Drone video shows devastation in Raqqa, Syria
RAQQA, Syria (AP) — Drone footage from the northern Syrian city of Raqqa shows the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and the Islamic State group and thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition.
Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.
The video shows entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium that was used as an arms depot and prison by the extremists appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.
Long before the ground offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces began in Raqqa in early June, warplanes pounded the city for months.
The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led SDF announced Tuesday they have driven IS militants out of the city after weeks of fighting.
The SDF is scheduled to hold a news conference in Raqqa on Friday during which the city will be declared free of extremists for the first time in nearly four years. The SDF will likely hand over authority in the city to the Raqqa Civil Council, which is made up of local officials and tribal leaders and will be in charge of returning life to normal in the city.
Omar Alloush, a senior member of the Raqqa Civil Council, said the body has a quick-response plan that will begin with removing mines left behind by IS then move to removing debris and opening roads before fixing water and power stations.
An SDF commander, Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo, said residents will be allowed to start returning to the city once the mines and explosives are removed. In other cities that the extremists lost earlier, experts worked for weeks to remove booby traps and explosives that kept maiming and killing people long after IS left.
The U.N. and aid organizations estimate about 80 percent of the city is destroyed or uninhabitable.
The top U.S. envoy for the anti-IS coalition, Brett McGurk, tweeted this week that IS fighters placed 150 explosive devices in and around a water treatment plant near Raqqa, but said it has been cleared and is being restored.
The fall of Raqqa marks a major defeat for IS, which has seen its territory steadily shrink since last year. The group took over Raqqa, located on the Euphrates River, in January 2014 and transformed it into the epicenter of its brutal rule.
Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon, tweeted Thursday that the SDF has cleared 98 percent of the city, adding that some militants remain holed up in a small pocket east of the stadium.