The US-led international coalition killed more than 1,600 civilians during its assault on the Syrian city of Raqqa against Daesh militants, an 18 month investigation by Amnesty International and military watchdog Airwars has revealed. The investigation contradicts claims made by the US, which initially stated that it strove for "zero human casualties" and claimed that only 23 civilians had been killed during the four-month bombardment, a figure later amended to 159.
"Our conclusive finding after all this is that the US-led coalition's military offensive (US, UK and French forces) directly caused more than 1,600 civilian deaths in Raqqa," insisted Amnesty.
Coalition commander Lieutenant General Stephen J Townsend famously challenged "anyone to find a more precise air campaign in the history of warfare." The data now shows how indiscriminate strikes on residential areas and neighbourhoods were actually the norm, wiping out entire families.
The report further quotes Army Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, who stated that the US fired 30,000 artillery shells during the battle, "more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam War."
The investigation collected testimonies from more than 1,700 people, identified over 1,000 of the victims, and has provided a map showing the locations of some of the air strikes. The stories of several families are narrated in depth, alongside photo and video material of the aftermath of the attacks.
One of the case studies documents the destruction of the Maari Building, which was hit on 25 September 2017 by coalition jets, destroying the five-storey structure and killing at least 32 people who were sheltering in the basement, 20 of whom were children. Witnesses also testified that makeshift boats carrying civilians across the River Euphrates were also targeted, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people.
Some 18 months after the so-called Islamic State fell, scores of mass graves continue to be found in Raqqa, the victims being both civilians and fighters killed by Daesh militants and US air strikes. Kurdish authorities have uncovered corpses in the courtyard of the old Al-Raqqa Mosque; 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, Al-Qadim Mosque and Al-Badou residential district.
Last year, Amnesty released a damning report on the aftermath of the battle for Raqqa, warning that the US-led coalition was "deeply in denial" of the extent of civilian casualties caused by its bombing campaign in the city, but it stopped short of giving an estimate of the death toll.
Now, alongside Airwars, the rights group is calling on the coalition to make all relevant information on air strikes public and set up an independent mechanism to investigate all reports of casualties and violation of humanitarian law. Amnesty also calls on all parties in the coalition to create a fund to ensure that victims and their families receive full compensation.