The US military could have done more to reduce civilian harm during the battle to liberate Syria’s Raqqa city from ISIS from June till October 2017, according to a report requested by the US Department of Defense (DOD).
The report, prepared by RAND researchers, studies the causes of civilian harm in Raqqa and provides insights into how the DoD can reduce civilian harm in future operations.
Titled “Understanding Civilian Harm in Raqqa and Its Implications for Future Conflicts,” the report revealed that coalition attacks on Raqqa left between 774 and 1600 civilian casualties, listing data received from Airwars and Amnesty International.
It said that when the city was finally liberated from ISIS, 60 to 80 percent of it was estimated to be uninhabitable.
The 130-page report also said the Raqqa operation involved a significant amount of building and other infrastructure damage, which severely undermined the ability of civilians to rebuild their city with limited local resources and international support.
It said the high rate of building damage was the result of a reliance on air and artillery fires to root out a dug-in enemy and protect the lives of friendly forces.
According to the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, RAND said that approximately 11,000 buildings were either damaged or destroyed in Raqqa between February and October 2017—corresponding to approximately 40 buildings destroyed per day.
It said that despite robust policies, procedures, and mitigation efforts, coalition forces caused significant civilian casualties and could have prepared and performed better.
“The coalition’s chosen strategy of encircling and defeating ISIS in Raqqa meant that coalition forces did not implement any formal pauses or negotiate exit corridors that might have allowed civilians (and potentially ISIS fighters) to leave the city prior to and during the fighting,” the researchers found.
Also, RAND said that despite the extensive damage to civilian structures and infrastructure caused by the coalition’s military operations, the US government did not marshal the resources needed to assist local actors in Raqqa with the reconstruction of the city.
As a conclusion, the report recommended that prior to the start of military operations, DoD must take a broader approach to civilian harm that considers how strategic choices might affect civilian-harm risks.
Separately, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported renewed Turkish attacks on SDF-controlled areas in the Raqqa countryside, where several artillery shells hit positions in Mualaq village and the surrounding areas of Ain Issa camp. However, no casualties have been reported.
The Observatory also reported that regime security services have reopened a center for settling the security status of suspects in the countryside of Al-Mayadeen city, east of Deir Ezzor.
Regime forces have opened the settlement center in Al-Mayadeen countryside four months ago and settled the security status of at least 3,000 inhabitants of the city and its countryside.