BEIRUT (AP) — U.S.-backed forces fighting Islamic State militants
in Syria were removing land mines and clearing main roads in
Raqqa on Wednesday, a day after their commanders declared the
city was under their control, a spokesman said.
Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic
Forces, said preparations were also underway for a formal
declaration of the liberation of Raqqa.
SDF announced on Tuesday that military operations in Raqqa have
ended and that their troops have taken full control of the city,
once the heart of IS’ self-styled caliphate. The U.S.-led
coalition cautioned that the clearing operations were not
finished and that it estimated about 100 militants may still be
hiding in the city.
On Wednesday, the spokesman for the U.S. coalition, Col. Ryan
Dillon, tweeted that 95 percent of the city is now under full
control as clearing operations continue.
The coalition stressed that the SDF had been successful in
keeping captured territories from IS because of its thorough
clearing procedures that prevent typical IS counterattacks.
Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling the
Islamic State group, said he was in northern Syria to prepare for
the defeat of the militants. He said the United States will help
in clearing explosives as well as restoring services in the city.
McGurk posted a photograph Wednesday of surrendering IS
militants, saying: “once purported as fierce, now pathetic and a
The fall of Raqqa deals a major defeat to the extremist group
that has seen its territory steadily shrink since summer.
Militants took over Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River, in
2014 and transformed it into the epicenter of their brutal rule.
But fighting against IS militants is not over. The group still
holds territories to the south of Raqqa, along the border with
Iraq in the oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour, and to the west in
the central Homs province.
In separate offensives, the SDF and the Russian-backed Syrian
government are battling the Islamic State group in Deir el-Zour.
On Wednesday, fierce clashes were reported between SDF fighters
and IS militants in the group’s last strip of land in Hassakeh
province, to the east of Raqqa city.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that
monitors the war in Syria, also reported intense clashes between
forces allied with the Syrian government and IS militants in an
area between Homs and Deir el-Zour.