US-backed Forces Say IS Ousted From Syria's Raqqa
By VOA News October 17, 2017
U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said Tuesday they seized the last remaining areas of Raqqa, Syria, from Islamic State militants and the American-led coalition fighting IS said the city was "on the verge of liberation."
A spokesman for the SDF, which is made up of Kurdish and Arab militias, told reporters the fighting in Raqqa was over. SDF fighters stormed a stadium that had been the last Islamic State base in the city after capturing a hospital that also served as a command center.
The offensive to oust the militants from Raqqa began in June, and was backed by airstrikes and other support from a U.S.-led coalition.
Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday that Raqqa was 90 percent under SDF control.
"We are aware of the reports that ISIS has been defeated in Raqqa, however, clearance operations continue and we expect our Syrian Democratic Force partners to hit pockets of resistance as the final parts of the city is cleared," he said. He said there were perhaps "about 100" IS fighters left in the city.
Raqqa was Islamic State's de facto capital, a place where it planned attacks abroad, celebrated its victories in Iraq and Syria and performed executions.
Islamic State still controls areas around the eastern province of Deir el-Zour and further south in the Euphrates river valley.
Although the SDF has seized control of Raqqa from IS the humanitarian crisis in the area continues to worsen, according to the child advocacy group Save the Children.
"The humanitarian crisis is greater than ever," group director Sonia Khush said in a statement.
The group said some 270,000 people who have fled Raqqa are still in dire need of aid at camps that are "bursting at the seams." The charity said most displaced people are likely to remain for months or even years in the camps, where conditions are "miserable and families do not have enough food, water or medicine."
In an interview with VOA's Kurdish Service, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali called on global relief groups to provide assistance to the displaced people of Raqqa.
"The situation of the displaced people from the city of Raqqa is very difficult and tragic and everyone should be aware of this situation, and we do not have the necessary capabilities because we are fighting and at the same time we live in a war zone area. The International organizations must provide assistance and consideration to the situation of the refugees in the city of Raqqa and the people," Bali said.
The organization added that thousands of civilians were still being displaced in Deir el-Zour, where fighting continued Tuesday.
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