Islamic State 'down to less than 400' in Raqqa
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Islamic State militants have largely been flushed out of their one-time stronghold of Raqqa, US-led coalition forces have said, but are still clinging on to a small part of the city.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition of Kurdish and Arab fighters says it has taken control of 90% of the Syrian city, with less than 400 ISIS jihadists remaining in the region – down from an estimated 3,000-4,000.
Coalition spokesman US Colonel Ryan S Dillon told reporters in Baghdad: “We are looking at approximately 4,000 civilians who remain in Raqqa, and a matter of 300-400 remaining ISIS fighters.”
IS has held the city, which is considered to be the group’s ‘capital’, since 2014. SDF forces entered in June and have been fighting since then to gain control.
Officials from Raqqa Civil Council, set up by the SDF as a provisional administration, are now trying to negotiate the safe passage of civilians from areas still held by jihadists.
“We have seen a trend of ISIS surrendering over these last months, about four to five per week… including emirs and leaders,” Mr Dillon said.
He also said other IS fighters had been captured while trying to blend in with departing civilians.
SDF forces are preparing for what many are saying is a final push against IS, which is still holding on to the Raqqa hospital and a nearby stadium.
An SDF field commander said on Sunday that assaults were about to begin as they surrounded the stadium, and that the hospital was already encircled.
However, Mr Dillon was cautious about calling the situation a final assault.
He said: “Whether this is the final assault or an assault, I won’t characterise it either way.”
But the officer confirmed the fight was “concentrated around the complex which was the national hospital and the stadium”.