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Amnesty: US-led coalition in denial over civilian deaths in Raqqa

Group decries coalition's response to report that found hundreds of civilians were killed during its offensive last year.

The United States-led coalition is "deeply in denial" about the number of civilians killed during an offensive it launched to remove the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group from Syria's Raqqa last year, Amnesty International has said. 

In a statement released by the rights organisation on Tuesday, the group condemned the US-led coalition's position on the findings of a report, published on June 5, about the four-month-long assault to remove ISIL from its self-proclaimed capital in Syria.

"The coalition's knee-jerk reactions are long on rhetoric and short on detail," Donatella Rovera, a senior adviser at Amnesty International, said in a statement on Tuesday. "They lay bare how deeply in denial the coalition leadership is about its failure to protect civilians caught in conflict," she added. 

"Unless the coalition learns from its mistakes in Raqqa - and Mosul beforehand - it will be doomed to repeat them, with civilians again paying a devastating price," she warned.

The report, titled, War of Annihilation: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa - Syria, includes field investigations from Amnesty International researchers who visited 42 coalition air attack sites across the city.

It found that hundreds of civilians were killed during the US-led coalition's military offensive to remove ISIL from Raqqa. 

Responding to the June 5 report, The Global Coalition said in a statement at the time that it "sees any non-combatant death or injury as a tragedy and we have meticulous processes in place to ensure we do everything possible to avoid them."

It added: "The Coalition has been transparent about our process for conducting strikes and assessing any allegations of civilian casualties that may have resulted from those strikes." 

Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition, officially known as the Combined Joint Task Forces - Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), tweeted at the time that Amnesty's report "underscores human tragedy of war and brutality of Daesh." 

He also wrote on Twitter that Amnesty "never discussed the article [with us and] didn't thoroughly research the things we said." 

An OIR spokesman said in an email on Tuesday that the coalition "is willing to consider all new evidence in its evaluation of civilian casualty allegations".

It added that "findings pertaining to the most recent Amnesty International allegations will be in this month's civilian casualty report", which is expected to be published on July 26.

'Investigate allegations'

In the June 5 Amnesty report, 112 civilians belonging to four families in Raqqa were interviewed. They recalled the horrors they witnessed and family members killed during the offensive launched jointly with the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

The coalition admitted to 23 civilian deaths from more than 30,000 artillery rounds and several thousand air strikes - a figure Amnesty International says is "neither accurate, credible, nor serious".

The rights group said the coalition killed hundreds and injured thousands of civilians during its offensive.

"The artificially low number of civilian casualties the coalition acknowledges stems in part from poor investigation procedures that fail even to involve on-the-ground research," Amnesty said in its statement on Tuesday.

According to the rights organisation, the SDF noted in a letter to coalition "mistakes" and "unsuccessful air strikes" that resulted in "huge human and material losses" on the ground.

Amnesty said its researchers spent weeks in Raqqa conducting field investigations, which included visiting attack sites and interviewing witnesses.

It called on coalition members to investigate allegations of violations.

"We are asking the coalition to live up to their own standards when it comes to reporting on civilian casualties in conflict, to investigate allegations of violations and offer redress to victims and their families," Amnesty's Rovera said.


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