Alwaght- Us-led coalition’s so-called anti-ISIS military campaign in Syria’s Raqqa has claimed lives of hundreds of civilians and injured many more, Amnesty International revealed in a new report published ahead of the offensive’s anniversary.
The leading human right group, whose researches visited 42 Coalition air strike sites across the ruined city and interviewed 112 civilian residents who had survived the carnage, has also blamed the coalition forces, that also includes British and French forces, for bombing areas where they knew civilians were trapped.
According to its report, ‘War of annihilation’: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, residents were trapped as fighting raged in the streets between ISIS militants and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who were supported by coalition airstrikes. Escape routes for civilians were riddled with IEDs, put there by ISIS, which also positioned snipers to shoot those trying to flee.
The accounts detailed in the report leave gaping holes in the Coalition’s insistence that their forces did enough to minimize civilian harm. The report details four emblematic cases of civilian families who were brutally impacted by the relentless aerial bombardment. Between them, they lost 90 relatives and neighbours – 39 from a single family – almost all of them killed by Coalition air strikes.
They are part of a wider pattern and provide a strong prima facie case that many Coalition attacks that killed and injured civilians and destroyed homes and infrastructure violated international humanitarian law.
“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,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International.
The Hashish family lost 18 members, mostly women and children, over a two-week period in August. A coalition airstrike killed nine, while seven died as they tried to flee via a road that was laid with ISIS mines, and two others were killed by a mortar launched by the SDF.
“Those who stayed, died; and those who tried to run away, died,” said Munira Hashish. “We couldn’t afford to pay the smugglers; we were trapped.” Hashish said that she and her children eventually managed to escape through a minefield “by walking over the blood of those who were blown up as they tried to flee ahead of us.”
Donatella Rovera said “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”. .
“ISIS’s brutal four-year rule in Raqqa was rife with war crimes. But the violations of ISIS, including the use of civilians as human shields, do not relieve the coalition of their obligations to take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.
“What levelled the city and killed and injured so many civilians was the US-led coalition’s repeated use of explosive weapons in populated areas where they knew civilians were trapped. Even precision weapons are only as precise as their choice of targets,” She continued.
Rovera added that the level of devastation and destruction in Raqqa was worse than anything they have seen in decades, quoting a senior US military officer as saying that “more artillery shells were launched into Raqqa than anywhere since the end of the Vietnam war.”
US forces fired 100 percent of the artillery rounds used against Raqqa and over 90 percent of airstrikes. British and French aircraft were also involved, with the UK’s Ministry of Defense admitting that Britain carried out 275 airstrikes. The UK claims that no civilians were killed as a result of their bombs.
The human rights group says that there is strong evidence that coalition air and artillery strikes killed and injured thousands of civilians, including in disproportionate or indiscriminate attacks that violated international humanitarian law. Despite pledges that civilian loss of life would be thoroughly investigated by coalition forces, Amnesty says there is no sign of this happening.
Middle East Researcher at Amnesty International Benjamin Walsby has questioned why the coalition felt the need to bomb the city in ruins if “the coalition and their SDF allies were ultimately going to grant ISIS fighters safe passage and impunity.”
In November 2017, BBC reported that it “Has uncovered details of a secret deal that let hundreds of ISIS fighters and their families escape from Raqqa, under the gaze of the US and British-led coalition and Kurdish-led forces who control the city”.
“The deal to let ISIS fighters escape from Raqqa – de facto capital of their self-declared caliphate – had been arranged by local officials. It came after four months of fighting that left the city obliterated and almost devoid of people.”
Amnesty’s Benjamin Walsby said “What possible military advantage was there in destroying practically an entire city and killing so many civilians?
“Raqqa’s civilians are returning home to ruins, pulling loved ones out of rubble, and facing death or injury from mines, IEDs and unexploded ordnance,” Walsby said. “The coalition’s refusal to acknowledge its role in creating this catastrophic situation adds insult to injury.”