IS militants in final stand in Raqqa enclave
ISLAMIC State (IS) militants were putting up a last-bid fight in their remaining Syrian enclave of Raqqa as the US-backed coalition drives them out of the city which they have controlled since 2014.
Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman of the US Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, said that IS resistance was increasing, while the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued the fight in Raqqa.
“In the first two weeks, there was significant progress — very quick progress that was made,” he said.
However, he said that now there was more significant resistance by IS militants in Raqqa, the Kurdish news agency ARA reported yesterday.
“The SDF in the advance have since hit some significant resistance from IS. And now we are starting to see some of these, you know, better-emplaced defences as we have gotten to the places where we have advanced to in the campaign in and around Raqqa,” said Dillon.
“Our partnered force in Raqqa, the SDF, are in their third week of offensive operations to unseat terrorists from IS’s de facto capital. The SDF have taken 45km² of ground from IS, in and around Raqqa, this past week.
“The SDF continues to fight, along with three axes, towards the centre of Raqqa against substantial IS resistance,” he said. Moreover, the coalition spokesperson said that it was still unclear where the US-led coalition would fight next after Raqqa is liberated.
“Once we call the liberation, or once Raqqa has been liberated, then we have to see, then, where else is there to go, where else is there ISheld territory,” he said.
“Right now, we know that IS-held territory is along the middle Euphrates river valley. But is that going to still be true at the end of the fight in Raqqa? We’re going to have to see about that,” added Dillon.
The official added that it was possible they would continue to combat IS along the Euphrates river valley.
“So we will have to evaluate and see where IS still holds territory after the fight of Raqqa. Clearly, right now, that’s along the middle Euphrates river valley.
“We will continue to strike resources and leaders throughout that middle Euphrates river valley — in Mayadin, Abu Kamal, Al-Qaim,” Dillon added.
In the wake of a military victory, the US wants local governance in northern Syria, despite being uncertain as to what Syrian President Bashar Al Asaad, or the SDF would do after Raqqa was liberated.
“I know that we are consistently pushing towards local governance, which is the councils and the security forces that liberate areas from IS, who are representative and responsive to the people in those areas,” said Dillon.
However, a US state department spokesperson said it was unclear yet what the post-IS plan was. “So we aren’t completely there yet. The fight for Raqqa is still under way and still taking place. The US will never determine who will take control or take charge in terms of its government. That will be up for the Syrian people to decide,” US state department spokesperson Heather Nauert stated.
Syrian Democratic Forces fighters carry coffins of fallen comrades killed by Islamic State militants in Raqqa during a funeral on Friday.