With roughly 90% of the Syrian city of Raqqa having been retaken by the nation’s military from Daesh control, the ‘capital’ of the militant group is no more.
In an interview with the Associated Press, spokesman for the US-led coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, has stated that; “This will take some time, to say that the city is completely clear,” in reference to mines and explosives, and continued by saying, “We still suspect that there are still (IS) fighters that are within the city in small pockets”, adding to the notion that while the Syrian forces have taken the vast majority of the city, they still have a lot of work ahead of them.
Raqqa has seen great violence over the last four years, with the city being overrun by Al-Nushra fighters in 2013, control of the city being given over to IS in 2014, and also being the site of 20 individual bombings by the French military in retaliation to the attacks in Paris in 2015. In August this year, US forces bombed a densely populated area of the city, reportedly leading to the deaths of at least 42 civilians. The US coalition forces did not directly confirm the allegations made by the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, but brought in their civilian casualty team to assess the reported damage.
Outside of military operations, Raqqa has also been the site of public executions and extreme brutality; Al-Naeem Square, or Paradise Square in English, was originally used by Daesh as a place to hold victory parades, but soon became infamous for being the site of many cases of illegal capital punishment.
Nearby residents would often be called by loudspeaker to travel to the square in order to watch public beheadings, likely as a means of instilling fear into Daesh’s prisoners. Bodies would be kept in the square for days, and, as reported by the Associated Press; “mounted on posts and labeled with their crimes, according to residents, who later dubbed it “Hell Square.”
The fall of Raqqa is a catastrophic blow to IS, and will quite possibly prove to be a near-fatal blow to the militant group. Raqqa has been the group’s main hub in Syria for planning and recruiting, as well as proving to be an incredibly important tactical stronghold for the group to control. Without it, Daesh will have very few places left to run.
The operation was conducted by the Syrian Democratic Forces, or ‘SDF’, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish civilian fighters that have been fighting the Islamic State in Raqqa since June. The SDF has been backed by an international coalition of various countries, in particular, the United States, France, and the UK.
The fall of Raqqa comes after months of losses for the militant group, having recently lost Hawija in Iraq, Al-Mayadeen in eastern Syria, and the then-capital of group, Mosul, in August.
While the group still controls land to the south-east of Raqqa, particularly the area of Deir el-Zour, Daesh is continually being increasingly encircled by Syrian and Iraqi forces, while simultaneously losing land and key locations at a damning rate.
It may not be the end for IS, but the group’s heyday is most definitely over.
Featured Image Credits: AFP/Getty