(Photo credit: Al-Monitor)
According to a report commissioned by the Pentagon, the US could have done more to avoid civilian casualties and material damage during the 2017 battle to recapture the northeastern Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIS.
“Pushing [ISIS] out of Raqqa and into terrain that was more sparsely populated would have allowed more fighters to escape and potentially lengthened the campaign … But the risk of civilian harm in Raqqa and other more heavily populated areas would clearly have been reduced,” the research center RAND Corporation reported on 31 March.
The report added that Raqqa endured the most structural damage by density of any city in Syria and that the level of structural damage and the lack of US support for reconstruction in Raqqa led many Raqqa residents to resent the method in which their city was liberated.
The report said that US-led coalition air strikes and artillery fire on Raqqa left 744 to 1,600 civilians dead between 6 June and 30 October of 2017, according to data from the coalition itself, as well as from Amnesty International and Airwars, a UK-based NGO.
Both Amnesty International and Airwars reported in 2019 that the 1,600 civilian death toll was 10 times higher than the initial figure acknowledged by coalition.
Senior Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera said at the time that US-led coalition strikes on Raqqa were “indiscriminate.”
UN figures cited by the RAND report also show that US bombardment on Raqqa left 11,000 buildings destroyed, including eight hospitals, 29 mosques, over 40 schools, and five universities. The city’s irrigation network was also destroyed.
US forces have been responsible for countless civilian deaths in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
On the evening of 2 February, the US launched a raid in Atmeh, a densely populated town in the rebel-held Idlib province. The strike targeted and killed ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, but also left 13 civilians dead, including six children and four women.
According to unconfirmed reports at the time, US troops were aware that the targeted site was a residential area, and that children were in the vicinity prior to the attack.
In a US drone strike on Kabul on 29 August last year, a family of nine was killed, including six children.
Following an investigation into the attack, the Pentagon concluded that no troops or officials would face disciplinary action.