WASHINGTON — The Pentagon still does not know if U.S.-led coalition forces or ISIS destroyed a hospital during a firefight in the eastern Syrian city of Hajin, the last major stronghold of the terrorist group.
Pentagon officials told TMN on Tuesday that the investigation into the destroying of the facility remains ongoing — two days after coalition forces came under direct fire from ISIS elements within the hospital and the building was destroyed.
But while reminding reporters of ISIS’ history of using facilities such as hospitals that are protected under international laws for warfare, there have only been hints of ISIS’ hand in the destruction.
“We assess the Hajin Hospital explosion on Dec. 9, was the result of explosives rigged by ISIS,” Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command, told TMN in an email on Tuesday. “In this instance, ISIS was occupying the facility in violation of international law and using it as a command and control node.”
The battle for Hajin continued unabated on Tuesday, officials said.
Ryan said the Hajin Hospital is located “on key terrain and at the intersection of two primary avenues of advance. This is the same hospital that social media and local reporting erroneously indicated was bombed by Coalition Forces on Dec. 7 and 8.”
He said when Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took control of the facility on Dec. 10, they forwarded “reports that it remains heavily mined with IEDs [improvised explosive devices] throughout the remaining structure.”
Ryan said the attacks from the hospital were first observed on Dec. 8, as “documented small arms fire was emanating from the second and third floors of the Hajin hospital directed at the SDF.”
The ground assault into Hajin is expected to be the last major ground effort against ISIS. It began on Sept. 11, a key part of phase three of Operation Roundup. That military operation started in the spring and is designed to be the penultimate effort to oust ISIS from what Pentagon officials call the group’s geographic caliphate.
According to news reports from regional media, the SDF now controls at least half of Hajin. The reports also said that ISIS fighters were shifting forces from some parts of Hajin to other sectors to rebel the SDF advances.
The Pentagon said it could not confirm those reports.
Hajin is located near the border with Iraq and the coalition attack on the ISIS redoubt is being augmented by Iraqi military forces firing artillery and support weapons into the city.
“It’s fairly intense,” Col. Jonathan Byrom, Task Force Rifles commander and deputy director of Joint Operations Command — Iraq, told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday, regarding the Iraqi support fire. “It’s more intense than others I have seen in the past.”