U.N. Says U.S. Air Strikes on Syria Have Caused ‘Staggering’ Civilian Deaths

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Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

The United Nations says that United States–led air strikes on and around Raqqa, Syria, have killed at least 300 civilians and displaced 160,000 others since March. The bombings have recently increased as U.S.-backed militias (collectively referred to as the Syrian Democratic Forces) prepared for an assault on the ISIS stronghold, with fighters entering the city last week. Paulo Pinheiro, the head of the U.N. panel monitoring Syria, called the civilian deaths so far “staggering,” adding, “As the operation is gaining pace very rapidly, civilians are caught up in the city under the oppressive rule of ISIS, while facing extreme danger associated with movement due to excessive air strikes.”

According to the Pentagon, there are currently around 4,000 ISIS members in Raqqa, and taking the city is seen as crucial to weakening the terrorist group and freeing the thousands of civilians currently under its rule. But, Pinheiro said, “The imperative to fight terrorism must not, however, be undertaken at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where ISIS is present.”

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch expressed concern about U.S.-led forces’ reported deployment of white phosphorus in Raqqa and the ISIS-held Iraqi city of Mosul. Per the organization, white phosphorus can be used “as an obscurant or smoke screen, for signaling and marking, and as an incendiary weapon.” It’s legal for militaries to bring the chemical into battle, but its use is prohibited in civilian areas, as it can cause fires and severe burns. Without confirming its use in Raqqa and Mosul, U.S. officials told reporters that “in accordance with the law of armed conflict, white phosphorus rounds are used … in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”

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U.S. Air Strikes in Syria Have Killed Hundreds of Civilians