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A 'Scale of Brutality...Out of Control': Amnesty Says US Annihilation of Raqqa Possible War Crime

"The strikes are part of a wider pattern and provide a strong case that many U.S.-led coalition attacks that killed and injured civilians and destroyed homes and infrastructure violated international humanitarian law."

Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition violated international humanitarian law and killed hundreds of civilians, according to a report released by Amnesty International on Tuesday. (Photo: Amnesty International)

The large-scale and indiscriminate bombing of Raqqa, Syria by the U.S. military and allied forces last year likely breached international humanitarian law and amounted to war crimes, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

The coalition's "war of annihilation," as it was called by Defense Secretary James Mattis, killed hundreds of civilians and injured thousands between June and August 2017, according to Amnesty's report.

Researchers interviewed more than 100 survivors of airstrikes at 42 locations and found that many civilians had been trapped in the city during the campaign, moving from place to place as houses were bombed.

About 90 percent of the airstrikes were carried out by U.S. forces, and U.S. military officials called the operation "the most precise air campaign in history," with Army Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell bragging that "mortars, artillery, rockets, Hellfires, armed drones," rained down on Raqqa "every minute of every hour."

"The coalition's claims that its precision air campaign allowed it to bomb [ISIS] out of Raqqa while causing very few civilian casualties do not stand up to scrutiny," Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser, Donatella Rovera, told CNN. "On the ground in Raqqa we witnessed a level of destruction comparable to anything we've seen in decades of covering the impact of wars."


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"We have always rejected the British government argument that no civilian casualties had been caused by the bombing," said the U.K.-based Stop the War Coalition in a statement. "Claims that coalition forces did enough to minimize civilian harm were always to be met with skepticism and this report is confirmation of our worst fears. The scale of the brutality in Raqqa proves that the U.S.-led coalition, of which Britain is a senior partner, is out of control."

Twelve-year-old Mohammed El Hashish described to Amnesty the deaths of his entire family, including eight members who were killed by a coalition airstrike.

"The strikes are part of a wider pattern and provide a strong case that many U.S.-led coalition attacks that killed and injured civilians and destroyed homes and infrastructure violated international humanitarian law," said Mariya Parodi, press officer for Amnesty International USA.

After months of death and destruction, the coalition struck a deal with hundreds of ISIS fighters and their families to allow them to flee the city, leaving many civilians displaced and others living in Raqqa "among mountains of rubble and the stench of dead bodies trapped beneath, facing the threat of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance."

Amnesty International has demanded that the coalition conduct a full investigation into the deaths of civilians in Raqqa, to disclose how the targets were verified and what precautions were taken to minimize civilian casualties, and to ensure that Syrian civilians are protected from further harm.

"We are calling on the establish a mechanism ensuring lessons are learned and strikes in ongoing coalition military operations in Syria are carried out in full compliance with the rules of international humanitarian law, as well as provide resources for clearing mines and unexploded ordnance, and ensure displaced civilians have access to humanitarian assistance," said Parodi.

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