US-backed militants defeat ISIL in Raqqa

US-backed militants defeat ISIL in Raqqa

US-backed militants defeat ISIL in Raqqa

U.S.-backed militias said they had defeated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in its former capital Raqqa on Oct. 17, raising their flags over the jihadist group's last footholds in the city after a four-month battle.

The fighting was over but the alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias was clearing the stadium of mines and any remaining militants, said Rojda Felat, commander of the Raqqa campaign for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is led by the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).

A formal declaration of victory in Raqqa was soon to be made, once the city has been cleared of mines and any possible ISIL sleeper cells, said Talal Silo, the SDF spokesman.

The fall of Raqqa, where ISIL staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the jihadist movement's collapsing fortunes.

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

The SDF has been supported by a U.S.-led international coalition with air strikes and special forces on the ground since it started the battle for Raqqa city in early June.

Militants hauled down the flag of ISIL, the last still flying over the city, from the National Hospital near the stadium.

Another field commander of the SDF, who gave his name as Abjal al-Syriani, said SDF militants had found burned weapons and documents in the stadium.

The stadium and hospital became the last major positions held by ISIL after the departure of some of its militants on Oct. 15, leaving only foreign jihadists to mount a last stand.

Also on Oct. 17, a military media unit run by Lebanon's Hezbollah group said the Syrian army on whose side Hezbollah fights had pushed into the last ISIL districts in Deir al-Zor.

The only populated areas still controlled by the jihadist group in Syria are the towns and villages downstream of Deir al-Zor along the Euphrates valley.


US 'not taking sides' in Iraq

Washington is "not taking sides" following clashes between the Iraqi army and peshmerga forces, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Oct. 16.

Speaking after Iraqi troops swept across the northern province capturing oil and military targets from the Kurds and seizing the governor's office in Kirkuk, Trump said he was not going to inject himself into the dispute between two U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

"We're not taking sides, but we don't like the fact that they're clashing. We’ve had for many years a very good relationship with the Kurds," Trump told journalists.       

"We've also been on the side of Iraq," he said, "but we're not taking sides in that battle."