‘Mosul operation stage-managed by Pentagon & US mainstream media’

People walk along a street near damaged buildings in Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria November 2, 2016. © Abdalrhman Ismail
Media coverage determines how military operations in Aleppo and Mosul are covered around the world, says Patrick Henningsen, geopolitical analyst at 21st Century Wire.com. Gregory Copley, editor of Defense & Foreign Affairs, also provides his views.

RT obtained exclusive video, apparently showing the aftermath of an alleged US coalition airstrike outside Mosul. Eight people, all members of the same family, were killed.

RT: If it is confirmed this was a US-led coalition airstrike. How avoidable are civilian casualties in an operation like this? Can more be done to avoid it?

Patrick Henningsen: It is very difficult to avoid civilian casualties in this type of operation no matter where it is. Any country facing this sort of problem basically having terrorist forces occupying towns or cities and using the civilian population as human shields, it is very difficult to completely avoid civilian causalities. There will be what they call ‘collateral damage’ in the US.

Also, you have other ancillary issues, as well, with regards to how this is covered. The media coverage will also determine what this means in the public sphere in the international conversation, the diplomatic conversations. There is a big difference between, let’s say, the coverage that we’re looking at right now in Mosul, which is pretty much staged managed by the US, by the Pentagon, by US mainstream media outlets, and coalition outlets. And then the coverage you have in Aleppo – a similar situation, arguably not the same, but similar. But the media coverage of these two things is very different internationally.

RT: The operations in Mosul and Aleppo are being widely compared, as both seem to have the same objective to defeat terrorists who are using civilians as human shields. Why is the US claiming there's a big difference?

PH: Well, the difference between Mosul and Aleppo, although you’re talking about the same problem – let’s say terrorists occupying a city, or part of a city – in Aleppo, the US coalition is backing, arming, and giving political support and global public relations cover to those terrorists. Whereas in Mosul this isn’t being done overtly, although one could argue that the ISIS conclave in Mosul is being financed and backed by elements within Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well, who are part of the coalition. So this is the difference between those two things. Not only that, the operation in Aleppo is much different dynamically, because it is a part of the city, it is not the whole city; whereas in Mosul the whole city is basically under siege right now as it were, although we don’t like to use that word in Iraq. But this word is being used in the Western media to characterize what is happening in East Aleppo.

RT: There are several refugee camps set up by humanitarian organizations for people fleeing Mosul. But will they be enough?

PH: That is a very difficult question and a very difficult situation. We’ve seen what happened in Aleppo. We can only maybe compare that situation, where, let’s say, a temporarily ceasefire was installed in order to allow for humanitarian corridors and so forth. But what we saw in Aleppo with regards to the Russian and Syrian army and their operation is that the terrorists have used those situations in order to basically mount major offensives and also targeting civilians during that process, as well. So the humanitarian issues are difficult, although in Mosul there are a number of viable potential corridors out of the city. But again, we have terrorist forces holding a civilian population hostage. So this is an operational problem with the situation there, as it is in Syria, as well.

'Overlapping political objectives'

Gregory Copley, editor, Defense and Foreign Affairs

RT: It is confirmed that this was a coalition airstrike. What could this mean for the offensive on Mosul?

Gregory Copley: I don’t think it will have a profound effect on the offensive on Mosul overall. As you say, it may not have been a coalition air strike, it could very well have been an Iraqi Air Force strike. However, the fact is, you’ve got close-quarter fighting in and around Mosul now; you’ve got troops moving in from various directions to penetrate the ISIS lines. They are using a lot of human shields and just the fact that there are a lot of civilians there means that it’s going to be very difficult to avoid large-scale civilian casualties. But it does mean the coalition will take a lot of heat whether or not it was a US, coalition or Iraqi Air Force aircraft (…) It is very difficult to get really solid and actionable intelligence in these combat zones for the Americans and the coalition in particular. In the case of the Mosul operation there certainly was a lot of Peshmerga intelligence on the ground warning that this village was a safe civilian area.

RT: Do you expect the US to conduct an investigation into what happened and announce its findings publicly? Is that a normal procedure in these cases? 

GC: It is indeed. They will do it and I think they will do it fairly rapidly. It is of far greater concern for the US to show transparency in the Iraq operations, than it is for example to show them in the Syrian operations, where there are some overlapping political objectives, shall we say. At this stage, bear in mind that in the case of Syria the Obama administration is anxious to get the US actively involved not just in the war against ISIS, but also in the war to remove President Assad. The US will get involved more there, hoping that there will be some response, which will trigger a military intervention in both in Syria and Yemen, where US forces are playing a role. And this is likely to be the Obama administration’s policies until at least the end of the year.  

RT: From the tactical point of view, what are the preliminary measures that have been taken by the US-led forces to minimize the risks for civilians? What should be done to prevent such causalities in future? 

GC: I think that the US does go to great length to insure that they get minimal ‘collateral damage’, civilian causalities, in these kind of situations. They will be using extensive aerial reconnaissance. They’ll be drawing on Iraqi and Peshmerga ground intelligence. The question is: how this translates into operational targeting information to the air force commanders, or for that matter, any other US military commands in the region. That is where we’ve seen problems before – a lack of coordination. We saw that in the earlier coalition operations in Iraq years ago. We saw Australian air crews refusing to strike targets that they felt were not properly identified by the US-vetted intelligence (…)

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.