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U.S. airstrike mistakenly kills 9 Iraqi soldiers

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The airstrike killed nine Iraqi soldiers and an officer, posing a
fresh challenge to the Obama administration’s efforts to expand
cooperation wtih the Iraqis in fighting the Islamic State.

An airstrike that mistakenly killed Iraqi troops on Friday was
carried out by an American plane, United States officials said over
the weekend.

The episode poses a fresh challenge to the Obama administration’s
efforts to expand cooperation with the Iraqis in fighting the
Islamic State, and Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter was quick to
call the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to express his
condolences and invite Iraq to participate in an investigation.

Mr. Carter did not offer a detailed explanation for the errant
airstrike, which killed nine Iraqi soldiers and one officer,
according to Iraq’s defense minister. But Mr. Carter said on
Saturday, “It seemed to be a mistake that involved both sides.”

“These kind of things can happen when you are fighting side by
side as we are, on a dynamic battlefield,” Mr. Carter told reporters
aboard the Kearsarge, an assault ship deployed in the Persian Gulf.

Another American official, who asked for anonymity to discuss an
episode under investigation, said the plane that carried out the
attack was a B-1B bomber, which dropped several bombs as it was
supporting Iraqi forces battling Islamic State fighters near
Falluja. At least one of those bombs, it appears, struck the Iraqi
troops.

Bad weather may have been a contributing factor, American and
Iraqi officials say. With fog in the area, it may have been
difficult for reconnaissance drones or aircraft to keep track of the
shifting Iraqi positions. A third American official said the Iraqi
troops appeared to have been closer to the target area than the
Americans had realized.

There have been few instances of “friendly fire” in Iraq since
the American-led campaign against the Islamic State, also known as
ISIL or ISIS, began last year. One important military question
raised by the attack is whether the risk of such episodes might be
reduced by deploying teams of air controllers with the Iraqi forces,
particularly when Iraqi troops are fighting with the Islamic State
in urban areas or at close quarters.

Seeking to minimize the risk of American casualties, the Obama
administration decided early in the campaign that the American
advisers and trainers who are assisting Iraqi troops would work
inside the confines of several large bases in Iraq. But that has
meant that American commanders have had to rely on aircraft to
confirm the targeting information provided by Iraqi troops instead
of on American air controllers on the battlefield.

A broader political question is whether the episode will make it
harder for Mr. Abadi to accept an expanded role for the United
States, which is seeking to speed up the campaign against the
Islamic State. Mr. Carter told Congress this month that the Obama
administration was prepared to support the Iraqi military with
Apache attack helicopters in its fight to reclaim Ramadi. He also
said the administration was ready to deploy advisers with select
Iraqi brigades.

“The United States is prepared to assist the Iraqi Army with
additional unique capabilities to help them finish the job,
including attack helicopters and accompanying advisers, if
circumstances dictate and if requested by Prime Minister Abadi,” Mr.
Carter told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Abadi, however, has been weakened by a series of political
struggles with his rivals, and has come under pressure from Shiite
politicians who are close to Iran to reject a greater United States
military role in Iraq. He did not take up the Pentagon on its offer
when he met with Mr. Carter on Wednesday.

But American officials hope that Mr. Abadi will agree to the use
of Apache helicopters and advisers for future operations, which are
expected to be more challenging as Iraqi forces look toward the
battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

The political dynamics in Iraq were clear with the divergent
response to the airstrike. Hakim al-Zamili, the chairman of the
Iraqi Parliament’s defense and security committee and a political
supporter of the anti-United States Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr,
provided a far higher toll than the Defense Ministry’s and demanded
an investigation.

Mr. Abadi, however, accepted Mr. Carter’s explanation that the
episode was a genuine mistake, and expressed hope that politicians
in Iraq and elsewhere would not try to exploit the airstrike for
their own purposes, according to the Americans’ account of the phone
call from Mr. Carter to Mr. Abadi.

“He and I both expressed regret over the incident and also
determination to continue the campaign to expel ISIL from Iraqi
territory,” Mr. Carter said.

 

This article was written by MICHAEL R GORDON from International New York Times and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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