Amnesty report slams US-led strikes on Raqqa

Amnesty said the US-led coalition engaged in a broad air campaign upon targets within Raqqa that killed and injured civilians.
Wednesday 06/06/2018
Days of destruction.  A frame grab made from drone video shows damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria, last year. (AP)
Days of destruction. A frame grab made from drone video shows damaged buildings in Raqqa, Syria, last year. (AP)

TUNIS - The US-led coalition carried thousands of air strikes and fired tens of thousands of artillery shells on populated streets throughout the Islamic State-held city of Raqqa, resulting in a civilian death toll estimated to be among the highest in Syria’s seven years of carnage, Amnesty International said.

In its report, “War of Annihilation: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria,” Amnesty International claimed the American-led coalition engaged in a broad air campaign on targets within Raqqa that killed and injured civilians, destroyed homes and infrastructure before arranging for the surviving fighters of the Islamic State (ISIS) to be evacuated from the city.

“When so many civilians are killed in attack after attack, something is clearly wrong and, to make this tragedy worse, so many months later the incidents have not been investigated. The victims deserve justice,” Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty International said in a release. “The coalition’s claims that its precision air campaign allowed it to bomb [ISIS] out of Raqqa while causing very few civilian casualties do not stand up to scrutiny. On the ground in Raqqa we witnessed a level of destruction comparable to anything we’ve seen in decades of covering the impact of wars.”

The US-led coalition, which included the United Kingdom and France, provided most of air support as its allies within the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advanced on the ground. US forces, the report noted, were responsible for more than 90% of the air strikes on the city.

From June 6-October 17, 2017, coalition forces carried out tens of thousands of air strikes on Raqqa. US forces said they firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive.

“A senior US military official said that more artillery shells were launched into Raqqa than anywhere since the Viet Nam War. Given that artillery shells have margin of error of more than 100 metres, it is no surprise that the result was mass civilian casualties,” the report quoted Rovera as saying.

As the SDF advanced against ISIS under “relentless” air and artillery strikes, residents were trapped in the city. Families interviewed by Amnesty International told how they had been unable to pay ISIS passage out of the city and were then caught in the crossfire.

The coalition was keen to distance itself from Amnesty International’s accusations. Questioning the methodology used in compiling the report, the combined forces agency saidThe coalition sees any non-combatant death or injury as a tragedy and we have meticulous processes in place to ensure we do everything possible to avoid them. With that said, the coalition has been transparent about our process for conducting strikes and assessing any allegations of civilian casualties that may have resulted from those strikes.”

The coalition statement read: “We continue to conduct our strikes in a manner that minimises their impact on civilian populations and infrastructures and we are committed to transparency in reporting when civilian casualties unintentionally occur as a result of our strikes.”