Multiple civilians have been killed in Raqqa, the capital city of ISIS-held Syria, after two consecutive days of airstrikes. In the past forty-eight hours, The United States carried out thirty strikes in Syria and Iraq. Twenty of those strikes targeted Raqqa and the surrounding area. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK based organization that reports of civilian casualties in Syria, estimates a total of sixty-nine civilian casualties in the two-day strike. They estimate that twenty-seven people were killed Sunday and forty-two people, including nineteen children and twelve women, were killed Monday. However, residents of Raqqa estimate that the death toll is actually closer to one hundred civilians.
Though Raqqa is a critical location in Syria’s ongoing six-year Civil War, many civilians go forgotten in the ongoing fight against ISIS. The United Nations estimates that 25,000 civilians are trapped inside Raqqa. Many have attempted to escape Syria but now find themselves stuck in the front lines of a never-ending war. For the strikes on Sunday and Monday, many civilians got caught due to the density of the population. “The tolls are high because the airstrikes are hitting neighbourhoods in the city centre that are densely packed with civilians… There are buildings full of civilians that are trying to get away from the front lines,” said Syrian Observatory director Rami Abdul Rahma. The United States claims that they take every precaution possible to avoid unnecessary civilian death. However, in June 2017, the SOHR estimated that 624 civilians have been killed in airstrikes against ISIS since 2014. Also, SOHR noted that the real number is much higher than recorded by the US.
Though the Iraqi government authorizes the airstrikes in Iraq, there is no such authorization for airstrikes in Syria. Neither Syrian President Bashar Assad, nor the UN Security Council, have authorized attacks. In response to the airstrikes, United Nations spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said, “the UN stresses again that all parties to the fighting are obligated to protect civilians under international humanitarian law, as well as the need for sustained and unhindered access to those who need help.” Additionally, the UN, as well as many other rights groups, are worried for the civilians trapped in Raqqa. The UN estimates that most of the civilians left in Raqqa are women and children. Though many have attempted to escape, most attempts are futile and end in failure.
Earlier this month, Doctors Without Borders reported that supplies such as food, water, fuel, and medicine, are running dangerously low in Raqqa. According to a 41-year-old man who escaped Raqqa after losing seven family members, “In Raqqa city, if you don’t die from air strikes, you die by mortar fire; if not by mortars then by sniper shots; if not by snipers, then by an explosive device…And if you get to live, you are besieged by hunger and thirst, as there is no food, no water, no electricity.” In the fight against ISIS, civilian lives are ignored in favour of helping bolster the image of certain political leaders as tough. Also, as countries continue to involve themselves in Syria’s brutal Civil War, by way of airstrikes, it is critical that civilian causalities are discussed and considered when planning military intervention. The people in Raqqa do not need airstrikes, instead, they need supplies and help. Even though this is not as flashy as bombings, support for citizens stuck in Syria is even more important.