By Ali Mitib (BA Law and Politics)
On the 18th October, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) retook Raqqa Stadium, the last ISIS stronghold in the city.
The liberation of the city marks the end of the Raqqa campaign, codenamed “Operation Wrath of Euphrates”. The SDF operation, which was supported by the International Coalition, lasted for almost a year. The SDF suffered heavy casualties due to the use of tunnel networks, booby traps and car bombs by ISIS militants
The city of Raqqa was captured in 2013 by a coalition of rebel forces comprising of ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army. Less than a year after the coalition of rebel forces took the city and pulled down tbe statue of former President Hafez al-Assad, ISIS had taken complete control of it.
ISIS declared Raqqa as the capital of the so-called caliphate. The loss of both Mosul and Raqqa are huge blows to the image of ISIS as a powerful force that is able to redraw the maps of the Middle East and establish a caliphate.
Life in the city under the control of ISIS militants was marked by executions, repression and the destruction of places of worship (such as the Armenian Catholic Church of the Martyrs). Civilians suffered from a lack of food, water and medical supplies. Furthermore, citizen testimonies of the battle state that they were often used as human shields by ISIS fighters, especially in the skirmishes for control of the municipal stadium and National Hospital.
While the stronghold has been retaken, the SDF are still conducting clearing operations. These operations aim to seek out any sleeper cells and hidden militants that may have remained in Raqqa. Another aspect of the clearing missions is the neutralisation of mines, IED’s and booby traps, which are widespread throughout the city.
The presence of hazards such as these in addition to the destruction the city has suffered during the battle has meant that many families are unable to return. The rebuilding process is thought to take years.
Thousands of civilians remain inside the city and are currently being transported to areas under the control of the SDF.
Following the liberation of Raqqa, the SDF are preparing for their next battle with ISIS – the battle of Deir ez-Zour province. SDF fighters are currently being transported to the province, part of which remains under the control of ISIS militants.