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Amnesty International says U.S.-led forces in Syria killed hundreds more civilians in the city of Raqqa than the military itself has acknowledged. Amnesty released a report today with the monitoring group Airwars. They focused on deaths during the four-month battle to free Raqqa from ISIS, which had held the city for years. NPR's Ruth Sherlock followed the Amnesty researcher in Raqqa last year, as she gathered accounts for today's report.
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: On one street in Raqqa, in almost every home, there were families who'd lost loved ones.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Foreign language spoken).
SHERLOCK: "The bombs fell from the beginning of the neighborhood to the end, one after the other," this woman tells us. "The world turned black. When things cleared, I found my husband dead in the courtyard."
This is one of the accounts NPR heard along with Amnesty International's Donatella Rovera. She spent months in Raqqa, piecing together the civilian toll in a large city, where the vast majority of the buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Today Rovera reviewed her work.
DONATELLA ROVERA: Site visits to more than 200 sites of coalition strikes; I interviewed more than 400 witnesses and survivors; looking for, for example, remnants of munitions used by the coalition, so I visited scrap yards.
SHERLOCK: Amnesty coupled her research with a massive data project that it worked on with the monitoring group Airwars. They looked at 2 million satellite images to identify strikes and studied videos of the battle. The U.S.-led coalition acknowledges 180 civilian deaths in Raqqa, but the Amnesty investigation finds that at least 1,600 civilians lost their lives.
ROVERA: And what it shows is that it's not just a few individual, isolated cases; it shows that this is a much more systemic problem - failure to protect civilians.
SHERLOCK: A U.S. coalition spokesman told NPR that they take civilian casualties seriously and were trying to free the city from ISIS. Amnesty faulted the coalition's use of artillery barrages, saying they were, quote, "inaccurate to the point of being indiscriminate."
Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut.
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