On October 15, Amnesty International released a report slamming the US-led coalition for its denials of deaths in the Syrian city of Raqqah as a aresult of the operation by the US-led coalition and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
“The US-led Coalition’s ongoing failure to admit to, let alone adequately investigate, the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction it caused in Raqqa is a slap in the face for survivors trying to rebuild their lives and their city, said Amnesty International a year after the offensive to oust the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS).
On 17 October 2017, following a fierce four-month battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – the Coalition’s Kurdish-led partners on the ground – announced victory over IS, which had used civilians as human shields and committed other war crimes in besieged Raqqa. Winning the battle came at a terrible price – almost 80% of the city was destroyed and many hundreds of civilians lay dead, the majority killed by the Coalition’s bombardment.
In a letter to Amnesty International on 10 September 2018, the US Department of Defense – whose forces carried out most of the air strikes and all the artillery strikes on Raqqa – made clear it accepts no liability for the civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind strikes that killed and maimed civilians,” Amnesty International said.
The article also quoted Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s new Secretary General, who had returned from a field visit to Raqqa.
“Disturbingly, the Pentagon does not even seem willing to offer an apology for the hundreds of civilians killed in its ‘war of annihilation’ on Raqqa. This is an insult to families who – after suffering the brutality of IS rule – lost loved ones to the Coalition’s cataclysmic barrage of firepower,” Naidoo said.
Amnesty International further criticized “flawed civilian casualty reporting” by the US-led coalition.
“The Coalition’s failure to live up to its commitments to carry out ground investigations into the impact of its strikes is one reason why its own civilian casualties count is so implausibly low.
Prior to Amnesty International’s June 2018 report “War of Annihilation: Devastating Toll upon Civilians in Raqqa – Syria”, the Coalition had admitted to causing just 23 civilian deaths in its entire Raqqa campaign. Incredibly, a year after the offensive, the UK Ministry of Defence still maintains its hundreds of air strikes in Raqqa resulted in zero civilian casualties – a statistical improbability.
Following a string of blustery denials from military officials and politicians, at the end of July the Coalition quietly admitted it had caused a further 77 civilian deaths – almost all of those documented in Amnesty International’s report.
Despite its admission of responsibility in these cases – a more than 300% increase on previous reports – the Coalition persists in refusing to detail the circumstances in which these civilians were killed.
“Surely, with hundreds of civilians dead, it begs the question what went wrong. Was it weapon malfunction, poor intelligence, human error, or fundamental negligence? Did the Coalition fail to adequately verify the targets, or was it down to a poor choice of munition? These are crucial details, to establish both facts and assess lawfulness, as well as learn the lessons necessary to avoid similar mistakes in future, which is fundamental to minimizing harm to civilians – a legal obligation,” said Kumi Naidoo.
In what it called its “final response” to Amnesty International, the US Department of Defense stated that it does not consider itself bound to answer further questions about the circumstances and reasons behind launching strikes which killed and maimed so many civilians.“
According to the report, the US went even further and blamed Amnesty International for employing a wrong approach and failing to understand international humanitarian law
“The Department of Defense also spuriously asserted that experienced Amnesty International researchers, military and legal experts do not understand international humanitarian law (the laws of war). It suggested that Amnesty International based its prima facie case that the law had been broken on the deaths of civilians alone. In doing so, it chose to ignore evidence that, in the cases documented by Amnesty International, IS fighters were not present at the scene of the air strikes that killed and injured civilians – a key part of the analysis: Amnesty International believes this evidence provides a prima facie case that these strikes violated international humanitarian law.”
Kumi Naidoo also pointed out a double-faced attitude of the Pentagon.
“Secretary of Defense James Mattis has claimed US forces are ‘the good guys’. ‘The good guys’ would comply with the laws of war and do whatever is necessary to ensure innocent civilians who suffer as a result of their actions get the justice they deserve,” Naidoo stated.