U.S. Coalition Cause ‘Staggering loss of civilian life’ during U.S.-backed siege of Raqqa*
The ongoing siege by Syrian Kurdish militia, supported by airstrikes of the U.S.-led coalition, on terrorist stronghold Raqqa has been marred by at least 300 civilian fatalities and the displacement of some 160,000 people, a U.N. commission says.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group of militias dominated by ethnic Kurds, launched their offensive on Raqqa last week amid weapons and military hardware supplies from the U.S. The effort is taking a serious toll on civilian residents of the city controlled by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), chairman of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry into the Syrian conflict said on Wednesday.
“We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced,” Paulo Sergio Pinheiro told the U.N. Human Rights Council, Reuters reports.
The chairman did not give an estimate for civilian casualties in the city, but Karen Koning AbuZayd, one of the panels’ commissioners, said it has documented about 300 civilian deaths from the airstrikes supporting the Raqqa offensive.
“We have documented the deaths caused by the coalition airstrikes only and we have about 300 deaths, 200 in one place, in al-Mansoura, one village,” she said.
The U.S. troops deployed in Syria are supporting the SDF offensive providing artillery and air support on the battlefield as well as “advice and training” for the militias.
The Pentagon calls the deployment, which is done with no U.N. Security Council mandate or invitation from the Syrian government, a limited-scale operation. The Americans have attacked pro-government troops in Syria on several occasions over the past few weeks, claiming it was necessary to protect its SDF allies.
Also on Wednesday the Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed its concern over the toll the Raqqa offensive operation is taking on civilians. The group criticized the U.S. troops for allegedly using white phosphorous munitions as part of the offensive, saying the chemical may cause serious injuries and trigger fires when used in residential areas.
In his speech, Pinheiro also criticized Damascus for negotiating a series of evacuations of opposition fighters and their families from various areas around Syria, including the December evacuation from Aleppo. He said in some cases the residents had no choice but to leave and that their relocation may amount to a war crime.
The evacuation from Aleppo came after years of fighting for control of the city as it was split between pro-government forces and parts held by rebel. The fighting resulted in numerous deaths among residents. The evacuation was negotiated by Russia, Iran and Turkey and came as an alternative to continued street-to-street battles for Aleppo.
What we see in Raqqa is no attempt to protect civilians
The U.S. coalition is carpet bombing Raqqa without any U.N. mandate, raising the question whether there is something they want to hide or destroy before it is discovered by the Syrian Army, Vanessa Beeley, associate editor at 21stcenturywire.com, says.
United Nations war crimes investigators slammed intensified U.S.-led strikes on the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) stronghold of Raqqa in Syria.
“We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced,” Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the U.N.’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian War, said.
The SDF are a Kurdish-led group of militias actively backed by the U.S.-led coalition through air strikes and arms shipments. The group announced the start of the operation to retake Raqqa from Islamic State last week.
RT: Do you think this latest warning from U.N. investigators will have any effect on the US-led coalition?
Vanessa Beeley: It very rarely seems to. What is extraordinary is the hypocrisy that we are seeing right now from the U.S. coalition. We are well aware that they have used chemical weapons inside Syria, they used depleted uranium. We have reports coming in of them using white phosphorous. One wonders why the red line that they keep imposing upon target nations, prey-nations, do not apply to the U.S. or to the U.S. coalition. What we are seeing in Raqqa is no attempt to protect the civilians; and this is after a five-year long media and NATO-aligned NGO campaign to try and demonize the Syrian government and its allies, trying to liberate East Aleppo from terrorist and extremist factions imposed and embedded in east Aleppo by NATO states and Gulf states. So, demonizing them while they were providing humanitarian corridors, while they were doing their utmost to provide safe exit for civilians. And here, as we saw in Mosul, we have the U.S. coalition basically carpet bombing entire areas, bombing in a country that they don’t have any U.N. mandate to be doing so. It raises the question why are they frantically bombing this area? Is there something that they want to hide? Is there something they want to destroy before it is discovered by advancing of the Syrian Army? It raises a lot of questions but it should also raise a lot of doubts over the reasons that the U.S. coalition is involved in Syria in the first place…
RT: Do you think such casualties could have been avoided? Is it possible to retake a city from terrorists without affecting civilians?
VB: It is very difficult when those terrorists have embedded themselves into civilian areas and, as in many instances across Syria, have used them as human shields and have used them as sort of propaganda tools and have exploited them. From that perspective, it is very difficult, but why is the U.S. coalition not cooperating with the Syrian government? Why is it not speaking to the Syrian government and asking them – as Russia did – to provide these humanitarian corridors to help them in this campaign? And it is simply because the U.S. coalition bombing campaign in Syria is entirely illegitimate.
RT: Raqqa is ISIS’ last major stronghold. Do you think fears of an even bigger bloodbath than in Mosul are justified?
VB: I think we have a very complex situation in Raqqa. We’ve seen clear collusion between, for example, the U.S. proxies, the SDF forces who we know according to reports on the ground have effectively given ISIS a back door out of Raqqa when they’ve been under threat. We know that the U.S. coalition on many occasions have supported ISIS through its air campaign. We also know that many of the civilians from Raqqa have already been driven out of Raqqa by ISIS and by various other sorts of scaremongering campaigns that have been run in order to cleanse the area, in order to implant, I believe, the American proxy, the Kurdish forces, and the SDF. So, are we going to see a bloodbath, it is very hard to tell because it is very hard to determine exactly how many civilians are left inside Raqqa.