Syria's Raqqa fully liberated from Islamic State by Kurdish-led SDF

Syria's Raqqa fully liberated from Islamic State by Kurdish-led SDF

Syria's Raqqa fully liberated from Islamic State by Kurdish-led SDF

"The military operations in Raqqa have finished, but there are clearing operations now under way to uncover any sleeper cells there might be and remove mines", a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Talal Sello, said on October 17.

It took the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) five months to take control of the city, which had been taken over by IS in January 2014.

"There is an air of jubilation in the city", Abdi said.

Another Reuters witness said militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanting slogans from their vehicles. One showed the offensive's commander, Rojda Felat, waving a large yellow-and-red SDF flag in Naim Square, where the Islamic State carried out its beheadings. ISIS controlled the city for three years.

However, the SDF and Syrian government forces - which are backed by Russian air strikes and fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement - have launched separate offensives in the province with the aim of taking control of a key crossing on the border with Iraq. There was only one United States airstrike in Syria Monday, but that was far from Raqqa.

However, a United States military spokesman later said he could only confirm that about 90 percent of the city had been cleared.

It also intensifies growing questions about what comes next.

The government gains in eastern Syria came as US -backed Syrian forces liberated the city of Raqqa that was once the de facto capital of IS.

Dozens of foreign militants were believed to have made their last stand in the stadium, while 22 were reportedly killed in the final attack on the hospital.

Perhaps more importantly, the Trump administration has not yet indicated whether it is prepared to stay on in northeastern Syria to provide protection for the fledgling ministate being forged by Syria's Kurds.

The capture of the state hospital brought the Syrian Democratic Forces closer to completing their conquest of Raqa, a northern city that was once the de facto capital of IS-held territory. It says it is not aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the rebels seeking to overthrow him. "It would take away their major foreign patron", said Nicholas A. Heras of the Center for a New American Security. They took some 400 civilians with them as human shields. But the global community has not committed funds for reconstruction of the devastated city, and the absence of a clear US policy for northeastern Syria risks undermining the gains, cautioned Hassan Hassan of the Washington-based Tahrir Institute. "It's 'like dropping a nuclear bomb in stages'".

As the BBC reports, activists on the ground in Raqqa said "many of the civilian casualties were the result of the intense US-led air strikes that helped the SDF advance". As was the case in Mosul, victory over the militants has come at a tremendous price.

The fight for Raqqa has shattered much of the city.

At least 1,000 civilians are said to have died, according to estimates by monitoring groups, a lot of them in the relentless airstrikes.

Under the deal, a total of 275 Syrian IS fighters and relatives also surrendered to the SDF, though it was unclear whether they would be given safe passage elsewhere.

He said fighting is still underway with militants who had refused to surrender.

Yet analysts and diplomats say they fear it will come back in a different guise.

Raqqa was the first provincial capital to fully fall from government control when it was captured by a rebel army containing moderate and hard-line groups, including the al-Qaida-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, in March 2013.

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