U.S. Military Conducting 'Knock' Operations to Warn Civilians of Imminent Air Strikes

By Susan Jones | April 27, 2016 | 6:42 AM EDT

In this Friday, Dec. 25, 2015 photo, smoke rises from Islamic State positions following a US-led coalition airstrike as Iraqi security forces advance their position in downtown Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, Iraq. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Speaking to reporters from Baghdad on Tuesday, Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten explained the lengths to which the United States will go to avoid civilian casualties while fighting Islamic State terrorists who hide among civilians in Iraq's cities.

"Rest assured, as the general officer responsible for synchronizing all combat operations in this theater, I can assure you that we do everything possible to mitigate the loss of civilian life and minimize collateral damage as we engage this enemy," Gersten said.

Gersten said the U.S. weapons systems are "very precise," but even so, the  U.S. is warning civilians to get out of  harm's way.

In one case, "We went as far as actually to put a Hellfire (missile) on top of the building and air burst it so it wouldn't destroy the building -- simply knock on the roof to ensure that (a woman and children) were out of the building. And then we proceeded with our operations."

At the time, the U.S. was targeting the man in charge of a cash storage facility in Mosul. The money was used to pay Islamic State fighters.

"We watched him come and go from his house, we watched his supplies, we watched the security that was involved in it. And we also watched occasionally a female and her children, in and out of the quarters.

"We actually saturated that with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets...to get a pattern of life study. And then we formulated a plan to ensure that -- that that particular women and children and the non-combatants were clear of that objective.

"We went as far as actually to put a Hellfire on top of the building and air burst it so it wouldn't destroy the building, simply knock on the roof to ensure that she and the children were out of the building. And then we proceeded with our operations.

"That's an example of exactly how we do this. But we have to understand that Daesh is into the fabric of the people. They are using the civilian force as human shields, and we will fight and do everything possible we can to keep those civilian casualties to an absolute, absolute minimum."

Gersten admitted the "knock operation" was not as successful as U.S. military officials hoped.

Although they watched the woman and children leave the targeted building, the woman ran back inside just as the air strike got underway, and she was killed.

"We watched, very difficult for us to watch. And it was within the final seconds of the actual impact," Gersten said.

Gersten said the knock operation -- the first of its kind for the U.S. military in Iraq -- was conducted about four weeks ago. "It is now one of our operation products that we'll employ when a situation presents itself."

A reporter asked Gersten if the U.S. military was briefed by the Israelis on how to conduct a knock operation: "We have not worked with them. We've certainly watched and observed their procedure,"  he said.

"As we formulated the way to get the civilians out of the house, this was brought forward as -- from one of our experts -- as a possible (the satellite transmission broke up, leaving his sentence unfinished).  "We employed the technique. We put leaflets down. Knock-offs were achieved. It was actually a very highly paced, precision event in order to mitigate civ cas (civilian casualties)."

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