The US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria targeted the University of Mosul in a series of airstrikes over the weekend. It had designated the functioning university — which is, like the rest of Mosul, occupied and controlled by the terror insurgency — an "Islamic State headquarters."
The university was bombed as part of a massive daytime barrage against the IS-occupied city on Saturday. While the civilian death toll is impossible to verify, the Iraqi outlet NRN News reported that as many as 25 civilians had been killed. Activists on the ground told VICE News that a dozen civilians were killed and 87 wounded.
Footage released by IS shows smoke rising from what appears to be the University of Mosul. Two massive plumes can be seen above a nearby high-rise, while the surrounding street is littered with shrapnel and debris, as well as dead bodies.
The Pentagon reported over the weekend that it had hit a variety of targets around Mosul, including Islamic State vehicles, a bridge, a supply cache, and a "headquarters."
On Monday, the Pentagon told VICE News that the IS headquarters was "on Mosul University." On Tuesday, the Pentagon clarified that it had not designated the entire university itself an IS headquarters, but rather just some buildings that are part of the university. "Specific buildings the Coalition struck have been turned into a headquarters building by ISIL since late in 2014 or early 2015," the Pentagon said using an alternative acronym for IS.
"ISIL has also been using the buildings as training areas, weapon manufacturing and storage facilities, and communication equipment hubs… the Mosul University strike met all criteria and was coordinated with the Government of Iraq before striking," the Pentagon said.
MosulEye, an activist group that documents life in the occupied city, said that IS had not expected a strike against the university because the surrounding area was full of residents. The weekend fusillade sparked "fear and anxiety" throughout the city of more than 1.5 million civilians, activists said.
MosulEye also confirmed that IS militants were using some university buildings, and that the coalition strikes had managed to kill dozens of the terror group's fighters. Classes, the activist group said, were not in session when the bombs fell.
Chris Woods, the director of Airwars.org, a UK-based organization that tracks civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, called the weekend bombing "ferocious" and "horrific."
"You can see in the videos that the destruction is almost absolute," he remarked, noting that the strike was one of the most brutal his organization had ever documented. "We have never seen anything like this in 18 months, and we have looked at thousands and thousands of photos and videos across both Iraq and Syria."
Atheel al-Nujaifi, who served as the governor of Nineveh Province prior to IS's advance on Mosul in the summer of 2014, told the Mosul News Network on Monday that the strikes killed "dozens of civilians." He also called on the US-led coalition to be "more precise" in its targeting going forward.
The coalition has conducted over 11,000 airstrikes and dropped over 40,000 bombs in Syria and Iraq over the past year and a half. The Pentagon has only acknowledged killing 21 civilians, but Airwars puts that number closer to 1,000.
Briefing reporters on Monday, Colonel Steve Warren, the spokesperson for the US-led coalition, could not confirm that any civilians had been killed during the weekend assault. The Pentagon was "reviewing the incident," he said.
"We take care to minimize the risk to non-combatants," Warren noted.
Samuel Oakford contributed to this report.
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