A commander with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battling ISIS says the city of Raqqa has been liberated from the radical militants and that combing operations are underway to clear the city of land mines and extremist sleeper cells.
Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo told The Associated Press on Tuesday that there are no longer clashes going on in the city.
Sillo says a formal declaration will follow befitting “the fall of the capital of terrorism.”
Dozens of militants who refused to surrender had made their last stand in the city’s stadium, which had become notorious as a prison and dungeons for the group.
It wasn’t immediately clear if ISIS are still holed up inside the stadium.
The city of Raqqa fell to ISIS in 2014 and became the de facto capital of their self-styled caliphate.
400 ISIS fighters surrendered in Raqqa
About 400 ISIS members -- including foreign fighters -- have in recent weeks surrendered to the SDF, a US military official said Tuesday.
Colonel Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the US-led coalition helping train and equip local forces in Syria and Iraq, said the bulk of those militants had surrendered over the past week, as operations to seize the city reached their final moments.
“In the last few days, about 350 fighters surrendered to the SDF in Raqqa, with several confirmed foreign fighters taken into custody after SDF screening,” Baghdad-based Dillon told reporters.
In recent weeks, an average of about four ISIS fighters had been surrendering each week, he added.
“We have seen also that prior to these battles, once the area is isolated and before offensive operations begin, many of the leaders will often high-tail and leave,” Dillon said.
When asked what the US military footprint would be in Raqqa going forward, Dillon said there remained considerable work to do in the city.
“We must clear the remnants of all the explosives that have been left in Raqqa throughout this battle,” he said.
A Raqqa security force commander and two colleagues were killed Monday as they walked through the city and triggered a bomb, Dillon said.
Elsewhere, the anti-ISIS coalition remains engaged in northern Iraq, particularly in the Anbar region, where allied aircraft have conducted more than 30 strikes in the past week.
ISIS still holds two towns in this area near the Syrian border - Al-Qaim and Rawa.
In the strategic Iraqi city of Tal Afar, seized by Baghdad in August, ISIS abandoned large weapons caches including 550 homemade bombs, Dillon said.
(The Associated Press, AFP)