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Syrian forces comb ghost city Raqqa after IS ouster

  • Published at 08:51 pm October 18th, 2017
Syrian forces comb ghost city Raqqa after IS ouster

US-backed forces combed the ruins of Raqqa for survivors and bombs Wednesday, after retaking the Syrian city from Islamic State group jihadists and dealing their dreams of statehood a fatal blow.

A lightning final assault by the Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday saw jihadist defences collapse faster than expected and the SDF claim a landmark victory in the three-year fight against IS.

SDF fighters flushed jihadist holdouts from Raqqa's main hospital and municipal stadium, wrapping up a more than four-month offensive against what used to be the inner sanctum of IS's self-proclaimed "caliphate".

Waving their yellow flags, the Kurdish-led SDF forces celebrated their victory on an infamous traffic circle where IS used to carry out public executions and that had become known as the "Roundabout of Hell".

City unsafe

"We urge our people in Raqqa who fled IS rule not to return to the city for their own security until it is rid of terrorist explosives," the Kurdish internal security services said in a statement.

The loss of Raqqa left IS ruling over a small "rump caliphate" straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border and covering a fraction of the territory it held when it declared its "state" in July 2014.

The US-led coalition supporting anti-IS forces in Iraq and Syria said on Tuesday that the jihadists had lost 87% of the territory they had three years ago.

Brett McGurk, the White House's envoy to the multinational coalition, said on social media that IS had lost 6,000 fighters in Raqqa and described the organisation as "pathetic and a lost cause."

Raqqa was one of the most emblematic IS bastions, at the heart of both its military operations and its propaganda.

Fate of IS fighters unclear

The breakthrough in the months-old operation to retake Raqqa came last week when a local deal was struck for the safe exit of several thousand civilians who had been used as human shields by IS and for the surrender of Syrian jihadists.

It had been believed than up to 400 mostly foreign IS fighters remained in the city, prepared for a bloody last stand in their final redoubts.

Yet the sequence that followed the announcement on Sunday of the operation's final phase gives few clues as to their fate.

"Some surrendered, others died," Talal Sello, another SDF spokesman said, without elaborating further or providing figures.