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U.S. Envoy Says 2,000 IS Fighters Battling For Survival In Syrian Stronghold Of Raqqa


Syrians clear up the rubble of their houses that were destroyed during clashes on the outskirts of Raqqa.

A senior U.S. official says about 2,000 Islamic State (IS) militants are battling for survival in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the extremists’ last stronghold in the north of the country.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. special envoy for the international coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, said a U.S.-led Arab-Kurdish alliance has captured about 45 percent of the city from the militants and is poised to move farther.

Separately, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on August 5 said Syrian government forces have captured Al-Sukhna, the last major town in Homs Province, from IS fighters as the military attempts to drive the militants out of the country's eastern regions.

Both developments are further signs of the diminishing fortunes of the militant group, which captured Raqqa, along with wide swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory, from government forces in 2014 and declared an Islamic "caliphate" over land it controlled.

Offensives by U.S.-backed forces in recent months have reduced IS terrority substantially and led to the liberation of Mosul, the group’s self-declared capital in Iraq.

McGurk said the extremists have lost 58% of the territory they held in Syria at their peak and 78% of what they controlled in Iraq.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of Arab and Kurdish fighters and backed by U.S. forces, have been encircling Raqqa and advancing on the city since November. The offensive to take the city was launched on June 6.

"Today in Raqqa, (Islamic State) is fighting for every last block...and fighting for their own survival," McGurk told reporters.

"We estimate that there are about 2,000 ISIS fighters left in Raqqa," he added.

McGurk said the coalition has created a database of nearly 19,000 names of IS fighters by using cellphones, address books, and other documents retrieved on battlefields.

The information is being shared with Interpol, the international police agency, he said.

Figured released on July 16 by the Syrian Observatory show that the six-year civil war in the country has killed more than 330,000 people, including 99,617 civilians.

The United States and Turkey support varying rebel groups fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.


With reporting by the BBC, Reuters, and AFP
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