U.S.-backed forces declared “total liberation” in Syria on Friday as they recaptured Raqqa, which served as the de facto capital of ISIS for more than three years. The victory that put an end to ISIS’s presence deals a blow to the group’s “most symbolically important stronghold.”
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Talo Silo claimed a “historic victory,” at a ceremony to celebrate the capture of the city and said the group suffered a brutal defeat.
Silo and the ceremony paid tribute to those killed and injured during the 130-day fight to reclaim the city, as well as recognizing the Syrian factions that played a role in ousting the extremist group.
Silo said that military operations were halted and forces were performing a sweep of the city searching for explosive devices and sleeping cells of ISIS forces. After the clearing of the city is complete and the SDF can guarantee the protection of the city and province, control will be handed over to civilian leaders.
“The future of Raqqa will be decided by its people,” Silo said, urging the international community to support their rebuilding efforts and recognize the local democratic government to be installed.
The SDF held the ceremony in the devastated local soccer stadium where the last active pockets of ISIS fighters were defeated, adding insult to injury as they celebrated the victory.
Local officials, dignitaries and tribal chiefs from Raqqa and neighboring towns and cities were among those in attendance, alongside members of the Syrian Democratic Council, which is tasked with helping to rebuild the city.
As the SDF clears and sweeps the city in ruins, it is still unclear whether some Islamic State pockets remain, but the battle is being portrayed as over. Fighters and civilians took to the streets to celebrate and rejoice in the capture of the city. After four months of fighting, ISIS had lost its political capital.
Raqqa, captured in 2014 by Islamic State forces, was hailed as the center of operations including bureaucratic infrastructure and foreign attacks — particularly France and Belgium — and now it serves as a symbol of the extremist group’s decline. Now, ISIS only controls a small area of northern Syria along the Euphrates River.
The success of the city will now depend on Raqqa’s new rulers, and if they can govern effectively. The U.S.-backed council has already furnished plans to repair the ruined city, waiting for the SDF to hand over control.