US President Donald Trump announced the full liberation of the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State on Saturday, following a campaign that saw the city leveled and almost depopulated.
“I am pleased to announce that the Syrian Democratic Forces, our partners in the fight against ISIS [Islamic State] in Syria, have successfully recaptured [Raqqa] — the terrorist group’s self-proclaimed capital city,” Trump said in a statement.
“Together, our forces have liberated the entire city from ISIS control," the statement read.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, comprised of Kurds and other opposition groups, already announced the complete liberation of Raqqa on Tuesday, but until now the US assessment was that “more than 90 percent” had been freed from the terrorists.
According to the president, the fall of Raqqa after a nearly four-month operation “represents a critical breakthrough in our worldwide campaign to defeat ISIS and its wicked ideology.”
As the "liberation" concludes, most of Raqqa is a booby-trapped ruin. Video evidence from the scene shows many of the city's buildings have been reduced to rubble by airstrikes of the US-led coalition as it supported local fighters from above.
Trump said that it was now time to "de-escalate violence across Syria and advance the conditions for lasting peace."
After the Raqqa operation, according to Trump, "the end of the ISIS caliphate is in sight."
Trump has praised his "progress against these evil terrorists," saying he has done more "in the past several months than in the past several years," fulfilling his campaign promise "to defeat ISIS and to counter the spread of hateful ideology."
As the US campaign rolls on, the restoration of Raqqa will be a challenge admitted even by the forces Washington supports.
“The city is in ruins; it needs time,” the New York Times quoted a member of a US-backed civilian council tasked with rebuilding the city as saying. “And it needs prospects that are beyond ours, our energy.”
The operation in Raqqa was lambasted by the UN, which said dozens of civilians were killed every day as the people were not provided safe corridors to flee the besieged city and were used by IS as human shields during bombardment.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have also been repeatedly blaming the US-led coalition of not taking the necessary precautions to preserve the lives of civilians during the Raqqa campaign.
Russia’s Defense Ministry has decried the Raqqa offensive as one of the most “stark examples of the faulty planning of military operations.”
“The carpet bombings of residential areas by the US and the coalition as well as deliberate destruction of all natural sources of water supply in Raqqa have so far resulted in nothing but thousands of victims,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said last week.