ISIS’ loss of Mosul, and now Raqqa, are turning points for the terrorist organization, whose leaders grow ever more distant from a dwindling number of terrorist adherents, officials said.
Raqqa was occupied by Syrian opposition forces in 2013 and was embroiled in a destructive civil war before being seized by ISIS in January 2014, at which time the city was declared the capital of the terrorist group's so-called "caliphate."
Brutal ISIS Regime
During the civil war in Raqqa, the local population lived in a crossfire of destruction brought about by continuous conflict between the Syrian regime and the opposition, officials said. Under ISIS, Raqqa became a magnet for foreign terrorists. Residents were forced to live under a brutal regime that routinely carried out public executions, extortions billed as "taxation" and forced conscriptions.
ISIS used its three-plus year occupation to convert Raqqa into a fortified military prison, officials said. The terrorist organization used hospitals, mosques, schools and otherwise-protected sites as cover for the planning, execution and support of military operations. ISIS also committed violations of human rights for which individuals will be held accountable. Raqqa was a key location for ISIS’ planning, financing, execution, or inspiration of terrorist activities throughout the world, including attacks in Paris and Nice in France, Brussels in Belgium, Manchester in England, and many others.
The fight to liberate Raqqa commenced with coalition strikes against ISIS in support of the ground assault by Syrian Democratic Forces June 6, officials said. By Sept. 3, SDF had made significant gains and secured the ancient mosque in the old city center. This prevented the mosque from succumbing to the same fate as the Al Nuri Mosque in West Mosul, Iraq, which ISIS terrorists destroyed in June 2017.
"An ethnically diverse force with local elements leading the fight, the SDF conducted a highly effective, professional operation in a difficult urban area to free the city," said coalition director of operations, Army Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga.
Minimizing Civilian Casualties
The SDF "fought tenaciously and with courage against an unprincipled enemy,” Braga added, noting great care was taken to move the population trapped by ISIS away from the battle area and to minimize civilian casualties.
Throughout the fight for Raqqa, the coalition provided -- and continues to provide -- training, equipment, advice, assistance, intelligence, air and ground fires support to decisively defeat ISIS, officials said. The liberated city will return to local governance and leadership and Raqqa’s citizens now have a chance to control their own future.
While symbolic, the SDF's liberation of Raqqa does not mean the end of ISIS terrorism, officials said.
The military defeat of ISIS “is essential, but not sufficient," said coalition commander Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II. ISIS remnants remain in Iraq and Syria, he said, and the coalition will continue to facilitate humanitarian efforts assisting citizens adversely affected by ISIS’ brutality.