June 14 (UPI) -- The United Nations said U.S.-led coalition airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants in the city of Raqqa are resulting in a "staggering loss of life."
Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the chairman of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria, addressed the Human Rights Council on Wednesday to provide an update. Pinheiro's address comes as the Syrian Democratic Forces began an offensive on June 6 to capture the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa.
Pinheiro said the SDF's offensive "could liberate the city's civilian population from the group's oppressive clutches, including Yazidi women and girls, whom the group has kept sexually enslaved for almost three years as part of an ongoing and unaddressed genocide."
The U.N. official said the offensive in Raqqa must not advance "at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where [the Islamic State] is present."
"We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced," Pinheiro added.
The SDF has called on Raqqa residents to evacuate so they do not become trapped, are not killed by Islamic State snipers and are not used as human shields
The U.S.-led coalition supports the SDF by providing equipment, training, intelligence and logistics support, airstrikes, and battlefield advice.
In the Syrian civil war, Pinheiro said civilians are the "targets of most warring parties."