US-led coalition 'killed 1,600 civilians' in Syria's Raqqa

Amnesty and Airwars say US, UK and French forces only admitted to 10 percent of killings.

    Smoke rises after an air raid during fighting between members of US-backed forces and ISIL fighters in Raqqa in August 2017 [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]
    Smoke rises after an air raid during fighting between members of US-backed forces and ISIL fighters in Raqqa in August 2017 [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

    The US-backed assault to drive the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from its Syrian capital Raqqa in 2017 killed more than 1,600 civilians, a figure 10 times what the coalition has acknowledged, according to a new report. 

    The investigation, published by Amnesty International and the monitoring group Airwars on Thursday, urged top coalition members to "end almost two years of denial about the massive civilian death toll and destruction it unleashed in Raqqa". 

    Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty, said, "Many of the air bombardments were inaccurate and tens of thousands of artillery strikes were indiscriminate."

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    "Coalition forces razed Raqqa, but they cannot erase the truth," she said. 

    The findings were compiled after months of field research and extensive data analysis, including via a project that saw 3,000 digital activists scan satellite imagery online.

    Amnesty and Airwars said the cases they had documented probably amounted to violations of international humanitarian law.

    They also urged coalition members, especially the United States, Britain and France, to put in place an independent investigation mechanism and create a fund to compensate victims and their families.

    Responding to the report, the coalition said it takes "all reasonable measures to minimise civilian casualties" and that there were still open allegations it was investigating.

    "Any unintentional loss of life during the defeat of Daesh is tragic," said Scott Rawlinson, a coalition spokesman in an emailed statement later on Thursday, using an Arabic acronym for ISIL

    "However, it must be balanced against the risk of enabling Daesh to continue terrorist activities, causing pain and suffering to anyone they choose," he added.

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    ISIL seized Raqqa in early 2014 during its advance through Syria and Iraq in which it built a self-proclaimed caliphate characterised by summary executions.

    Its mass killing and enslavement of minorities were described as genocide by the United Nations.

    The group has since been driven from all the territory it controlled by military campaigns waged by an array of forces including the Syrian and Iraqi governments, US, its European allies and their rivals Russia and Iran.

    ISIL was defeated by US-backed fighters in its last Syrian stronghold this year. Despite no longer controlling territory, it is still seen as a threat capable of launching attacks around the world.

    Amnesty said last year that there was evidence coalition air and artillery strikes in Raqqa had broken international law by endangering the lives of civilians, but until now had not given an estimate of the death toll during the battle.

    The London-based rights group also criticised the extensive use of artillery in the battle of Raqqa.

    "With a margin of error of more than 100 metres, unguided artillery is notoriously imprecise and its use in populated areas constitutes indiscriminate attacks," it said.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies