Coalition rejects UN claims of ‘staggering’ loss of civilian lives in Raqqa, blames ISIS for civilian suffering

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Displaced civilians from Raqqa. File photo

ARA News

The US-led coalition on Thursday rejected accusations by the United Nations that coalition strikes in Raqqa caused a staggering loss of civilian life, and made clear that ISIS brutality is the main cause of civilian suffering.

In an exclusive interview with ARA News, the Coalition’s Director of Public Affairs Col. Joe Scrocca said: “The Coalition steadfastly rejects the accusations by the United Nations that place the Coalition of 68 nations and partner organizations on the same footing as ISIS.”

“The Coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS so that Iraq and Syria can be returned to the people. The Coalition and its member nations are trying to preserve human life at great cost and personal risk. Any statement to the contrary is an insult to the brave service members who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this just cause,” the coalition’s official said.

On 6 June, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an operation with US-support to take Raqqa from ISIS. However, Kurdish officials say both the coalition and the SDF take great care to protect civilian lives.

“The assessment on the allegation of civilian casualties on March 21 in Mansoura, Syria, will come out in the upcoming CJTF-OIR civilian casualty assessment report as non-credible. It was assessed that no civilians were killed in this strike on a known ISIS torture site, weapons storage facility and meeting place,” Colonel Scrocca told ARA News.

“This is what happens when non-governmental agencies and media outlets take anonymous allegations and ISIS propaganda at face value and do not wait to see what official assessments determine. The Coalition has proven it values human life through its effort to free the people of Iraq and Syria at great risk to our own forces,” he said.

“We have also demonstrated our credibility and desire to be transparent about our operations by publically releasing the assessments of all allegations of civilian casualties.”

According to the US-led coalition, ISIS brutality is the rout cause of civilian suffering, not only in Iraq, but also in Syria.

“The Coalition and our partner forces take great effort to protect civilians from harm during operations to defeat ISIS.  In Raqqah, our mission is to support SDF operations to unseat ISIS from Raqqah so the city can be returned to the people,” the coalition spokesperson said.

“We agree with the UN statement that civilians must be protected, but would like to point out that ISIS brutality is the root cause of civilian suffering not only in Raqqah, and others parts of Iraq and Syria,” he told ARA News.

“Women and children are being deliberately gunned down by ISIS snipers every day and food supplies are running scarce with each passing day as citizens wait to be rescued. Their only hope is that the SDF come to save them. The SDF are putting their lives at risk and dying every day to save civilians and defeat a truly evil enemy.”

According to Colonel Scrocca, the only way to save the people of Raqqa is to liberate them from ISIS. “The longer this takes the more the people will suffer under ISIS.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 13 June called on the SDF and the US-led coalition to protect civilian lives.

“The battle for Raqqa is not just about defeating ISIS, but also about protecting and assisting the civilians who have suffered under ISIS rule for three and a half years,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director atHuman Rights Watch. “Coalition members and local forces should demonstrate concretely that the lives and rights of the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Raqqa are a parallel priority in the offensive.

On December 23, 2016, Human Rights Watch shared recommended human rights priorities with the US Defense Department, the Syrian Democratic Forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the local Kurdish police, known as Asayish, all of which are expected to be involved in the offensive and related security operations. On February 16, Human Rights Watch shared the same recommendations with the new US defense secretary.

Up to 400,000 civilians are estimated to remain in Raqqa governorate, and 160,000-200,000 in the city of Raqqa, which ISIS captured in January 2014. Human Rights Watch staff last visited the city in April 2013.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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