The city of Raqqa, Syria and its countryside are being completely destroyed by the ongoing US-led coalition airstrikes as Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) engage Islamic State fighters for control of the self-proclaimed jihadist capital.
While Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants continue to resist the SDF advance, engaging in fierce urban warfare, the carnage from the battle is getting so grim that corpses are decaying in plain sight.
“The streets are full of dead bodies. The schools were targeted, the bridges, and mosques. The [dead] people are lying on the streets, some people were dragged by cars,” a refugee who escaped the city told RT’s Ruptly video agency.
“Dogs were eating the [dead] bodies for there was no one to pick them up. You would run away if you saw someone because there is no way you can pick them up,” said another refugee who is now waiting to be housed in the city of Hama.
Civilians are caught in the cross hairs of the US-led SDF troops and terrorists controlling the city, witnesses say. Locals escaping the battlefield blame IS and the US-led airstrikes for completely destroying the city.
“The massacres in Raqqa were committed by ISIS and the coalition warplanes,” one eyewitness said.
Safely in Hama, another man who was lucky enough to survive the siege noted the ferocity of the ongoing military operation.
“Nothing is left in Raqqa except for the destruction from the coalition and ISIS,” he said, emphasizing that the strikes have inflicted the most damage.
“We wish to get rid of both ISIS and the coalition. We want to live as safe Syrians as we were before.”
Families escaping the besieged Syrian city describe the mounting toll from the airstrikes as nothing short of a “massacre.”
“Every village had a massacre, massacres are everywhere,” one of the refugees from Raqqa told Ruptly in neighboring Hama.
The man recalled that in the village of Mayslaoun, 16 people were killed in one strike alone .
“It was claimed that ISIS bases were targeted in the village of Maysaloun, then 16 men died, they were civilians who have nothing to do [with ISIS],” the man said.
“All the villages were targeted, no village was left untargeted, some people lost their houses, others lost their children, some lost their wives,” another man said.
‘Staggering loss of civilian life’ during US-backed siege of #Raqqa – UNhttps://t.co/svZV3A6W5qpic.twitter.com/00ygdJ1K8u
— RT (@RT_com) 14 June 2017
“Houses, families, children, women, all were hit by the random strikes,” the man said in Arabic. “Some villages were wiped out, some neighborhoods that cost a billion are demolished.”
Another man described the pain where 12 of his neighbors were killed in an airstrike. He only survived because he slept in the courtyard.
“I came back at morning to find the 12 of them dead… the children, the mother, and the man,” he recalled. “They died because of the shelling.”
The United Nations estimates that about 190,000 residents of Raqqa province have been displaced since April 1. From that number, 20,000 have been displaced since the SDF operation began in early June.
US Raqqa offensive killing more civilians than claimed – airstrike monitor https://t.co/EP5zjvnRE8
— RT (@RT_com) 3 July 2017
While the latest US-led Operation Inherent Resolve report has confirmed a total of 603 civilian deaths in the US-led air campaign in Iraq and Syria, Airwars, a UK-based group that monitors airstrikes and civilian casualties, claimed this week that it tracked “more than 700 likely civilian deaths,” in Raqqa even before the battle for the city began in June.
“In the three months before American-backed forces breached the city’s limits in early June, Airwars tracked more than 700 likely civilian deaths in the vicinity of the self-declared ISIS capital,” the group said.
‘US coalition bombs randomly, hitting civilians rather than ISIS’ – #Raqqa refugees to RT https://t.co/JJQ3DIcb9S
— RT (@RT_com) 23 June 2017
As the battle to regain Raqqa intensifies, it’s likely that the civilian death toll will rise.
Between 30,000 and 50,000 civilians, according to UN estimates, are still trapped in the ISIS held city.
Up to 50,000 civilians still trapped in #Raqqa – UN https://t.co/Veju5Vzx0xpic.twitter.com/je6BT0OzX2
— RT (@RT_com) 17 July 2017
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, conceded that the US-supported offensive in Raqqa is progressing slowly.
“We knew going in that Raqqa was going to be very hard,” the Washington Examiner reported. “There is not a consistent degree of progress in any military campaign, it’s a stop and go effort by its very nature.”