The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led group backed by the U.S., has retaken 60 percent of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital in Syria.
U.S. officials confirmed Sunday that the SDF had captured the Old City with the help of U.S. special forces on the ground, evacuating thousands of civilians in the process.
Troops also cleared the Great Mosque on Saturday, which is the oldest mosque in the city.
“The liberation of this historic landmark is a testimony to the dedication and courage of the SDF as they fight to defeat ISIS in Raqqa,” said coalition spokesman Army Col. Ryan Dillon. “The SDF have made consistent incremental gains in the urban terrain of the city, fighting block by block, and applying increasing pressure on ISIS each day while evacuating civilians along the way.”
Residents have reported that thousands of civilians have been wounded or killed as part of the U.S.-backed assault.
“The civilians are paying the highest price,” Uday, a former resident of Raqqa who lives in Turkey, told The Wall Street Journal.
One war monitoring group called Airwars has assessed the number of civilian deaths at a minimum of 860 since the assault began in June.
At this point, the SDF is only about a mile away from ISIS’ main square, which the terror group used to declare its rule over Raqqa in 2014 and conduct brutal public punishments. Since the SDF has been chipping away at Raqqa for months, the city no longer functions as ISIS’ de facto capital.
Rather, ISIS has moved its leadership and equipment to Deir Ezzour, which is the largest city in eastern Syria and located close to Iraq’s border. In the last several days, ISIS fighters and their families, with permission of Hezbollah in Lebanon, have abandoned the southwestern Syria near Lebanon and made for Deir Ezzour in a convoy.
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