Last year’s Washington-led coalition effort against the Islamic State (ISIS) group in the Syrian city of Raqqa included numerous “disproportionate or indiscriminate” attacks on the city, showing little regard for civilian lives and constituting potential war crimes, a new report by Amnesty International stated Tuesday.
The campaign to seize Raqqa spanned June to October of last year, and entailed tens of thousands of U.S. and allied air and artillery strikes in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed force dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia.
The report quotes U.S. Army Sergeant-Major John Wayne Troxell, who said:
In five months they [U.S. Marines] fired 30,000 artillery rounds on ISIS targets… They fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine or Army battalion since the Vietnam War… Every minute of every hour we were putting some kind of fire on ISIS in Raqqa, whether it was mortars, artillery, rockets, Hellfires, armed drones, you name it.”
“Given that artillery shells have a margin of error of over 100 meters, it is no surprise that the result was mass civilian casualties,” said Amnesty International senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera.
Around 90 percent of airstrikes and bombardments and the entirety of artillery strikes were carried out by U.S. military personnel, while the remaining airstrikes were launched by British and French forces. Remaining members of the 70-member U.S.-assembled Coalition assisted the indiscriminate bombing campaign with logistical help, such as refueling warplanes or by helping to identify targets.
As MintPress News has reported, Coalition forces also widely deployed white phosphorus, a chemical weapon, in spite of its urgings that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refrain from the use of chemical agents in the war.
The report notes:
U.S. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend claimed that the Coalition’s offensive on Raqqa had been ‘the most precise air campaign in the history.’ The reality on the ground could not be more different.”
Throughout the campaign and afterward, journalists and rights monitors warned about the massive destruction of the city that Coalition efforts had led to, with entire civilian districts facing utter destruction due to their unfortunate inclusion in the city. Raqqa had become the administrative capital of the so-called ISIS “caliphate” in 2014, with civilians bearing the brunt of its jihadist brand of Islamist extremism. Rather than being “liberated” by Coalition forces, however, the people of Raqqa instead faced a war of annihilation that claimed thousands of lives while displacing tens of thousands of residents from their homes.
The U.S.-led coalition’s indefensible attacks on civilians
Documenting the ordeals of four families whose experiences were typical of the broader ordeal faced by civilians, the report offers further damning evidence that the U.S. and its Coalition partners failed to minimize the potential of killing or harming civilians living in the ISIS-ruled city.
The report detailed the plight of the Aswad family, which lost eight members in a single airstrike, as well as the Badran family which lost 39 members, the Fayad family which lost 16 members and the Hashish family which lost 18 members. In each of the cases, powerful bombs struck buildings full of civilians who had taken up long-term residency there.
Amnesty added that the experiences of the families, who were among 112 civilians interviewed by the group in February, offers “prima facie evidence that several coalition attacks which killed and injured civilians violated international humanitarian law.”
Speaking to the BBC, Coalition spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Sean Ryan said that Amnesty personnel should “leave the comforts of the U.K.” and see for themselves how Coalition forces are “fighting an enemy that does not abide by any laws, norms or human concern,” including the use of non-combatants as human shields “in order to sadistically claim the coalition is killing civilians.”
Yet Amnesty did clearly detail in its report how ISIS jihadists also endangered civilians by hiding among them or placing them in harm’s way.
In an opinion piece defending the report, Rovera and Middle East researcher Benjamin Walsby noted:
Everyone we spoke to in Raqqa agreed that Isis had to be defeated. But they asked why their families had to be killed and their city destroyed in the process. The coalition remains stubbornly wedded to the notion that precision airstrikes allowed it to defeat Isis with a minimal cost to civilian life. This is wishful thinking, as Amnesty’s research has revealed in Raqqa (and before that in the Iraqi city of Mosul).”
The report ends with a demand for the Coalition to make a public admission of the civilian deaths in Raqqa, to release information publicly for use in an independent investigation, and to pay reparations to those survivors who suffered due to the indiscriminate or intentional destruction of their neighborhoods, families and homes.