PIX: Jacob Simkin/NurPhoto via DPA

BEIRUT – US-backed forces in Syria have taken full control of the province of al-Raqqa from the Islamic State militia after more than four months of fighting.

The defeat comes after the extremist group was pushed back in Syria and Iraq in recent months, including being driven from its stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq in July.

A spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told dpa that they had completed military operations inside the capital of the northern Syrian province, also called al-Raqqa.

The SDF was combing the city for sleeper cells and removing mines, spokesman Talal Silo added.

The rebels took over a key square and the municipal stadium in the city on Tuesday morning, the last places where Islamic State fighters were holding out.

Silo said that his initial information indicated that 10 Islamic State fighters had surrendered as the last locations fell to the SDF.

Other fighters were presumed dead “because they decided to fight until the last minute,” Silo said.

The SDF forces have been fighting since June, with the help of US-led airstrikes, to drive Islamic State from the city, seen as the de facto capital of the jihadist group.

The SDF on Sunday announced their final push for the city of al-Raqqa after civilians were evacuated under a deal brokered by local tribal leaders.

Around 275 local fighters and their families have surrendered as part of this deal, the SDF said.

Activists loyal to the SDF posted pictures on social media from inside al-Raqqa city showing the fighters dancing and waving the group’s flags.

Syrians who were displaced from the city were celebrating the liberation.

“We are very happy with the SDF liberation of the city, our sons are the ones who liberated the city with their blood from a group that terrorized people for more than three years,” said Mohammed Musa, a government employee who left the city to the northern town of Tel Abbayed, near the Turkish borders.

“We want to go back to our homes,” he said.

Others were worried about the destruction in the city.

“We left the city about three months ago, after the shelling on the city intensified,” said Samer al-Mutawa, 52, a lawyer from al-Raqqa.

“We do not know whether there is a city left or whether it was fully destroyed,” he added.

Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition, said that the hardline group was removed from 87 per cent of territory they once held, leading to the liberation of 6.5 million people.

In a series of tweets, Dillon said that “in the last few days about 350 fighters surrendered” to the SDF in al-Raqqa.

The group “is losing in every way. We’ve devastated their networks and eliminated leaders at all levels,” he added. -dpa


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