Islamic militancy

US-backed fighters celebrate in the streets after clearing Islamic State from de facto capital of Raqqa

A local field commander said no IS fighters remained even in the stadium and the hospital where the final days of fighting had been focused

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 6:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 6:42pm

US-backed militias have completely taken the city of Raqqa from Islamic State, the group’s de facto capital, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fall of Raqqa on Tuesday, where Islamic State (IS) staged euphoric parades after a string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the jihadist movement’s collapsing fortunes. From the city, the group planned attacks abroad.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a US-led international alliance, has been fighting Islamic State inside Raqqa since June.

A Reuters witness said fighting appeared to be almost at an end with only sporadic bursts of gunfire. Militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanted slogans from their vehicles and raised a flag inside Raqqa stadium.

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An SDF spokesman said the alliance would capture the last Islamic State areas in the city within hours. The stadium and a hospital that the SDF said they had captured earlier on Tuesday, were the jihadists’ last bases.

A local field commander said no Islamic State fighters remained even in the stadium and the hospital, two central city points where Islamic State had been best entrenched and where the SDF said fighting on Monday night and early Tuesday was focused.

“We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and among the areas that IS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition.

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In a sign that the four-month battle for Raqqa was in its last stages, Dillon said there had been no coalition air strikes there on Monday.

It is now hemmed in to a tiny bomb-cratered patch of the city around the stadium that was being pounded from the air by a US-led coalition and encircled by SDF fighters.

Islamic State has lost swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul, and in Syria it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.