Islamic State fighters in western Mosul likely herded innocent men, women and children into a building as human shields before the airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition that killed more than 100 people, a top U.S. general revealed Tuesday.
"It's not a war crime to accidentally kill civilians,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top U.S. general in Baghdad, told reporters. “It's unfortunate, but it's not a crime because these solders have to make these decisions in seconds sometimes in circumstances that you cannot image unless you have experienced them."
Still, he added that the U.S. military’s investigation into the March 17 incident was focusing on what Iraqi witnesses called a deliberate plot by ISIS to put the civilians into a building where they were fighting.
“It sure looks like they were” forced into the building, Townsend said, noting that ISIS has long used human shields. “The enemy had a hand in this.”
Townsend said it was possible ISIS had booby traps and other bombs inside the building to set off secondary explosions. U.S. personnel have visited the site to inspect it.
One coalition bomb “should not have collapsed an entire building,” he said.
Residents of the neighborhood known as Mosul Jidideh told an Associated Press team at the scene that scores of residents are believed to have been killed by a pair of airstrikes that hit a cluster of homes in the area earlier this month.
"Over 137 people were inside. The entire neighborhood was fleeing because of missiles that hit, so people were taking refuge here," said Ahmed Ahmed, one of the residents of the neighborhood.
One airstrike hit the residential area on March 13, followed by a second strike four days later, the residents said. A statement from the U.S.-led coalition said "multiple allegations" were being investigated.
AP reporters saw at least 50 bodies being recovered from the wreckage of the buildings.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.