Amnesty to expand probe of US-led campaign in Syria’s Raqqa

BEIRUT: Amnesty International said Wednesday it is enlisting the help of thousands of online activists to speed up its investigation into the US-led campaign that drove Daesh militants from their self-styled capital of Raqqa but left the Syrian city in ruins.
The London-based rights group said the new phase of its investigation enables thousands of online activists, using satellite imagery of the city, to map out the destruction over the four-month campaign, which ended in October 2017.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 buildings were destroyed – or 80 percent of the city. Amnesty’s Strike Tracker campaign, in partnership with Airwars, would help narrow down when and where coalition air and artillery strikes destroyed buildings.
Amnesty hopes to compel the US-led coalition to accept greater responsibility for the destruction and conduct its own investigation into the deaths of hundreds of civilians.
The coalition says it worked to avoid civilian casualties in Raqqa. Col. Sean Ryan, a spokesman for the coalition, said it is “always willing to review if new evidence is reported.”
In an earlier phase of Amnesty’s investigation inside Raqqa, the group provided new evidence that compelled the coalition to acknowledge 77 civilian deaths. In total, the coalition has acknowledged 104 civilian deaths from the hard-fought campaign.
“With bodies still being recovered from the wreckage and mass graves more than a year later, this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Milena Marin, senior adviser on Amnesty’s Crisis Response team.
“There is a mountain of evidence left to sift through, and the scale of the civilian devastation is simply too large for us to do this alone.”
Some 2,500 bodies have been pulled from the rubble and uncovered in mass graves, and searches are still underway. Amnesty suspects hundreds of civilians died in the campaign.
Raqqa was the capital of the Daesh group’s self-styled caliphate, which once encompassed a third of Syria and Iraq. In recent years the group has been driven from virtually all the territory it once controlled, and holds just a few small, remote pockets in Syria.

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