2,000 people killed in fight for Raqqa – and they’re still pulling out bodies

March 13, 2018

2,000 people killed in fight for Raqqa – and they’re still pulling out bodies Image Source: Screenshot

Four months after being liberated from ISIS by Kurdish and U.S.-led coalition forces, Raqqa is an ash heap.

The battle for the city left more than 2,000 dead and many bodies are still being recovered from the ruin of ISIS’s former capital.

Watchdog groups blame U.S.-led coalition bombing for many of the casualties.

Bodies still being recovered in Raqqa

Local casualty monitors claim that some 2,000 civilians were killed in the crossfire between U.S.-led coalition forces and ISIS snipers. Many more have fallen victim to booby traps left strewn about by ISIS throughout the city.

Many of those bodies are only now being recovered from the charred remains of the city. Desperate survivors have been left to pay laborers to go searching through the debris for the bodies of their fallen relatives.

A four-month battle for the city ended in October of 2017 when Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces and U.S.-led coalition airstrikes finally routed ISIS from the city it conquered in 2014. The fighting left the city a pile of rubble.

Western journalists visiting the city in the aftermath have been met with grief-stricken survivors of family members whose bodies have yet to have been recovered. Syrian forces have been at work recovering corpses from mass graves.

“The planes were bombing and rockets were falling 24 hours a day,” a widow, Ayat Mohamed, told France24.

There were IS snipers everywhere, you couldn’t breathe… My children are still there, buried under the rubble… No one has dug them out yet. They’re all under there. How can I get them out of these ruins, how can I see them?

It took some three months for some of the bodies of her family members to be retrieved, according to local watch group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. The group says that some 190 corpses were pulled from rubble across the city in one month ending in mid-February.

Watch the France24 footage below:

Video: Returning to the rubble in Raqqa

Subscribe to France 24 now: http://f24.my/youtubeEN FRANCE 24 live news stream: all the latest news 24/7 http://f24.my/YTliveEN The city of Raqqa in Syria, which for a long time was claimed as the de facto capital of the Islamic State group, was freed from the jihadists in October.

A ghost town – with booby traps

According to the UN, 80 percent of the city was left uninhabitable by fighting. Most residents have fled, leaving behind a ghost town of blasted ruins.

The few people who remain reside in a city with essentially no infrastructure, no electricity, little water and ISIS-planted mines left hidden in homes and streets.

Some locals have turned to paying laborers to brave the danger of searching for and disarming mines in their homes. Hundreds have been killed or injured by the mines since the city was reclaimed from ISIS in October, according to Human Rights Watch.

U.S. coalition role

While the fog of war obscures the exact sources of the casualties, watch groups blame significant civilians casualties on U.S. coalition bombing.

Amnesty International attributed hundreds of deaths to the U.S.-led bombing.  A team of independent journalists, AirWars, has made similar claims.

AirWars attributed some 1,400 civilian deaths to U.S. bombing in Raqqa, which totaled in one month more than all bombs dropped by the U.S. on targets in Afghanistan, according to a report by the group.

ISIS inflicted significant casualties by leading civilians into traps.

“By deliberately placing civilians in areas where they were exposed to combat operations, for the purpose of rendering those areas immune from attack, ISIL militants committed the war crime of using human shields in Raqqah governorate,” the UN noted.

“Despite the fact that civilians were being used as human shields, international coalition airstrikes continued apace on a daily basis, resulting in the destruction of much of Raqqah city and the death of countless civilians, many of whom were buried in improvised cemeteries, including parks,” the Commission wrote.

The Russian state in October compared the U.S.-led bombing to the 1945 bombing of Dresden.

While watch groups like AirWars have attributed civilians casualties to the Trump administration’s decision to delegate further authority to military commanders in Syria, some say this very strategy accelerated ISIS’s demise.

It’s exceedingly difficult if not impossible to avoid civilian deaths and collateral damage when an enemy’s tactic is to blend in and hide within the normal population. The real question is: how many lives have been saved by the rapid destruction of ISIS in Syria?

That number undoubtedly outweighs the unintended casualties.

Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.