It happened during the operation to free the last great enclave that was in the hands of the terrorists, according to a major investigation on-the-ground and with satellite images that lasted almost two years. Amnesty International calls on the US, UK and France to evaluate their mistakes in the Syrian city of Raqqa so that they do not commit them again.
“Thousands of civilians were killed or injured in the US-led Coalition’s offensive to rid Raqqa of ISIS, whose snipers and mines had turned the city into a death trap,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International (AI) adviser said in a statement. “Many of the air bombardments were inaccurate and tens of thousands of artillery strikes were indiscriminate, so it is no surprise they killed and injured many hundreds of civilians.” Rovera assures as well that, on the ground, she discovered that the coalition was providing “little or no protection to civilians trapped in the city.”
The United States, France and the United Kingdom supported the advance of Kurdish forces on the ground with an air offensive. The “unguided artillery” have a margin of error of more than 100 meters, which makes their use “indiscriminate” in an urban context with civilians present, according to Amnesty.
“Many of the aerial bombings were inaccurate, and tens of thousands of artillery attacks were indiscriminate”
– Donatella Rovera, AI
The Syrian city of Raqqa was governed for almost four years by the terrorists until in 2017 they were defeated by the military coalition led by the United States. “ISIS had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and tortured and killed whoever dared to oppose them,” Amnesty International recalls. The NGO has previously documented how terrorists used “civilians as human shields, mined exit routes, set up checkpoints to restrict movement and fired at those who tried to flee.”
In their attempt to free the citizens of Raqqa from Daesh and undermine their territorial power in what was considered their “capital”, “thousands” of American, British and French air strikes and dozens of US artillery attacks were carried out between June and October 2017. Amnesty International says its data show that hundreds of civilians died as a “direct result”of that military operation.
The human rights organization research teams spent about two months in Raqqa when the battle was still ongoing. It visited more than 200 strike locations and interviewed more than 400 witnesses and survivors.
In addition, more than 3,000 activists from 124 different countries analyzed more than two million frames of satellite images. Amnesty notes that the organization’s digital verification body, based in six universities around the world, analyzed and authenticated the video images taken during the battle.
In collaboration with Airwars organization, they analyzed open source data in real time and after the battle – including “thousands” of social media and other materials – to create a database of more than 1,600 civilians who, according to the investigation, died due to the coalition attacks. Both organizations have compiled the names of more than a thousand victims; Amnesty International has verified 641 of these directly on the ground, in Raqqa, and claims to have “convincing information from multiple sources about the rest”.
“The coalition has to investigate what went wrong in Raqqa and learn the lesson so as to not inflict such tremendous suffering on civilians trapped in future military operations”
– Chris Woods, Airwars
The NGO regrets that the international coalition has only admitted to the deaths of 159 civilians for their attacks and claims that they do not investigate on the ground or talk to the victims.
“The Coalition needs to fully investigate what went wrong at Raqqa and learn from those lessons, to prevent inflicting such tremendous suffering on civilians caught in future military operations,” said Chris Woods, director of Airwars.