Vastavam web: U.S.-backed militias battled foreign fighters defending the last pocket of Islamic State’s one-time Syrian capital of Raqqa on Monday, bringing their four-month offensive for the city to the brink of victory.A field commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, said he expected the operation to end on Monday. The U.S.-led coalition that backs them said it could not give a timeline.
SDF spokesman Mostafa Bali said they were fighting Islamic State in only one small zone of Raqqa in the evening, around the city’s national hospital and stadium.A convoy of Syrian Islamic State fighters quit Raqqa on Saturday night with their families, leaving only 200-300 foreign jihadists to mount a last stand, the SDF has said.
The SDF is now poised to end Islamic State’s rule over a city where it had launched a string of lightning victories in 2014 and plotted attacks on civilian targets across the West.Islamic State lost Mosul in Iraq, its largest city and most prized possession, after months of fighting in July. The militants, which at their height ruled millions of people in both countries, are now forced back in Syria into a strip of the Euphrates valley south of Deir al-Zor and desert on each side.
The SDF said they gained control of six more districts on Monday. The coalition has supported the SDF with air power and special forces throughout its Raqqa campaign, which began in November with an offensive to isolate the city.The battle inside Raqqa started in June, and the intense air strikes and street-to-street fighting drove many of its people to refugee camps and left much of the city a mess of concrete debris.The field commander in Raqqa described Monday’s fighting as “a clearing operation” and said he expected it to be completed by the end of the day with the SDF controlling the whole city.