The US-led coalition’s campaign against ISIS incontributed to the city’s leveling and presents a “warning story” for future conflicts in urban settings, a new report has found.
The report, published Thursday by RAND, concluded that the Department of Defense made efforts to prevent civilian damage in the 2017 Battle of Raqqa, but room for improvement remains.
The battle for Raqqa — the last major city held by ISIS in Syria and considered the administrative capital of the caliphate — claimed up to 1,600 civilian casualties and destroyed an estimated 60-80% of the city, rendering it uninhabitable, according to the RAND report .
The RAND report was sponsored by the Department of Defense and will be included in the Pentagon’s initiatives to prevent civilian casualties in US airstrikes, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a news conference Thursday.
“No other military works as hard as we do to mitigate civilian harm, and yet we cause it,” Kirby said.
The battle for Raqqa took place from June to October 2017, with the coalition playing a supporting role for the Syrian Democratic Forces. The coalition hit ISIS with airstrikes and shelling until the last militant left Raqqa in October 2017.
A report from 2018showing little regard for civilians and reducing the city to rubble.
The RAND report released on Thursday found that the coalition to shorten the campaign to combat ISIS has opted to encircle ISIS rather than wage a war of attrition. The decision to encircle ISIS pushed the militants further into the city and prevented the construction of humanitarian corridors to help civilians evacuate. Taking the time to push militants into rural areas could have mitigated the civilian damage.
To avoid risks to its own forces, the coalition decided to limit the presence of its own ground forces. This decision prevented the striking forces from having reliable information to distinguish between fighters and civilians in the dense urban environment.
For the fight on the ground, the coalition relied on its partnership with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The partnership likely increased civilian damage for two reasons, the report said.
The SDF were inadequately trained in civilian damage control. Apart from an hour-long training session on martial law, the coalition did not systematically train the SDF. Additionally, the coalition conducted “self-defense strikes” to protect the SDF on a compressed timeline with limited intelligence due to a lack of ground forces, increasing the risk of damage to civilians.
The report offers the Department of Defense several harm reduction recommendations. One suggests asking wargamers if there is a way to drive an enemy out of urban areas before encirclement. Another suggestion is to use the open source information provided by social media platforms to draw a picture of the area when there are limited ground forces. .
The final recommendation is that the Pentagon actually apply the lessons learned from analyzes like this one. The lack of progress on this issue is the result of “weak institutional learning processes”.
“Without an enhanced learning process, there is a real risk that the tragic circumstances in Raqqa will be repeated,” the report says.