After nearly four months of intense urban warfare, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that ISIS militants have lost control over their main Syrian stronghold of Raqqa City. The announcement represents the end of a chapter for the Syrian conflict that began after the militants took over the city in late-2013, subsequently instituting their brutal rule over the city.
Although the SDF operations in the city itself begun in June 2017, operations to cut off access into the city and and subsequently encircle it have been taking place since last year under the Operation Wrath of the Euphrates. The encirclement of the city was complete by mid-2017, after the SDF pushed south of the Euphrates and captured Tabqa City and the nearby dam.
Although the SDF fighters made quick gains around the outer districts of the city, resistance increased as the battles drew closer to the city centre. Raqqa’s Old City, in particular, saw intense to-and-fro fighting as ISIS militants were able to inflict heavy casualties on the SDF due to copious use of car bombs and tunnel networks.
The final chapter of the battle was played out at the heart of the city. The militants fortified the National Hospital, Raqqa City Stadium and the buildings surrounding the infamous Naim Roundabout where the group performed its grisly executions. There were reports that the militants, growing desperate, had taken hundreds of people hostage and held them in the hospital and the stadium.
Then, about a week ago, reports emerged that a number of militants were looking to negotiate a surrender agreement. Although the International Coalition was unwilling to accept any notions of surrender due to fears of foreign militants escaping, the local tribes negotiated an evacuation that only involved local militants. The lines of the remaining militants, mostly foreigners, have since collapsed, allowing the SDF to secure the hospital, the stadium and the Naim Roundabout.
Officials from the SDF and the International Coalition say that numerous stragglers, pockets and holdouts still remain, as do large numbers of mines and IEDs. Thus, until they’ve made sure that all these threats are eliminated, they will not consider the city secure. Nevertheless, for all intents and purposes, Raqqa has been liberated from ISIS.
With much of the city destroyed from the brutal fighting, the next challenge is to ensure that reconstruction takes place smoothly and the people of Raqqa are able to return to their homes. The SDF already announced the formation of a Civilian Council to govern the city.