U.S.-led Coalition Envoy Brett McGurk said on Tuesday that improvised explosive devices have killed about 200 civilians returning to the Syrian city of Raqqa after its recapture from Islamic State.
The Syrian Democratic Forces asserted control over Raqqa in October, ending three years of ISIS rule. Since then, almost 100,000 people have returned to the city, McGurk said at a U.S. Institute of Peace event in Washington, D.C.
“Almost every single structure in Raqqa has an explosive device wired in the structure,” he noted. “About 200 civilians returning to Raqqa have been killed by IEDs.”
According to the envoy, the process of stabilization in Syria is “incredibly more difficult” than in Iraq, in part because the Global Coalition Against ISIS is not working with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
To date, the United States has spent $100 million on stabilization assistance in Syria, and half of that on counter-IEDs efforts, McGurk said. The Coalition has contributed about the same sum as well.
The envoy underscored that counter-IED activities were critical to ensuring the safe return of civilians to the area.
“That prioritized focus is returning people to their homes at as low risk as possible,” McGurk said. “And the people who have been killed are people who wanted to go home even against the advice of local authorities or us, saying ‘you know, it is really not safe to go back.’ But people are dying to go back.”
“So the counter-IED mission is really critical. We are training Syrians on this very dangerous work, and they are getting that job done,” he added.