According to a new report published by Amnesty International, airstrikes conducted in Raqqa, Syria by the United States violated international humanitarian law and could potentially amount to war crimes. The organization accused the U.S.-led coalition of killing and injuring many thousands of civilians in attacks they described as “disproportionate or indiscriminate.” The attacks were carried out with the intention of flushing ISIS fighters from their “capital.”
In the report, Amnesty International writes that “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… On the ground in Raqqa we witnessed a level of destruction comparable to anything we’ve seen in decades of covering the impacts of wars.”
Though there is no reliable estimate of the number of civilians killed, the report illustrates the situations of four families in Raqqa, who, between them, lost 90 relatives and neighbours, including 39 reported from one family alone. The report goes on to allege that “[These casualties] are part of a wider pattern and provide a strong prima facie case that many coalition attacks that killed and injured civilians and destroyed homes and infrastructure violated international humanitarian law.”
Col. Thomas Veale, a U.S. spokesperson, spoke disparagingly of the report, venting that “[Amnesty International] are literally judging us as guilty until proven innocent, that’s a bold rhetorical move by an organization that fails to check the public record or consult the accused. 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.” In one of the most startling lines in his statement, Veale brushes off the report’s estimation of civilian casualties: “As far as how do we know how many civilians were killed—I’m just being honest, no one will ever know. Anyone who claims they will know is lying.”
The airstrikes in question began over a year ago. According to the Amnesty International report, U.S. forces “admitted to firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive,” further alleging that U.S. forces were responsible for 90% of the airstrikes. Whether the report’s estimation of civilian casualties is accurate or not, the United States clearly needs to be more transparent about its targeting process, as well as claim responsibility when civilians are killed unintentionally. The world cannot abide by continued human rights abuses by a nation who claims to be intervening in the name of humanitarian relief.