Kurdish forces backed by the United States on Tuesday announced the liberation of Raqqa, the Syrian de facto capital of the rapidly declining Islamic State’s so-called caliphate.
Raqqa has been the primary center of operations for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), since 2014, when it declared the city in northern Syria as the de facto capital of its planned caliphate.
According to a report by the New York Times, the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the United States, announced their victory over ISIS in a series of telephone conversations and press statements.
Although the news would mark the end of a campaign that has lasted many months, officers in the U.S. Central Command have so far hesitated to confirm the victory while it surveys the city for final confirmation.
A deal was struck on Saturday between the Syrian Democratic Forces and any remaining ISIS fighters that stipulated an order for them to vacate the city “or die.”
As Kurdish and Arab Syrians took to the streets of Raqqa to celebrate, the campaign’s success is bittersweet as it came at a high price. An estimated 3,250 people were killed in the final assault, including roughly 1,130 civilians.
For the last three years, residents of Raqqa have been subjected to brutal rule by ISIS militia who frequently beheaded citizens in the city’s main public square for negligible offenses.
During the ISIS occupation of Raqqa, at least 270,000 locals fled the city which has since been almost entirely flattened by U.S. and allied airstrikes.
One of Raqqa’s former residents, Dr. Mohammad Ahmed Saleh, fled to the nearby city of Tall al Abayad, where he worked in a hospital. Dr. Saleh expressed relief at the prospect of being able to return home but said that he was preparing himself for the worst upon his arrival.
“I’m expecting to see a new Hiroshima. I’m trying to be mentally prepared when I go. I’ll be lucky if I see one of my house’s walls still standing.”
The continued military campaign against ISIS in Syria has been fraught with tensions, not only between local rivals such as the Kurds and the Arabs but also between the United States and Russia, opposing forces who have all been forced to work together in an attempt to overthrow the Islamic State.
Most recently, the fact that the Syrian Democratic Forces released about 275 Syrian ISIS militants has allegedly caused great concern amongst the Syrian government and military forces in the area. It is uncertain if the released ISIS fighters will set up vigilante groups in the desert to ambush the Syrian army, or whether they might rejoin their comrades in the city of Deir Ezzor where ISIS still holds some ground.
Disagreements between the various groups have led to conflicts in strategy that has, at times, halted progress during the campaign.
[Featured Image by Hussein Malla/AP Images]