Understanding Civilian Harm in Raqqa and Its Implications for Future Conflicts

The battle for Raqqa, Syria, seemed like a perfect storm of strategic and operational challenges. When the city was finally liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in October 2017, 60 to 80 percent of it was estimated to be uninhabitable. In fact, the battle for Raqqa is a cautionary tale about civilian harm in 21st-century conflicts.

The purpose of this report is to discuss how the U.S. military — which is the best-trained and most technologically advanced military in the world, is supported in Operation Inherent Resolve by an international coalition of more than 80 countries, and was partnered in Raqqa with a well-respected militia force on the ground — could cause significant civilian harm despite a deeply ingrained commitment to the law of war.

In this report, RAND researchers study the causes of civilian harm in Raqqa and provide insights into how the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) can reduce civilian harm in future operations.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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