The coalition air campaign to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State has been described as a “war of annihilation”, which killed hundreds of civilians and injured thousands more.
The claims have been made by the charity Amnesty International, which singles out the involvement of the RAF in the battle, saying that “the UK needs to come clean over its role in this carnage”.
The report includes dramatic testimony from residents of the Syrian city, including one survivor who said: “Those who stayed died and those who tried to run away died. We couldn’t afford to pay the smugglers; we were trapped.”
Munira Hashish recounts her escape from Raqqa as she led her children through a minefield “by walking over the blood of those who were blown up as they tried to flee ahead of us”.
Another resident, Rasha Badran, lost 39 family members in four separate coalition airstrikes as they moved from place to place inside the city, desperately trying to avoid shifting front lines.
She buried her one-year-old daughter near a tree before managing to escape with her husband.
“We thought the forces who came to evict Daesh [IS] would know their business and would target Daesh and leave the civilians alone,” she said.
“We were naive. By the time we had realised how dangerous it had become everywhere, it was too late.
“We were trapped.”
Amnesty researchers visited 42 coalition airstrike sites across the ruined city and interviewed 112 civilian residents who survived the bombardment.
The charity claims the RAF carried out 215 strikes during the coalition operation, which began a year ago tomorrow.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had steadfastly refused to accept it caused any civilian casualties, until Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson admitted last month that a UK drone strike had killed an innocent motorcyclist during an attack in eastern Syria in March 2018.
The US military said it fired 30,000 artillery rounds during the offensive, says the report, while its forces are known to have been responsible for more than 90% of the airstrikes.
Much of the city was destroyed, with many homes, private and public buildings and infrastructure reduced to rubble or damaged beyond repair.
Commenting on the role of the British forces in the liberation of Raqqa, the director of Amnesty UK said: “Having conducted more than 200 airstrikes in Raqqa, the UK needs to be able to show that its targeting was proportionate and that it took proper measures to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in its joint operations with the US and others.
“Instead of repeating a mantra about there being ‘no evidence’ of civilian casualties from UK airstrikes, the MoD should publish proper data about its Raqqa attacks – dates, times, locations, weapons used and intended targets.
“Crucially, ministers should explain how the UK has investigated the impact of its attacks in both Raqqa and Mosul.
“For example, has the UK carried out on-the-ground investigations at the sites it bombed and interviewed survivors and witnesses?”
The MoD defended its actions, pointing out its missions are “meticulously planned” and within international law.
“Keeping Britain safe from the threat of terrorism is the objective of this campaign and throughout we have been open and transparent, detailing each of our nearly 1,700 strikes, facilitating operational briefings and confirming when a civilian casualty had taken place,” said a spokesman.
“We do everything we can to minimise the risk to civilian life through our rigorous targeting processes and the professionalism of the RAF crews but, given the ruthless and inhuman behaviour of Daesh, and the congested, complex urban environment in which we operate, we must accept that the risk of inadvertent civilian casualties is ever present.”