After more than four months of intense urban battles and coalition airstrikes, U.S.-backed fighters claim they have liberated ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters took to social media to celebrate the liberation of the city. Multiple factions within the SDF including the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and the Syriac Military Council also announced the populous city had been captured from ISIS.
ISIS is on the “verge of a devastating defeat,” in Raqqa, Col. Ryan Dillon, the spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters at a televised press briefing at the Pentagon on Tuesday.
However, officials in Baghdad claim there are still pockets of ISIS fighters numbering roughly hundred that still need to be cleared.
Dillon said the coalition was aware of reports the city had been liberated by the SDF, but clearance operations continue, he said.
SDF fighters are still operating in Deir ez-Zour province trying to liberate remaining pockets of ISIS fighters in what is called the Middle Euphrates river valley. Those operations are ongoing, Dillon said, but it is not known yet whether the SDF will commit more fighters from Raqqa to clearing further down the river valley.
“We have to wait and see as things develop,” Dillon said. But, there appeared to be desire by the SDF to push further down the Euphrates, he explained.
U.S. and Russian officials held a high-level meeting just over a week ago to deconflict further operations in the Middle Euphrates river valley. Russian-backed Syrian fighters are primarily operating on the western bank of the Euphrates, just a stone’s throw away from SDF militants.
Officials in Baghdad estimate there are roughly 6,500 ISIS fighters left, mostly concentrated along the Middle Euphrates river valley and a small border town in Iraq known as Al Qaim.