A mass grave containing thousands of bodies has been discovered in the former Daesh stronghold of Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) revealed earlier today.
Discovered by the initial response teams of the SDF in the Al-Panorama region, local sources confirmed that between 1,000 to 1,500 bodies have been pulled from under the rubble of destroyed buildings. The victims are thought to be civilians and fighters killed by both Daesh militants and the US coalition air strikes conducted in the campaign against the so-called Islamic State.
“The initial response team of Reconstruction Committee of Raqqa Civil Council continues to retrieve bodies that have been randomly buried in homes, public facilities and schools, during a period, when the city was controlled by Daesh terrorists,” the SDF said in a statement
Kurdish authorities have also recently uncovered 96 bodies from the courtyard of the old Al-Raqqa Mosque, after civilians turned it into a temporary cemetery due to the intensity of the US-led bombing on the city.
Other locations where mass graves have been found include Al-Rashid football stadium, the city zoo, the Al-Qadim mosque and the Al-Badou residential district.
According to the SDF, at least 2,200 corpses have been found since Daesh was ousted from the city at the beginning of this year. Only 75 have been able to be returned to their families prior to a proper burial, with hundreds remaining unidentified at various stages of decomposition.
After a damning report by Amnesty International on the aftermath of the battle for Raqqa was dismissed by participating governments, the international rights groups warned in July that the US-led coalition is in denial of the extent of civilian casualties caused by its bombing campaign in the city.
“The Coalition’s knee-jerk reactions are long on rhetoric and short on detail. They lay bare how deeply in denial the Coalition leadership is about its failure to protect civilians caught in conflict,” said Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response advisor at Amnesty International.
The coalition has acknowledged only 23 civilian deaths resulting from the more than 30,000 artillery rounds and several thousand air strikes it launched into Raqqa city during its four-month military campaign from June to October 2017 against Daesh fighters; Amnesty puts the death toll in the hundreds. Some nine months later the city remains in ruins and tens of thousands are displaced.
The report further quotes Army Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, who stated that the US “fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam War.”
“Unless the Coalition learns from its mistakes in Raqqa – and Mosul beforehand – it will be doomed to repeat them, with civilians again paying a devastating price,” Rovera concluded.
US presence in the north has increased in recent weeks, with US Defence Secretary Mattis confirming yesterday that the number of American officials on the ground in Syria has doubled.
“Our diplomats there on the ground have been doubled in number. As we see the military operations becoming less, we will see the diplomatic effort now able to take [root],” Mattis said.
The US has previously stated it will not withdraw its forces from Syria until peace is fully achieved throughout the country.