At a ceremony Friday, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces declared the "total liberation" of Raqqa, Syria, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State's self-proclaimed caliphate. The Kurdish-led coalition then formally handed over control of the devastated city to a civilian council, though SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the coalition would continue sweeping the city for ISIS holdouts and explosives and guarantee the safety of the city and province. The SDF had declared military operations over on Tuesday, and Silo said 655 local and international fighters died in the 130-day battle to push ISIS out of Raqqa.
The SDF held its ceremony, attended by local officials and regional tribal leaders, in the sports stadium that ISIS had used as a weapons depot, prison, and torture chamber, and where its fighters made their last stand. The point, SDF commanders told CNN, was "to add insult to injury following the extremist group's defeat there." Clearing Raqqa of explosives and making sure ISIS militants are all gone from the tunnel system they built could take months. Silo cheered the "historic victory" over ISIS and its "brutal" defeat, and paid homage to the fallen SDF and allied fighters, but also asked the international community to help rebuild Raqqa. You can see a glimpse of what's left of Raqqa, after three months of battle and many more months of U.S.-led bombing, in the Associated Press drone video from Thursday. Peter Weber