US in Denial of Civilian Casualties in Raqqa

US in Denial of Civilian Casualties in RaqqaUS in Denial of Civilian Casualties in Raqqa

The US-led coalition’s flurry of responses rejecting the findings of a recent Amnesty International report on the devastation wrought by their aerial bombardment of Raqqa last year demonstrates how deeply in denial they are about the large number of civilians killed and injured by coalition strikes, the organization said Tuesday.

Since the publication of War of Annihilation: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa—Syria on June 5, senior figures in the coalition and its member governments have taken to social media, the airwaves and even the UK Parliament in a bid to dismiss the report’s findings that there was prima facie evidence that several coalition attacks which killed and injured civilians violated international humanitarian law.

“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 Adviser at Amnesty International, the organization reported on its website.

The coalition claims to be “transparent” and to have “meticulous processes” in place to ensure everything possible is done to avoid civilian casualties. But they consistently fail to demonstrate that this is in fact the case.

Its monthly reports on civilian casualties across Iraq and Syria rely on vague descriptions and dismiss the vast majority of allegations as “non-credible”. The coalition has acknowledged a mere 23 civilian deaths resulting from the more than 30,000 artillery rounds and several thousand airstrikes it launched into Raqqa city during its four-month military campaign from June to October 2017 which left the city in ruins. This figure is neither accurate, credible, nor serious, according to the international organization.

  Vast Human, Material Losses

The only coalition partner on the ground in Raqqa in the aftermath of the military offensive—the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces—has demonstrated a rather different understanding of events during the offensive. In a letter to Amnesty International at the end of June 2018, the SDF pointed to coalition’s “mistakes” and “unsuccessful airstrikes” resulting in “huge human and material losses” on the ground.

Amnesty International spent weeks in Raqqa conducting field investigations—something the coalition has failed to do—leaving no doubt that the coalition killed hundreds and injured thousands of civilians during its offensive. In just four cases the organization investigated for its June report, coalition airstrikes killed 70 civilians, mostly women and children—including 39 members of a single family.

The artificially low number of civilian casualties the coalition acknowledges stems in part from poor investigation procedures that fail even to involve on-the-ground research.

“Visiting strike sites and interviewing survivors and witnesses are crucial elements of any investigation. Without them, the coalition’s investigations are simply not credible by any stretch of the imagination,” said Benjamin Walsby, Middle East Researcher at Amnesty International.


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