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Rights group slams US-led coalition for Raqqa civilian deaths

The battle for Raqqa, once home to 200,000 people, played out over four months. [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 October, 2018

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The US and its coalition partners launched their campaign against the Islamic State group in 2014, driving out the militants from their self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa three years later.

The US-led coalition's failure to adequately acknowledge and investigate civilian deaths in the Syrian city of Raqqa is "a slap in the face for survivors" trying to rebuild their lives a year after the offensive to oust the Islamic State group, a prominent rights group said on Friday.

At a news conference in the Lebanese capital, Amnesty International said 2,521 bodies from the battle for Raqqa have been recovered in the city, the majority killed by coalition airstrikes.

It cited a small unit known as the Early Recovery Team working with US-backed predominantly Kurdish forces to recover bodies and bury them. They expect to recover at least 3,000 more bodies.

There are "more bodies underneath the ground than living souls," said Anna Neistat, Amnesty International's senior director of global research.

US military spokesman Col. Sean Ryan said the fighting to liberate the citizens of Raqqa from the grip of the Islamic State group "was often house to house against an enemy with no regard for human life" using explosives and booby traps every step of the way.

He added that the coalition is aware of the discrepancies of other reports and that the Coalition has based its figures on "supportable evidence and facts."

Ryan said that liberating the citizens was the goal and "the other choice would be to let ISIS continue to murder, torture, rape and pillage the citizens of Raqqa, and that is unacceptable," using a different acronym for IS.

The battle for Raqqa, once a city of 200,000 people, played out over four months as the Kurdish-led Syrian forces fought street by street. The coalition unleashed wave after wave of airstrikes and shell fire until the city was cleared of militants in October 2017.

Amnesty has accused the coalition before of underreporting civilian deaths in the campaign to liberate Raqqa.

On Monday, Neistat said most of the bodies recovered so far are believed to be civilians.

The US-led coalition said in July that 77 civilians died as a result of its airstrikes on Raqqa between June and October last year.

The US and its coalition partners launched their campaign against the Islamic State group in 2014, driving out the militants from their self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa three years later.

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