Iraqis and Americans Butted Heads Over the ISIS ‘Convoy Massacre’
Civilians may have been caught in the crossfire
by ARNAUD DELALANDE
During the night of June 28, 2016, a huge convoy reportedly including thousands of Islamic State fighters evacuated Fallujah in central Iraq. Over the next two days, someone destroyed most of this convoy — around 260 vehicles — and killed as many as 750 militants.
On June 30, the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad announced it had attacked the convoy from the air.
Later on June 30, the spokesman for the coalition Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve announced that coalition forces had also taken part in these air strikes — but Iraqis sources denied that claim.
Who was really involved and what was the actual target? I asked Iraqi military pilots. And what they told me contradicted the coalition’s official story.
Between 9:00 and 10:00 at night on June 28, Iraqi military intelligence detected the movement of numerous vehicles from Fallujah in a southwesterly direction along the road to Amiriyat Fallujah.
Iraqi army helicopters took over the job of tracking the movement. Around 10:00 that night, intelligence reports indicated Islamic State militants were fleeing Fallujah — seemingly explaining the huge convoy.
Baghdad informed the Americans, but CJTF-OIR denied permission for its warplanes to attack the area in question, as the vehicles in question could be carrying civilians.
So Iraqi pilots took the initiative. They called their political leaders in Najaf and, four hours later, attack orders came down. The first two helicopters took off at 1:30 in the morning on June 29. As they approached the area, they encountered heavy automatic gunfire from the ground.
The shooting confirmed to the pilots — this was an Islamic State convoy. The pilots counted more than 400 vehicles. They’d never seen such a huge column before.
In a series of fierce attacks that lasted hours, Iraqi helicopters destroyed more than half the convoy, killing dozens of militants.
Photos and videos of the aftermath of this attack that have appeared on social media clearly show that the convoy consisted of a mixture of civilian and military vehicles. One video depicts a large number of M79 Osa anti-tank unguided rockets next to several vehicles.
Still, it’s possible that some of vehicles carried militants’ families — which is apparently why the United States initially refused to take part in the operation.
According to CJTF-OIR spokesman Col. Chris Garver, U.S. aircraft eventually did participate in an attack on the convoy, although they specifically avoided the part of the column the coalition suspected of carrying civilians.
Shortly after the first convoy’s destruction, Iraqi military intelligence received reports of another Islamic State convoy — around 30 vehicles — leaving Fallujah in a northwesterly direction.
Next came reports of militants — apparently survivors of the first column — killing many civilians east of Ramadi. On June 30, the Iraqi army deployed a number of Bell 407 scout helicopters and Mil Mi-28 gunships to reconnoiter the situation.
After encountering automatic weapons fire, the Iraqi pilots began maneuvering for position, but this time the U.S. Air Force ordered all helicopters to vacate the area. Once the Iraqis were away, fighter-bombers under CJTF-OIR’s control launched their own attacks.
In the following hours, Iraqi army aviation flew dozens of medical evacuation sorties with Mi-17 and EC.635 helicopters, evacuating injured civilians from the vicinity of the coalition’s air rads, including many children.
Later on June 30, Garver stated that the coalition had “struck two major Islamic State convoys fleeing Fallujah over the last two days.” Garver said the raids destroyed 55 trucks southwest of Fallujah and approximately 120 others — including three carrying improvised explosive devices — east of Ramadi, while Iraqi air force and army aviation destroyed dozens of additional vehicles.
These contradictory reports raises a number of questions. While it is clear that the U.S. armed forces and the coalition they lead are doing their best to avoid targeting civilians, it remains unclear why the Iraqis launched their first attack despite the Americans’ warnings about civilians?
Why did the Americans prevent the Iraqis from attacking the second convoy, but then attacked on their own? Finally, who caused the injuries to civilians on June 30. Was it ISIS, the Americans and their coalition or Iraqis?