A UN commission has reported large numbers of civilians slain by US airstrikes near the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s central position in Syria.
American warplanes have been supporting the advance by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Raqqa in an offensive which began last November. Hundreds of civilians have reportedly been killed, as SDF fighters finally entered the city last week and reached the walls of the Old City on Monday.
Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said yesterday:
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….
The imperative to fight terrorism must not, however, be undertaken at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where ISIL [the Islamic State] is present.
The committee, drawing from testimony of survivors and witnesses, said at least 300 people have been killed by the aerial attacks near and in Raqqa since March.
About 200 of the victims were from a single incident, a March 22 US strike on a school housing displaced people near Raqqa.
The US has only acknowledged 484 civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since June 2014. The tracking group Airwars puts the number at more than 3,800.
Pinheiro’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council came as Human Rights Watch summarized concerns about the use of white phosphorus munitions by the US.
White phosphorus can be used as a smoke screen or for signaling and marking, but its use as a weapon on populated areas is banned by international law.
Steve Goose, HRW’s arms director, said:
No matter how white phosphorus is used, it poses a high risk of horrific and long-lasting harm in crowded cities like Raqqa and Mosul [ISIS’s center in Iraq] and any other areas with concentrations of civilians. US-led forces should take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm when using white phosphorus in Iraq and Syria.
US diplomat Jason Mack did not refer to Raqqa or white phosphorus in his address to the Human Rights Council. Instead, he declared the Assad regime “the primary perpetrator” of human rights violations.
TOP PHOTO: Claimed image of civilians inspecting damage from US airstrike on Raqqa