“If you stayed you died and if you tried to escape you died. I escaped by walking over the blood of those who were blown up as they tried to flee ahead of us”, said Munira Hashish an air strike and mines survivor (source: Amnesty International Report).
Special to the Levant News Dr. Leon Tressell & Rosa Tressell —
During 2017 the Isis Caliphate was finally overthrown in Syria and Iraq. Its capital in Raqqa, Syria, was captured by Kurdish led SDF forces strongly supported by massive air and artillery strikes provided by America and its French/British allies.
During the siege of Raqqa (July-October 2017), while SDF troops slowly captured district after district from Isis forces, the international community ignored warnings from Amnesty International and other human rights groups about the large number of civilian casualties being caused by the massive and indiscriminate air and artillery strikes by Coalition forces. It was only after the city was fully recaptured by SDF troops in mid-October 2017 that the full horror of the American led war of annihilation came to light.
This article will draw heavily from the research provided by Amnesty investigators who went to Raqqa and interviewed hundreds of survivors. Their investigation has produced a very harrowing report entitled ‘War of Annihilation: Devastating Toll On Civilians, Raqqa – Syria’.
The war of annihilation waged by America and its allies is best described by the civilians who survived this horrific war crime. The amount of bombs and artillery shells fired into Raqqa by the U.S. led coalition is highly reminiscent of the extermination campaigns waged by American imperialism during its war in Vietnam.
The SDF campaign to capture the city began in June 2017. The experiences of the Badran family illustrate the living hell that civilians in Raqqa had to endure while the American led coalition pulverized the city with heavy artillery and air strikes.
On 18 July the Badran family made their first escape attempt from the city. They used two cars to make their way out of the living hell that was Raqqa. One of the cars was hit by an American air strike killing four family members. A surviving family member told Amnesty: “Shortly afterwards, a few streets away we saw the car which had taken the women and children slightly earlier on. It had been struck by an air strike I think, and it was burning. The men inside the car were killed. Initially I only saw two bodies, at the front, and then the other two, at the back’’.
Five members still waiting for the cars to come back and pick them up were then killed by another air strike that completely obliterated the house. One of the female family members told Amnesty investigators: “We buried them. There wasn’t one body left intact. We took them out in pieces. We put the piece into plastic bags and we buried them”. In total 6 family members of the Badran family were killed in the American air strike on the family home.
The surviving members were forced by mid-August to flee to the Harat Al-Sakhani: a neighborhood in the Old City in search of a doctor. The Badran family hooked up with several other families with a view to escaping Raqqa. On 18 August they started their escape but didn’t get far as they encountered several Isis members who fired upon their group of 65 killing two people. The group was forced to return to Harat Al-Sakhani.
Retreating back to the Old City further tragedy struck. Rasha, a surviving member of the Badran family describes what happened: “We went back to al-Sakhani. We had no other options. Two days later [on 20 August] we were bombed, both houses where we were staying got bombed. Almost everybody was killed. Only I, my husband and his brother and cousin survived. The strike happened at about 7pm. I fainted and when I regained consciousness I heard my husband’s cousin, Mohammed, calling out. I could neither move nor speak. Then my husband and his brother found me. My husband was the most seriously injured – he had a head wound and blood was pouring from his ears. It was dark and we could not see anything. We called out but nobody else answered; nobody moved. It was completely silent except for the planes circling above. We hid in the rubble until the morning because the planes were circling overhead. In the morning we found Tulip’s body; our baby was dead. We buried her near there, by a tree.
Both houses were pulverized; nothing was left standing, there was only rubble. These were simple Arab houses, they were not sturdy. I don’t understand why they bombed us. Didn’t the surveillance planes see that we were civilian families?’’ Almost 30 other family members died as a result. Only Rasha, her husband and two other family members survived the Coalition air strike.
This story of the Badran family was all too common during the SDF conquest of Raqqa that began in early June 2017 and was supported by an unprecedentedly heavy bombardment by American, British and French forces.
Truce with ISIS
On 14 October the Coalition issued a statement about the SDF truce with Isis: “We do not condone any arrangement that allows Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqah without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else…’’.
Yet a day later the remaining ISIS forces in Raqqa, numbering several hundred, were allowed by the SDF and their American sponsors to leave the city in safety with large quantities of weapons and with complete impunity for their many crimes. Local residents have told Amnesty investigators that ISIS fighters were allowed to evacuate before civilians.
The International Coalition that helped the SDF destroy Raqqa and kill thousands of civilians was largely an American affair supported by France and the UK. The U.S. had over 2,000 troops supporting the SDF siege of Raqqa while the UK and France had small numbers of special forces close to the front lines . The American artillery fired tens of thousands of rockets and shells into Raqqa. While the US, and its French and British allies pounded Raqqa with over 4,000 air strikes.
Incredibly, over 100,000 people have returned to the ruins of Raqqa despite the large number of unexploded bombs/IED’s and the stench of dead bodies buried below the rubble. Since its recapture the surviving residents of Raqqa have faced the prospect of trying to rebuild their shattered lives with very little aid from those who were responsible for the city’s destruction.
Unexploded American bombs and Isis IED’s litter the city with no prospect in sight of any help with this grave threat to residents lives. Everyday people are killed and injured as they try to clear up the rubble of their destroyed homes, bury dead bodies and go about their daily business.
Matters have been compounded by widespread looting throughout the city. Residents have complained to Amnesty that SDF soldiers have been complicit in many acts of looting while providing no security on the streets at night time allowing criminal elements to steal with impunity.
In April of this year the United Nations refugee agency entered Raqqa with much needed relief aid. They were horrified by what they found, “the UN team entering Raqqa city were shocked by the level of destruction, which exceeded anything they had ever seen before”.
After destroying Raqqa , America and its allies refused to acknowledge any responsibility for helping rebuild the city or to provide any kind of humanitarian assistance.
In April Jerry Guilbert from the U.S. State Department responded to a journalists question by declaring: “We never went into this from the beginning with the view that the international community was going to clear Raqqa or clear Syria. Ultimately, this has to be viewed as a Syrian problem that is in need of a Syrian solution”. On top of that the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC) that has been set up by the Kurdish led SDF to govern Raqqa has acknowledged that America and its allies have provided no assistance to the destroyed city.
It has often been said that history is written by the victors and this was never more true than in the Coalition war of annihilation waged in Raqqa against Isis. On 17 September U.S. commander Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend proudly declared: “ … there has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict”.
The 70 page Amnesty-report makes it very clear that their claim to have carried out precision strikes that caused very few civilian casualties is a down right pack of lies. The coalition of the killing carried out massively disproportionate and indiscriminate air and artillery strikes whose objective was nothing less than the total destruction of a city that had hundreds of thousands of civilian residents.
The people of Raqqa have undergone a shattering experience and suffered such terrible trauma. There is no recognition of this by the western media or the politicians who carry on with their everyday business oblivious to the crimes against humanity committed under the cover of the “War On Terror’’.
The deafening silence of the political classes over the annihilation of Raqqa stands in sharp contrast to the hysteria that accompanied the liberation of Aleppo by the Syrian and Russian forces in early 2017. Media headlines incessantly screamed that Russia and Assad’s forces were using barrel bombs and indiscriminate air attacks to destroy the city and defeat the so-called ‘’moderate terrorists’’. More recently, we have seen the hypocritical outrage over the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces while the American use of white phosphorous in Raqqa is completely ignored.
The destruction of Raqqa and the war of annihilation waged by America and its blood stained allies will stand in the halls of infamy as a terrible crime whose immorality would make the devil himself proud of this achievement.