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US-Backed Syrian Fighters Clear Roads  10/18 06:14

   BEIRUT (AP) -- U.S.-backed forces fighting Islamic State militants in Syria 
were removing land mines and clearing main roads in Raqqa on Wednesday, a day 
after their commanders declared the city was under their control, a spokesman 
said.

   Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said 
preparations were also underway for a formal declaration of the liberation of 
Raqqa.

   SDF announced on Tuesday that military operations in Raqqa have ended and 
that their troops have taken full control of the city, once the heart of IS' 
self-styled caliphate. The U.S.-led coalition cautioned that the clearing 
operations were not finished and that it estimated about 100 militants may 
still be hiding in the city.

   On Wednesday, the spokesman for the U.S. coalition, Col. Ryan Dillon, 
tweeted that 95 percent of the city is now under full control as clearing 
operations continue.

   The coalition stressed that the SDF had been successful in keeping captured 
territories from IS because of its thorough clearing procedures that prevent 
typical IS counterattacks.

   Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling the Islamic 
State group, said he was in northern Syria to prepare for the defeat of the 
militants. He said the United States will help in clearing explosives as well 
as restoring services in the city.

   McGurk posted a photograph Wednesday of surrendering IS militants, saying: 
"once purported as fierce, now pathetic and a lost cause."

   The fall of Raqqa deals a major defeat to the extremist group that has seen 
its territory steadily shrink since summer. Militants took over Raqqa, located 
on the Euphrates River, in 2014 and transformed it into the epicenter of their 
brutal rule.

   But fighting against IS militants is not over. The group still holds 
territories to the south of Raqqa, along the border with Iraq in the oil-rich 
province of Deir el-Zour, and to the west in the central Homs province.

   In separate offensives, the SDF and the Russian-backed Syrian government are 
battling the Islamic State group in Deir el-Zour. On Wednesday, fierce clashes 
were reported between SDF fighters and IS militants in the group's last strip 
of land in Hassakeh province, to the east of Raqqa city.

   Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors 
the war in Syria, also reported intense clashes between forces allied with the 
Syrian government and IS militants in an area between Homs and Deir el-Zour.

   Aid and charity organizations have warned of the high cost borne by 
civilians in the intensifying fighting.

   Nearly half a million civilians living under IS rule in Deir el-Zour are 
trapped by the fighting while hundreds of thousands attempted to flee through 
heavily-mined roads and active fighting, the International Rescue Committee 
said late Tuesday.

   The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said that in the last few days, around 
40,000 Raqqa residents arrived in already overcrowded displacement camps in the 
province, warning of the danger of land mines and unexploded ordnance.


(KA)

 
 
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