Trapped in the Crossfire: New Investigation Reveals More Casualties in Raqqa Than Previously Claimed

By Malek Al-Manaa, Media Fellow at Amnesty International USA

Underneath a drawing of a red rose with the word “Love” spelled out below it, was a list spelling out names of war weapons: Seven Bullets, one PKC (machine gun), 46 shotguns as shown in a video by Amnesty International in the remains of a school in Raqqa, Syria. It is a list that ISIS used to teach mathematics to the approximately 1,000 kids that attended the school before it was destroyed during the US-led coalition attacks.

Just like this school, 80 percent of Raqqa was destroyed, accounting for more than 1,600 civilian casualties, according to a new investigation by Amnesty International and Airwars investigating the US-led coalition against ISIS that took place between June and October 2017.

“Raqqa is the most destroyed city in modern times,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor who conducted more than 400 interviews as part of Amnesty’s “Rhetoric versus reality in the war in Raqqa” investigation which examines the discrepancies between the actual number of human causalities in Raqqa versus the statements made public by US officials.

The UK, US, and France began their coalition campaign four years after ISIS took control over the city of Raqqa. The investigation revealed that over 200 locations were targeted, destroying 11,000 buildings.

Both Amnesty and Airwars confirmed 641 cases of 1,600 reported human casualties. This contradicts the position of US military officials who only admitted responsibility for 10 percent of the total number of casualties reported.

“I challenge anyone to find a more precise air campaign in the history of warfare…The coalition’s goal is always for zero human casualties,” said Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend, coalition commander at the time.

Civilians, including children, were the main victims of the as they were trapped in the city after ISIS had mined the roads and coalition forces had bombed the bridges, leaving them with no means to flee.

Ayat Mohamed Jasem is a survivor of a coalition attack that took place on September 25, 2017. In between the coalition bombs and the ISIS snipers, her family and three other families took refuge in a basement of a five-floor building in the Harat al-Badu neighborhood. At least 32 members of those families were killed that evening, 20 of whom were children.

“I saw my son die, burnt in the rubble in front of me. I’ve lost everyone who was dear to me. My four children, my husband, my mother, my sister, my whole family. Wasn’t the goal to free the civilians? They were supposed to save us, to save our children,” said Ayat.

Both Amnesty International and Airwars are calling for coalition members to put in place an independent, impartial mechanism to effectively and promptly investigate reports of civilian harm, including violations of international humanitarian law, and make the findings public.

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