A United States-backed Syrian force officially declared its victory over the Islamic State group (ISIS) in its self-styled “capital” of Raqqa on Friday, announcing that the northern city of Syria had been freed from any extremist presence after a four-month battle that the left in ruins.
During a press conference in the city, the Kurdish leadership contingent known as the Syrian Democratic Forces officially handed over the devastated city government to a council consisting of local officials and tribal leaders and a US-trained police force of 3,000, in charge of governance and security.
In a gesture of great symbolism, the press conference was held inside the sports stadium that the militants of the Islamic State group had converted into a weapons depot and a huge prison to imprison and torture their opponents.
“Our victory is one against terrorism, and the release of Raqqa marks the last chapter in the fight against terrorists in Syria,” said Talal Sillo, spokesman and commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Before several destroyed buildings, Sillo urged the international community and the humanitarian agencies to assist in the reconstruction of the city.
Images taken by The Associated Press with a dron showed the extent of the devastation caused by weeks of fighting between the Kurdish leadership forces and the Islamic state, a battle that included thousands of air strikes by the US-led international coalition.
Thursday’s footage showed buildings of bombed buildings and piles of concrete slabs stacked in the streets, dotted with destroyed cars. Whole neighborhoods seemed reduced to rubble, with little evidence of civilian life.
Whole apples of the city seemed uninhabitable, with walls torn down and windows and doors broken. In some buildings there were several floors shattered. The stadium that the extremists used as a prison seemed to have suffered less damage compared to the surrounding buildings.
“We call on all countries and peace-loving forces and other humanitarian organizations to participate in rebuilding the city and surrounding villages and help eliminate the scars of war left by the group,” Sillo said.
Sillo reported that 655 local and international fighters had died during the four-month battle for Raqqa.
Long before the SDF ground offensive began, combat aircraft bombarded the city for months.
The SDF announced Tuesday that ISIS fighters had been expelled from the city after weeks of fighting.
The fall of Raqqa is a major defeat for the extremist group, which has seen its territory shrinking steadily since last year. The group took Raqqa, located by the Euphrates River, in January 2014 and made it the epicenter of its brutal regime.