U.S.-backed Syrian militias raise flag in Raqqa stadium

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V sign in Raqqa
Raising the V for Victory sign at Raqqa. Photograph from REUTERS

RAQQA, Syria – U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) raised a militia flag inside Raqqa stadium on Tuesday, one of the last remaining areas that were held by Islamic State in its former capital, a Reuters witness said.

The flag of the Kurdish YPG, the strongest of the militias in the SDF, was planted in the middle of the stadium, where fighting had ended, but which had not been fully cleared of land mines, militia fighters told the witness.

A Reuters witness said the fighting appeared to be almost at an end, with only sporadic bursts of gunfire. Militia fighters celebrated in the streets and chanted slogans from their vehicles.

A local field commander said no Islamic State fighters remained even in their two remaining city strongholds.

Fighting on Monday night and Tuesday has focused on Raqqa’s National Hospital and the nearby city stadium, two central positions in which it was well entrenched.

The fall of Raqqa city, where Islamic State staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the jihadist movement’s collapsing fortunes. From the city, the group planned attacks abroad.

It is now hemmed in to a tiny bomb-cratered patch of the city around the stadium that is pounded from the air by a U.S.-led coalition and encircled by Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters.

Islamic State has lost swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq this year, including its most prized possession, Mosul, and in Syria it has been forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley and surrounding desert.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, took the National Hospital in fierce fighting overnight and early on Tuesday, said spokesman Mostafa Bali in a statement.

“During these clashes, the National Hospital was liberated and cleared from the Daesh mercenaries, and 22 of these foreign mercenaries were killed there,” said Bali, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.