Female militia vows to keep fighting ISIS militants

2017-10-20 06:20
A Syrian woman talks to a fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces. (File: Bulent Kilic, AFP)

A Syrian woman talks to a fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces. (File: Bulent Kilic, AFP)

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Beirut — A Kurdish female militia that took part in freeing the northern Syrian city of Raqa from the Islamic State group said on Thursday it will continue the fight to liberate women from the extremists' brutal rule.

In a highly symbolic gesture, Nisreen Abdullah of the Women's Protection Units, or YPJ, made the statement in Raqa's Paradise Square — the same place where ISIS fighters once carried out public killings.

She said the all-women force, which is part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces battling ISIS, lost 30 fighters in the four-month battle to liberate Raqa.

Under the rule of the Islamic State group, women were forced to wear all-encompassing veils and could be stoned to death for adultery. Hundreds of women and girls from Iraq's Yazidi minority were captured and forced into sexual slavery.

Raqa was center stage of ISIS' brutality, the de facto capital of the militants self-proclaimed "caliphate".

Restoring honour to Yazidi women

"We have achieved our goal, which was to pound the strongholds of terrorism in its capital, liberate women and restore honour to Yazidi women by liberating dozens of slaves," Abdullah said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition of several factions including the YPJ, said on Tuesday that military operations in Raqa have ended and that their fighters have taken full control of the city.

The spokesperson for the US-led coalition, Colonel Ryan Dillon, tweeted on Thursday that the SDF has cleared 98% of the city, adding that some militants remain holed up in a small pocket east of the stadium. Dillon added that buildings and tunnels are being checked for holdouts.

Reconstruction efforts

Even as the guns have gone quiet, preparations for a reconstruction are underway.

In Saudi Arabia, a state-linked news website said a high-level Saudi official was in Raqqa to discuss the kingdom's "prominent role in reconstruction" efforts. The Okaz site quoted unnamed Saudi sources as saying that Thamer al-Sabhan met with members of Raqqa's city civil. The website said the United Arab Emirates will also play a role in rebuilding.

The report included a photograph of al-Sabhan, apparently in Raqqa with Brett McGurk, the top US envoy for the coalition battling the ISIS. Saudi Arabia is a member of the coalition. Al-Sabhan was previously ambassador to Iraq, but left amid threats from Iranian-backed militias.

The SDF is expected to hold a news conference in Raqa on Friday during which the city will be declared free of extremists, for the first time in nearly four years.

A major defeat for ISIS

The fall of Raqa marks a major defeat for ISIS, which has seen its territories steadily shrink since last year. ISIS took over Raqa, located on the Euphrates River, in January 2014, and transformed it into the epicenter of its brutal rule.

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad met with a visiting Iranian army commander on Thursday to discuss bilateral relations, the state news agency SANA said. The Iranian general also conveyed a message from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

SANA said Assad and Major General Mohammad Bagheri focused on military cooperation, "which has witnessed a qualitative development during the war that Syria and its allies, mainly Iran, are waging against terrorism" in Syria.

Iran has been one of Assad's strongest supporters since the country's crisis began more than six years ago and has sent thousands of Iranian-backed militiamen to boost his troops against opponents.

READ: Syrian commander says Raqqa is free from ISIS

SANA quoted Bagheri as saying that the aim of his visit is to "put a joint strategy on continuing coordination and cooperation at the military level". He also stressed Iran's commitment to help in the reconstruction process in Syria.

Bagheri met with several Syrian officials on Wednesday, including Defense Minister Fahd Jasem al-Freij, and Syrian army commander, Major General Ali Ayyoub.

Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda linked Levant Liberation Committee released a rare video of its leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani, showing him speaking with his fighters. The release comes two weeks after Russia said it seriously wounded him in an airstrike.

The video appears to have been shot before an al-Qaeda offensive on a central government-controlled village on October 6. Two days before the attack, Russia's military claimed that al-Golani was wounded in a Russian airstrike and had fallen into a coma. The military offered no evidence of al-Golani's purported condition.

The al-Qaeda-linked group subsequently denied al-Golani was hurt, insisting he is in excellent health.

Read more on:    isis  |  terrorism

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