Battle of Raqqa to end 'within day or two' as IS control implodes

Battle of Raqqa to end 'within day or two' as IS control implodes
Buses entered the Syrian city of Raqqa, with the evacuation of IS fighters and their families expected in the coming days, giving the US-backed SDF full control of the city.
3 min read
14 October, 2017
Raqqa has been largely destroyed in the past year of fighting [AFP]
The battle for the Syrian city of Raqqa could be over in a day or two, according to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who are leading the assault on the former Islamic State group stronghold.

Raqqa has now been almost completely captured by the US-backed SDF forces - led by the Kurdish-dominated People's Protection Forces (YPG) - with just a few areas of the city still held by IS.

Kurdish fighters expect to take control of the last neighbourhoods of the north-eastern Syrian city over the weekend, a YPG spokesperson told Reuters.

"The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (IS) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated," Nouri Mahmoud told the agency.

The statement coincided with the arrival of dozens of buses to Raqqa, with speculation mounting that a deal had been reached to evacuate the remaining civilians and IS fighters out of the city.

Activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said the convoy had arrived from the northern Raqqa countryside.

UK-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that some IS fighters and their families had already been evacuated and the remaining remnants are set to leave.

The US-led coalition which is backing the Kurdish force with air strikes confirmed earlier this week that negotiations are underway to allow civilians - used as human shields by the militants - to leave the war zone.

Spokesperson Ryan Dillon said on Thursday that a "unconditional surrender" of IS forces could be agreed, but that the US would not allow for any form of settlement with the IS fighters.

"We are seeing some good progress of civilians that are being able to safely exit Raqqa... [a negotiated withdrawal] is absolutely something that we as a coalition would not be a part of or agree with," he said, according to AP.

There are an estimated 300 to 400 militants left in Raqqa, while a small group of fighters surrended to the SDF this week.

The remaining fighters are believed to be still heavily armed and have taken up positions in the city's hospital and sports stadium with civilians used as human shields to slow the advance of the Kurdish party.

IS captured Raqqa in 2014 and has since served as the group's de-facto "capital", home to much of its leadership.

A battle for the city was launched by Kurdish forces in June with the SDF having won towns and countryside surrounding Raqqa over the past year.

IS have lost most of their territories in Syria and Iraq but the fall of the group's self-declared capital should serve as a huge moral and strategic blow for the jihadis.