U.S.-backed forces in Syria claimed Tuesday they had full control of the Islamic State’s onetime capital of Raqqa, suggesting an end to the militants’ presence in their most symbolically important stronghold.

Talo Silo, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, said that military operations had halted and that members of the joint Kurdish-Arab force were clearing the city of explosive devices and hunting for sleeping cells.

It was still unclear whether some Islamic State pockets remained, but the SDF portrayed the battle for Raqqa as over. Kurdish and Arab fighters jubilantly took to the streets to celebrate the capture they have spent four months fighting for, climbing onto vehicles and parading around the deserted, destroyed city, according to photographs posted on social media. One showed the offensive’s female commander, Rojda Felat, waving the big yellow and red flag of the SDF in Naim Square, where the Islamic State carried out beheadings.

By the time the battle was over, Raqqa had lost all strategic significance to the group that had once used the city to showcase its brutality and plot attacks against the West. The fall of the Iraqi city of Mosul in July and the loss of large areas of territory in eastern Syria to Syrian government forces leave the militants in control of just a few pockets of territory spanning the Iraqi-Syrian border.

But the capture of the city by the SDF, backed by U.S. airstrikes and U.S. advisers on the ground, nonetheless marks a milestone in the U.S.-led effort to defeat the militants.

It also intensifies growing questions about what comes next. The remaining Islamic State strongholds in Syria lie to the south in the province of Deir al-Zour, where the Syrian government and its Iranian-backed and Russian allies are already making fast progress. It is unclear whether the U.S. military has plans to compete with them there to take on the Islamic State, or whether the Kurdish-led SDF will be willing to extend its reach that far.

Perhaps more importantly, the Trump administration has not yet indicated whether it is prepared to stay on in northeastern Syria to provide protection for the fledgling ministate being forged by Syria’s Kurds. The experience over the past two days of the Kurds in neighboring Iraq may embolden the Syrian government to challenge the Syrian Kurdish enclave once the Islamic State is vanquished, just as the Iraqi government has moved to dislodge Kurdish forces from the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other areas they controlled.

The offensive to capture the city began in June, with the SDF advancing on the ground as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes pummeled the militants down below. As was the case in Mosul, victory over the militants has come at a tremendous price. Much of the city now lies in ruins, its residents scattered throughout displacement camps across the country. At least 1,000 civilians are said to have died, according to estimates by monitoring groups, most of them in the relentless airstrikes.

Besieged and severely weakened, dozens of militants had launched a final stand from inside Raqqa’s main hospital and stadium. But hundreds of others surrendered during the final days of the battle after local officials brokered a controversial deal that could see many escape prosecution.

READ MORE: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/us-backed-force-claims-capture-of-islamic-states-de-facto-syrian-capital-raqqa/2017/10/17/d2e36eca-b24c-11e7-99c6-46bdf7f6f8ba_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_raqqafall-845am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory

SOURCE: WASHINGTONPOST