WASHINGTON – More than 75 percent of Raqqa has been cleared of ISIS forces, with only 400 to 800 of the terrorist group’s fighters left in the self-proclaimed capital of the so-called Islamic State caliphate, the chief spokesman for the military’s operation in Iraq and Syria to combat the terrorist group.
Army Col. Ryan S. Dillon, speaking on a live video feed from Baghdad, praised the progress made by Syrian Democratic Forces, but said the few ISIS forces left will be tough to drive from the city because they are predominantly foreign fighters who will not surrender, but who “will fight to the death.”
“The fighting in the future is not going to be easy,” Dillon said, despite the success and speed of recent operations U.S.-led coalition forces have had against ISIS in Iraq. “We fully expect it to be difficult.”
The area that is still controlled by ISIS – which, according to Dillon, totals four square kilometers – will present a challenge to SDF because the majority of the buildings are multi-story buildings.
An airstrike report released Thursday by the Pentagon said air strikes conducted by coalition military forces on Sept. 26 and 27 were primarily focused in Syria near Raqqa. The U.S. made 42 airstrikes and 76 engagements on ISIS targets in Syria during the two-day span. Since Operation Inherent Resolve began in 2014, 11,235 airstrikes have been conducted in Syria, according to statistics from the Department of Defense.
U.S. Central Command created the military command in 2014 to join with local forces to combat the spread of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It was the first official military headquarters in Iraq since U.S. troops left in 2011.
Recently, coalition forces operating in Syria have been criticized for airstrikes that reportedly killed civilians.
Human Rights Watch released a report on Sept. 24 that analyzed two March airstrikes outside of Raqqa, claiming that 84 civilians were killed in attacks on ISIS forces. The information was gathered by investigations in July from the locations of the airstrikes and interviews of witnesses.
Dillon did not agree with the findings of an attack at Mansourah and said that coalition forces conducted their own investigations of the area.
“We determined that there were no civilians present at the time of the strike as we conducted our investigation,” Dillon said.