American-backed forces seized Raqqa, the “capital” of the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate, according to announcements from the American-backed militants on Oct. 17.
The United States Central Command has estimated that the Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia group made up of Syrian Kurds and Arabs backed by the U.S. military, has nearly 90 percent control of Raqqa as of Oct. 17, but is hesitant to call the mission a victory, as some pockets of the city are still under control of IS.
The campaign to take Raqqa from IS began in November of 2016, after the campaign to take the Iraqi city of Mosul back from the terrorist group had begun. The SDF had similar offensive strategies for Mosul and Raqqa — “first liberating the countryside around Raqqa and isolating the city, and second taking control of the city,” according to Talal Silo, spokesperson for the SDF.
Silo said that it took a 130–day campaign to drive IS out of the city and that control of the city would be turned over to civilian leaders once clearing operations were completed.
President Donald Trump said in a statement Oct. 21 that the seizing of Raqqa by the American-backed Syrian resistance is going to usher in “a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat IS and its wicked ideology.” Trump also said that the fall of Raqqa means that “the end of the IS caliphate is in sight.”
Rex Tillerson, U.S. secretary of state, called the victory in Raqqa a crucial victory against IS. “Our work is far from over but the liberation of Raqqa is a critical milestone in the global fight against ISIS, and underscores the success of the ongoing international and Syrian effort to defeat these terrorists,” Tillerson said, according to CNN.
Critics of Trump, however, have pointed out that the win for SDF forces in Raqqa does not mean political stability for the region. An editorial from The Guardian pointed out that the constant fighting in Syria has set “a regional free-for-all” in motion with “an endgame that no one can predict.”
Following the campaign in Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced Oct. 22 that they have captured Syria’s largest oil field from the Islamic State.
Despite the SDF’s recent victories, military experts say that IS is still far from being defeated. An anonymous U.S. official with connections to the Government of National Accords in the U.N. told FOX News in July that IS fighters in Europe and Asia would most likely be sent to Libya should the militant group see any losses.
Joby Warwick, reporter for the Washington Post and the author of “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS,” said on NPR that destroying the physical headquarters of IS would not end their organization; rather, the group would most likely revert back to an underground terrorist group.
“It’s how they started,” Warwick told NPR. “And they also know how to continue to exist as a virtual caliphate, as an idea that’s promoted by a very powerful propaganda machine that can transmit messages and call for recruits around the world.”