SDF captures Syria’s Raqqa city from ISIL
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, have announced the capture of Raqqa after a four-month operation to drive out ISIL.
SDF spokesmen announced the takeover of the strategic Syrian city on Tuesday after a final battle at a sports stadium where Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters made their last stand.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Antakya, Turkey, said clean-up operations were now under way after the bloody battle.
“Hundreds of SDF fighters, waving yellow flags, are now entering the city of Raqqa. They have killed dozens of fighters. They are deploying more troops in the city to try to clear mines, explosives,” Ahelbarra said.
The SDF launched its offensive on Raqqa on June 6. Intense aerial bombardment and land operations by the US-led international coalition had cut the city off from the rest of the territories held by ISIL.
More than 3,000 bombs have landed on Raqqa since January, devastating schools, hospitals and residential buildings. In mid-October, the humanitarian REACH initiative estimated that less than one percent of Raqqa’s 300,000 prewar population remained in the city. The city has no electricity or potable water, and its last functioning bakery was destroyed recently.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, since the start of the operation, more than 900 civilians have been killed in the violence, including at least 570 in coalition air raids.
Destroyed and depopulated, Raqqa also faces an uncertain political future. The US and SDF have pledged to hand over the city to civilian rule, but the shape and political make-up of this civilian entity remain unclear. Various ethnic, tribal and geopolitical factors will complicate the handover.