Oct. 17 (UPI) — The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said Tuesday it has cleared Raqqa, the Islamic State‘s de facto Syrian capital, of all militant fighters — ending a fight that began early this summer.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.-backed rebel force, said the four-month fight in the Islamic State’s de facto Syrian capital ended Tuesday — with about 300 remaining militant holdouts confined to a narrow section of the city.
IS had held the city for three years and some could still be holed up in the city’s buildings and tunnels, officials said. The SDF said it will likely take months to clear explosives from the city — which at one time had a population of more than 300,000 — and that more than 900 civilians died in the weeks-long siege.
Raqqa National Hospital was captured on Tuesday, as well as al-Naim Circle, a public square infamous for IS executions and beheadings. A convoy of IS troops and their families left the city on Saturday, SDF added.
The mission to force the Islamic State from Raqqa, called “Euphrates Wrath,” involved fierce battles between jihadists and SDF forces. Airstrikes by a U.S.-led international coalition has destroyed about 80 percent of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Raqqa now faces an arduous cleanup effort, as well as political uncertainty.
The U.S.-led coalition and SDF have pledged to return Raqqa to civilian rule, but experts say ethnic, tribal and political factors could undermine a simple handover. Two civilian councils, one backed by the SDF and the other supported by the Turkey-based main Syrian opposition group, are mounting plans to administer the city.
The Islamic State lost Mosul, its largest city in Iraq, three months ago — and now controls only a small strip of Syrian territory in the Euphrates Valley, south of the city of Deir Ezzor.