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U.S.-led coalition killed 1,600 civilians in Syria's Raqqa, Amnesty and monitoring group say

The U.S.-backed assault to drive ISIS from its Syrian capital Raqqa in 2017 killed more than 1,600 civilians, 10 times the toll the coalition itself has acknowledged, Amnesty International and the monitoring group Airwars said Thursday.

ISIS seized city in 2014 but was defeated by U.S.-backed fighters in its last Syrian stronghold

Arab and Kurdish fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces move to the front line to battle ISIS in Raqqa, Syria, on July 22, 2017. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)

The U.S.-backed assault to drive ISIS from its Syrian capital Raqqa in 2017 killed more than 1,600 civilians, 10 times the toll the coalition itself has acknowledged, Amnesty International and the monitoring group Airwars said Thursday.

Amnesty and Airwars, a London-based group set up in 2014 to monitor the impact of the U.S.-led campaign against the  Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), spent 18 months researching civilian deaths including two months on the ground in Raqqa, they said. 

"Our conclusive finding after all this is that the U.S.-led coalition's military offensive [U.S., U.K. and French forces] directly caused more than 1,600 civilian deaths in Raqqa," they said.

They said the cases they had documented probably amounted to violations of international humanitarian law and called for coalition members to create a fund to compensate victims and their families.

The coalition said in response to the report that it takes "all reasonable measures to minimize civilian casualties" and that there are still open allegations it is investigating.

"Any unintentional loss of life during the defeat of Daesh is tragic," said Scott Rawlinson, a coalition spokesperson in an emailed statement later Thursday, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

"However it must be balanced against the risk of enabling Daesh to continue terrorist activities, causing pain and suffering to anyone they choose," he added.

ISIS seized Raqqa in early 2014 during its lightning advance through Syria and Iraq in which it built a self-proclaimed caliphate characterized by summary executions of opponents. Its mass killing and enslavement of minorities was described as genocide by the United Nations.

Last stronghold

The group, which controlled a third of both Syria and Iraq in 2014, has since been driven from all the territory it controlled by military campaigns waged by an array of enemies including the Syrian and Iraqi governments, the United States, its European allies and their rivals Russia and Iran.

It was defeated by U.S.-backed fighters in its last Syrian stronghold this year. Despite no longer controlling territory, it is still seen as a threat to launch attacks around the world.

An international coalition led by Washington has given military support to both the Iraqi government and a Syrian militia, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF captured Raqqa in October 2017 after a five-month offensive backed by U.S.-led airstrikes and special forces.

Amnesty said last year that there was evidence coalition air and artillery strikes in Raqqa had broken international law by endangering the lives of civilians, but until now had not given an estimate of the death toll during the battle.

Reuters reporters in Raqqa during and after the campaign said that bombardment had caused massive destruction in the city, laying waste to entire districts.

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