US-led coalition committed 'potential war crimes' in Syria: Amnesty

05 June 2018 - 11:36 By AFP
US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Image: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

The US-led military campaign to oust the Islamic State (IS) group from the Syrian city of Raqa in 2017 killed hundreds of civilians in indiscriminate bombing, committing possible war crimes, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

The military operation failed to take "adequate account" of civilians and the "precautions necessary to minimise harm" to them in the city, which IS had declared its de facto capital in Syria, the human rights group said in a report.

"Coalition claims that its precision air campaign allowed it to bomb IS out of Raqa while causing very few civilian casualties do not stand up to scrutiny," the report concluded. 

"The coalition strikes detailed in this report appear either disproportionate or indiscriminate or both and as such unlawful and potential war crimes."

The United States led a four-month campaign of air strikes from June last year, dubbed a "war of annihilation" by US Defence Secretary James Mattis, to liberate Raqa from IS control.

Amnesty researchers travelled to the devastated city in February and spent two weeks visiting 42 coalition air strike sites, interviewing 112 witnesses and survivors. 

The report -- "'War of Annihilation': Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqa – Syria" -- details the experiences of four families "whose cases are emblematic of wider patterns".

Between them, they lost 90 relatives and neighbours -- 39 from a single family –- almost entirely from coalition air strikes, according to Amnesty. 

"The cases provide prima facie evidence that several coalition attacks which killed and injured civilians violated international humanitarian law," the report said.

The probe, which also analysed satellite imagery and other publicly available material, found the coalition fired vast numbers of imprecise explosive weapons in populated areas.

Amnesty has written to defence officials in the United States, Britain and France -– whose forces carried out the air strikes over Raqa -– seeking additional information about these cases and about other attacks, it said.

"When so many civilians are killed in attack after attack, something is clearly wrong, and to make this tragedy worse, so many months later the incidents have not been investigated," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser. "The victims deserve justice."

Coalition spokesman US Army Colonel Sean Ryan told Britain's Press Association that Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen should "leave the comforts of the UK " and travel to Iraq and Syria to see how coalitions forces were "fighting an enemy that does not abide by any laws, norms or human concern".

He insisted the coalition made "painstaking efforts" to assess allegations of civilian casualties and any "non-combatant death or injury is a tragedy".

A spokesman for the UK ministry of defence said it had been "open and transparent" over its nearly 1,700 Syrian strikes.

"We do everything we can to minimise the risk to civilian life," he added. "We must accept that the risk of inadvertent civilian casualties is ever present."

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