Strewn across the streets of Raqqa lie the remnants of damaged roads and houses. Fighting has reduced much of the city to rubble amidst intense clashes between the Syrian Democratic Forces and ISIS militants. But now, it appears that the battle for the city is coming to an end, finally ending ISIS’ presence in the city.
Despite this, fighting is still ongoing in parts of the city. Snipers are also prevalent with some militants even using tunnels networks to avoid continued exposure to SDF fighters.
In recent weeks, ISIS militants, despite their decreased number that is thought to be in the low 100s, have taken civilians as human shields and barricaded themselves in Raqqa city stadium and the National Hospital.
Fighting has also remained intense around the Na’im roundabout, which became infamous for the public beheadings, lashings and crucifixions carried out by ISIS. SDF fighters hope that the sustained pressure on ISIS militants in the stadium and its eventual capture will also allow them to make a more concerted attack on Na’im roundabout, which links many of the northern and southern districts of Raqqa together.
For civilians fleeing, many speak of misery and hardship under ISIS. Hundreds are fleeing daily, predominately towards SDF-held areas, although some further afield in Aleppo Province. However, the majority Kurdish forces are eager to check and question everyone fleeing from ISIS territory to ensure that no militants are trying to escape among the civilian population.
The fear of militants escaping with civilians is not only an immediate fear, with counterattacks and suicide attacks possible, but a future fear, with sleeper cells likely to disrupt rebuilding and reconciliation efforts once the city is devoid of ISIS.
Yet with the end of fighting drawing near, those displaced hope to return to their homes. Some have already returned, citing their desire and need to move forward with their lives, which have been so brutally disrupted by ISIS militants for almost four years.