The military operation against the Islamic State (ISIS) in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa is over, U.S.-backed forces announced Tuesday. The now devastated city is no longer the de facto capital of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate, meaning that the militants of the terror group have lost control over the last major city they had left.

ISIS has had its power seat in Raqqa since late 2013. The jihadists used to conduct public executions in the city, where they also planned most of the attacks on foreign targets.

Syrian Democratic Forces, Fall of ISIS, ISIS defeated, Raqqa
Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrating the retaking of Raqqa. Image credit:

Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) celebrated with gunfire in the streets, as residents told The New York Times by phone and text messages. They also raised the YPG flag inside the stadium, which had been used by ISIS as a strategic center of operations.

The American-backed militia is made up of Syrian Kurds and Arabs, who announced today that they had cleared out the remnants of mines and sleeper cells in Raqqa.

With weapons and special forces, the U.S.-led international coalition helped SDF fighters drive ISIS out of more than 8,000 sq. Km of territory, as reported by BBC News. While 22 militants were killed in the final attack on Raqqa’s hospital, the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders negotiated the evacuation of 3,500 civilians and the families of jihadists.

However, The United States Central Command did not fully declare victory, saying that more than 90 percent of the territory was in the hands of the SDF, The New York Times reported. Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said that the Islamic State was still ruling over a small portion of the city.

He added that it could take years to remove the explosive devices and unexploded ordnance placed by ISIS fighters.

ISIS remains a threat

Without any symbolic headquarters, the terror group will continue to exist only in small territories where militants can hide, including the Euphrates River, where their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding.

ISIS headquarters, Fall of ISIS, ISIS defeated, Raqqa
Raqqa in 2015, when it was controlled by ISIS forces. Image credit: Reuters

The threat of jihadist extremism will continue to be a significant problem in the West. The simple idea of ISIS and its massive online campaign has led individuals to kill innocent civilians in the name of the terror organization in countries like France and England, to name some. Still, the militants have no relevant headquarters to claim credit for an attack.

It is unclear who will govern Raqqa, a ruined city that will need billions to rebuild its infrastructure after a months-long airstrike campaign. The U.S. coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces are planning to establish a civil governing council of elected local Arabs, who will be supported by an interim security force, according to CNN.

As for the Kurds, they don’t seem to be actually interested in holding the predominantly Arab city. And local Arabs who were part of the original population have gone to refugee camps.

Source: The New York Times