According to a report by Amnesty International, airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition in Raqqa, Syria, probably breached international humanitarian law and potentially amount to war crimes. The human rights group has accused the coalition of killing and injuring thousands of civilians in attacks that were at times "disproportionate or indiscriminate," during its offensive to flush Islamic State militants from their de facto capital.
Amnesty International said its researchers visited 42 Coalition air strike sites across the ruined city of Raqqa and interviewed 112 civilian residents who had survived the carnage and lost loved ones. The accounts have been detailed in the report, ‘War of annihilation’: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, leave gaping holes in the Coalition’s insistence that their forces did enough to minimize civilian harm.
After ISIS took over Raqqa in January 2014, much of its rule over the city's residents was characterised by repression, including public lashings, executions, and arrest of dissidents and activists.
The report details four emblematic cases of civilian families who were brutally impacted by the relentless aerial bombardment in a bid to rid the city of Islamic State. Between them, they lost 90 relatives and neighbours – 39 from a single family – almost all of them killed by Coalition air strikes.
"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," said Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser, Donatella Rovera.
"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."
The CNN reports that a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS slammed the report, saying that Amnesty never approached the Pentagon about its findings and was out of line for suggesting the coalition has violated international law.
"They are literally judging us guilty until proven innocent, that's a bold rhetorical move by an organization that fails to check the public record or consult the accused," Col. Thomas Veale told reporters at the Pentagon via a video briefing from Baghdad. "They never asked us for a comment, an interview, or a courtesy check of the draft, they also failed to check the public record thoroughly," Veale said.
The Badran family, which lost 39 members and 10 neighbours in four separate coalition strikes, fled from place to place as front lines in the city rapidly shifted. Rasha Badran, one of the survivors, told Amnesty that she thought the coalition forces would target only ISIS militants.
"We were naive. By the time we realized how dangerous it had become everywhere, it was too late; we were trapped," she told Amnesty.
U.S, British and French Coalition forces carried out tens of thousands of air strikes and US forces admitted to firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive on Raqqa. U.S. forces were responsible for more than 90% of the air strikes.