RAQQA, Syria – US-backed militias said they had defeated Islamic State in its former capital Raqqa on Tuesday, raising their flags over the jihadist group’s last footholds in the city after a four-month battle.
The fighting was over but the alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias was clearing the stadium of mines and any remaining militants, said Rojda Felat, commander of the Raqqa campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
A formal declaration of victory in Raqqa will soon be made, once the city has been cleared of mines and any possible Islamic State sleeper cells, said Talal Silo, the SDF spokesman.
The fall of Raqqa, where Islamic State staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the jihadist movement’s collapsing fortunes.
Islamic State has lost most of its territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul. In Syria, it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.
The SDF, backed by a U.S.-led international alliance, has been fighting since June to take the city Islamic State used to plan attacks abroad.
Another Reuters witness said militia fighters celebrated in the streets, chanting slogans from their vehicles.
The fighters and commanders clasped their arms around each other, smiling, in a battle-scarred landscape of rubble and ruined buildings at a public square.
The flags in the stadium and others waved in the city streets were of the SDF, its strongest militia the Kurdish YPG, and the YPG’s female counterpart, the YPJ.
Fighters hauled down the black flag of Islamic State, the last still flying over the city, from the National Hospital near the stadium.
“We do still know there are still IEDs and booby traps in and amongst the areas that ISIS once held, so the SDF will continue to clear deliberately through areas,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the coalition.
In a sign that the four-month battle for Raqqa had been in its last stages, Dillon said there were no coalition airstrikes there on Monday.