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​Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee on March 29, 2017. Screenshot photo of DOD News video.

​Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, told Congress Wednesday, “we have not relaxed the rules of engagement” in the campaign against ISIS, despite unusually heavy civilian casualties alleged as a result of a March 17 airstrike in western Mosul. While “there is a fair chance that our operations may have contributed to civilian casualties,” Votel said multiple factors were at play. One area of focus for the investigation is the fusing of munitions used in the strike. Votel said US munitions “can be very specific” and that those used on March 17 “should not have created the effects that have been observed.” He also said that ISIS’ use of civilians as human shields makes avoiding civilian casualties more difficult and serves as a propaganda strategy. “I do believe they understand our sensitivity to civilian casualties and they’re exploiting that,” he told the committee. Despite moving forward with ROEs written to minimize impact on civilians, Votel said more casualties could be expected as the fight for Mosul proceeds. “As we move into these urban environments, it is going to become more and more difficult to apply extraordinarily high standards to the things we are doing, although we will try.”