The Syrian Democratic Forces’ Oct. 20 liberation of Raqqa, Syria, exposed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s lies and cowardice and the evil of its ideology, Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters today.
Briefing the press via teleconference from Baghdad, the commander said despite ISIS’s defeat in Raqqa, the terrorist organization still exists, and the U.S.-led coalition will not back off from supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces.
And, “together, the coalition will continue [its] support to the SDF as they liberate the remainder of areas along the Euphrates River to the border with Iraq,” Jarrard said.
The SDF began their push to liberate Raqqa June 6.
“This multireligious and multiethnic alliance of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Yezidis, Armenians and Turkmen -- which also includes female fighters and commanders -- overpowered, entrenched the enemy and demonstrated courage and tenacity in the face of significant losses,” he said.
Precision coalition air support and ground artillery enabled the SDF's advance and minimized civilian casualties in the process, Jarrard emphasized.
“[ISIS] has no capital and no physical caliphate,” he said. “[ISIS] is running out of places to hide. [ISIS] terrorists are running away from our partners in the coalition. Their leaders are in hiding. Raqqa was freed by Syrians. Raqqa will be secured by Syrians. Raqqa will be governed by Syrians.”
Jarrard congratulated the SDF on “a phenomenal record” since it began prosecuting the campaign against ISIS in Syria.
“They continue to amaze us as we watch them and the sacrifices that they continue to endure to assist the world in eliminating this area of Syria from the evils of [ISIS],” he added.
Clearing every building in Raqqa will take several months of tough work, the OIR commander said, adding that providing internally displaced persons with water, food and shelter will also take time.
The Raqqa Internal Security Force is an indigenous partner force that provides local security to prevent ISIS’s reemergence, he said. It answers to the Raqqa Civil Council, and as it grows, the RISF eventually will assume control of Raqqa from the SDF.
“For the people of Raqqa, at the moment it is still unsafe for them to return home. Although the city is void of [ISIS] fighters, hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of [ISIS] improvised explosive devices, … bombs and booby traps remain. Sadly, civilian deaths have already been reported among some of those who have tried to return,” Jarrard said.
The clearance process will take time as teams assess, identify and remove explosive hazards. In the coming weeks, the SDF will be the holding force as it continues to clear explosive hazards from the city, preparing to turn over Raqqa’s security to the security force in the near future, he added.
“Civilians will be allowed back in the city once conditions are safe. The RCC is leading the way in providing advice to Raqqa is about when they may be able to return home,” Jarrard said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)