A US airstrike ‘likely’ killed four civilians when a pair of vehicles was hit during an attack on a reported ISIL checkpoint, a CENTCOM investigation later concluded. After a later investigation by the Washington Post found that eleven civilians actually died – including five children, four women and two civilian drivers – the Coalition raised its own estimate to eleven deaths.
According to a declassified CENTCOM report issued on November 20th 2015, the US airstrike by an A-10 Warthog took place at Hatra at 12.18pm local time, and was a target of opportunity.
But also present at the enemy checkpoint were two civilian vehicles, which aircrews and analysts failed to properly identify in the short time between the release of a GBU-38 missile and impact. In the ensuing strike, both civilian cars were also destroyed.
The tragic events of March 13th were never publicly reported at the time. Instead, the owner of one of the vehicles destroyed in the airstrike later wrote to the Coalition asking for compensation for her destroyed vehicle. In a redacted email, the owner reveals that her own KIA car was carrying a family of two children and three women along with a civilian driver. Another vehicle, a GMC with another family in it was also present.
A major investigation by the Washington Post identified the two families killed. The first was that of the driver of the Kia, along with his grandmother, aunt, sister and two children. In the GMC, the driver died along with the family of an Iraqi police commander: “A provincial government official in northern Iraq told Ekabee that the family of a lieutenant colonel with the Iraqi police had been burned alive in the GMC Suburban. ‘What happened to me, you can’t even imagine,’ the colonel said last month in interview with The Washington Post. He said his 9-year-old daughter; two sons, ages 10 and 16; his wife; and the driver were killed in the attack. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still has family trapped in Mosul.“
The Hatra incident was initially made public with the release of another declassified CENTCOM document which identified 45 problem incidents involving Coalition aircraft.
Coalition commander Lt General John Hesterman signed off on the completed CENTCOM investigation noting: “I concur with the findings and conclusions of the IO [investigating officer], who substantiated by a preponderance of the evidence that civilian casualties had occurred.”
On April 30th 2017 the Coalition amended its estimate for the attack, noting: “March 13, 2015, near Hatra, Iraq: On the Nov. 20, 2015, U.S. Central Command press release it was reported that four civilians were killed during a strike on an ISIS checkpoint. A subsequent investigation concluded that 11 civilians were unintentionally killed.“
The incident occured at 12:18 pm local time.