (FOIdocuments confirm that our combat planes were in the air and were dropping GBU bombs in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood on that day.

In fact, from 1 to 26 March 2017, mission reports – standard reports completed after Australian aircraft complete a mission – confirm that our combat planes were in the air and dropping bombs in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood on 7, 11, 16, 17, 18, 21 and 22 March 2017.

The heavily redacted FOI documents refer to the bombs being dropped as "GBU". Any further references or details relating to the bombs are redacted so it is impossible to determine the precise capabilities of the bombs that were dropped. We do know that, in April 2016, the U.S. State Department approved the sale of 2,950 GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs (SDB) and associated equipment, training and support to Australia with a total overall estimated value of $386 million. As a matter of interest, that’s a little over $130,000 for each bomb.

For the uninitiated, the GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) is peddled as:

'... an extended range all-weather, day or night 250-pound class, guided munition. The SDB relies on the Global Positioning System to provide navigation to the target. Additionally, its small size allows increased aircraft loadout to achieve multiple kills per sortie and inherently reduces the probability of collateral damage.'

This is, of course, provided that potential collateral damage, including people, are located outside the blast zone.

An email (below) from the Department of Defence received today, indicated that Australia does not have this particular type of weaponry in the area that was bombed in March:

Copy of email from the Department of Defence received by Kellie Tranter on 27 June 2107.

However, this still begs the question: What are the capabilities of the bombs being used?

Any air strikes in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood place civilians in the middle of the blast zone.

Following the catastrophic air strike in this neighbourhood on 17 March 2017, the United Nations said publicly that: 

ISIL’s strategy of using children, men and women to shield themselves from attack is cowardly and disgraceful. It breaches the most basic standards of human dignity and morality. Under international humanitarian law, the use of human shields amounts to a war crime.

The conduct of air strikes on ISIL locations in such an environment, particularly given the clear indications that ISIL is using large numbers of civilians as human shields at such locations, may potentially have a lethal and disproportionate impact on civilians.

News reports quote Mosul Jadida residents referring to three homes that had taken direct hits from air strikes, others that had been damaged by debris and shelling and other buildings and houses that were bombed with ISIS forces and/or snipers being on the rooftops.

Australian mission reports describe the targets as "BLDG" or "SNIPER IN BLDG" with bombs noted to go "high order" — which is to say complete burning or initiative of the explosive occurs at its maximum velocity.

Following the devastating Mosul Jadida air strike on 17 March 2017, the Australian Defence Force stated:

'While there are no specific allegations against Australian aircraft, Australia will fully support the coalition-led (Operation Inherent Resolve) investigation into these allegations.'

This may well be true, but given their guidance by GPS coordinates, the ADF must know with a very high degree of specificity the other targets our bombs have hit and exactly when they hit.

In response to the FOI request, the Department of Defence stated that no documents pertaining to 'the outcomes of military and civilian casualties' or 'describing, recording investigations of and assessing the circumstances of Australian involvement in civilian casualty incidents related to air strikes in the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood' were identified.

Even though the documents may not exist, how credible is it for our government to continue to maintain that we have avoided civilian casualties if we have participated in the bombing of populated areas where civilians are being used as human shields by ISIS and bombed buildings with the object of killing snipers?

The carefully phrased exculpatory statement by Defence Minister Payne, when considered in light of the information available to the defence force, gives the lie to any inference that Australian bombs have not caused civilian casualties.

The precise capability of the bombs that were dropped on the Mosul Jadida neighbourhood remains unknown.

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow Kellie on Twitter @KellieTranter.

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