Entire families perished in US-led strikes on Raqqa that may have claimed more civilian lives than those of ISIS, NPR said in a shocking report tilting the Western media narrative on what has become of the “liberated” city.
The retaking of Raqqa from Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) extremists, was hailed by the mainstream media as a major victory for the Western coalition one year ago – even despite harrowing reports of civilian casualties and unhinged destruction caused by the offensive. One year later, the Syrian city, where people are living side-by-side with rubble and human remains, barely makes a blip in Western media.
But now a new report, supplied with a warning it “contains descriptions of dead bodies,” is bringing harrowing testimonies of people, working tirelessly to recover corpses from under the ruins, to the Western readers. Those may be surprised to discover that US-led airstrikes apparently left more civilian casualties than publicly acknowledged.
The story opens up with a chilling description of “delicate skeletons of two children” being retrieved from a collapsed home. More bodies are then unearthed from a mass grave in what was once Raqqa’s public park.
While the US coalition says 104 civilians were killed in airstrikes and shelling, emergency teams working on the ground recovered more than 2,600 bodies since January of this year alone. Citing local workers, the report states that most of them “were civilians killed in coalition airstrikes during the battle for Raqqa between June and October 2017.”
The rescue workers’ findings, which they document in meticulous notes shown to NPR, point to an offensive that killed many more civilians than it did ISIS members, and where the majority of those civilians likely died in American airstrikes.
When verifying the claim that the real tally could be “likely in the ‘thousands’,” the outlet then went to study the data provided by Airwars, an independent website monitoring conflicts in Iraq and Syria. It estimates that the Western coalition had used as many as 21,000 munitions against targets in Raqqa.
We expected a significantly higher portion of civilian harm reports to be determined as credible, since in Raqqa really the only player causing the destruction was the coalition,” Chris Woods, the director of Airwars, said. According to Woods, the coalition only partially admitted casualty reports from Raqqa, which “suggests a political dimension to the decision-making process.”
|In turn, Donatella Rovera, an adviser for Amnesty International, who gathered testimonies from journalists embedded with Western-backed Syrian militias, said the airstrikes sometimes came “within minutes” of a local commander choosing a target. No precautions had been made to ensure there were no civilians “in those buildings.”
For now, Raqqa’s people are left to count their dead largely alone, while the US and other powers strike elsewhere in Syria.
Film crews filmed scenes of destruction and despair in Raqqa since it was cleared of Islamic State militants. A shadow of its former self, the ruined city still smells of decomposing bodies and is strewn with IS landmines that hamper reconstruction efforts.