The US-led coalition has claimed that at least 1,300 civilians were unintentionally killed between August 2014 and the end of April 2019 during its fight against the Islamic State group (IS) in Iraq and Syria . But Amnesty International has revealed that those figures are highly inaccurate and far lower than the real statistics.
Airwars, an organisation that tracks and archives international military actions in conflict zones such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya, revealed that there was an estimate of 8,099–12,956 civilian deaths.
In an official statement, Amnesty International said:
“While all admissions of responsibility by the US-led coalition for civilian casualties are welcome, the coalition remains deeply in denial about the devastating scale of the civilian casualties caused by their operations in both Iraq and Syria.
“A comprehensive investigation by Amnesty International in partnership with Airwars, launched last month, revealed that more than 1,600 civilians were killed in the Raqqa offensive alone in 2017 – meaning the acknowledged deaths are just a fraction of the total numbers killed.”
Amnesty International also stated that the US had a tendency to admit responsibility in such cases only after civilian deaths were investigated and brought to public attention by organizations such as Amnesty International and Airwars.
Data of civilian deaths for Raqqa, Syria was examined and the findings were published in collaboration with Airwars. Collating almost two years of investigations, the report gives an account of the lives lost as a direct result of thousands of US, UK, and French air strikes, and tens of thousands of US artillery strikes in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a local Kurdish-led militia fighting IS on the ground.
It revealed that the US-led coalition killed at least 1,600 civilians in the Raqqa offensive for the period between from June to October 2017 alone. By then, IS had ruled Raqqa for almost four years, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, torturing or killing those who opposed it.
Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International said: “On the ground in Raqqa, I witnessed a level of destruction not comparable to anything I’ve seen in decades of covering the impact of war.
“This site brings home the reality of the suffering I encountered and explains why I kept returning: to seek justice for civilians trying to piece together their lives. “Two years on, the US-led coalition must investigate the full scale of civilian casualties it caused, and ensure victims and their families receive full reparation and compensation.”
Four months of warfare resulted in homes, businesses, infrastructure, and lives being destroyed. According to the report, the city has become a deathtrap. Civilians were caught in the crossfire as IS snipers and landmines prevented them from fleeing, while the coalition’s air bombardments and artillery strikes killed them in their homes.
One man, Mohammed, explained how on 3 October 2017, an air strike killed his entire family in Harat al-Badu – a built-up neighbourhood in central Raqqa,
“I was with my family less than two hours before the strike. We were all sheltering in the same apartment – but I left to help an injured neighbour. At about 10.30 other neighbours came to inform me that my entire family had been killed. I ran to the building and found it collapsed. Almost everyone was dead; only my brother was still alive – the explosion had thrown him across the road,” he said.
“My neighbours and I dug in the rubble with our bare hands. We had no tools. I found my daughters’ bodies – Rimas and Kafah. Kafah was only 11 days old. I buried them in a nearby house. My brother was left paralysed. A year has passed but I have not been able to get a wheelchair for him. I have asked many organizations, but none has helped. My brother remains confined to bed.”
Amnesty International attests that many of the cases like Mohammed’s amount to violations of international humanitarian law and warrant further investigation. As such, they called for “an independent, impartial mechanism to effectively and promptly investigate reports of civilian harm, including violations of international humanitarian law, and make the findings public.”
The organisation stated that the US-led coalition underestimated the number of civilians who resided in Raqqa for the duration of their campaign. After Amnesty International first reported on civilian casualties in August 2017, the UN Special Advisor on Syria, Jan Egeland, urged members from the Humanitarian Task Force, including the members of the coalition supporting the retake of Raqqa, to “do whatever is possible to make it possible for the people to escape.” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the US commander of the operation against ISIS at the time, however, disputed that civilian casualties had increased in Raqqa.
Amnesty International said that to date, they remain unaware of any cases where coalition investigators have visited the sites of strike locations and/or interviewed witnesses in Raqqa.