Iraq forces retake last ISIS-held town in country
By Diyaruna staff and AFP
Iraqi forces on Friday (November 17th) retook the last town in the country still held by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), as the group's self-proclaimed "caliphate" faced collapse on both sides of the border with Syria.
The lightning recapture of the small Upper Euphrates town of Rawa came as ISIS came under attack for a second day in Albu Kamal, the last town it still holds across the border in Syria.
"Iraqi forces on Friday dawn stormed Rawa from two sides," Iraqi Joint Operations Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasul told Diyaruna.
The two-pronged attack was staged via the Euphrates and al-Maamel areas, he said, adding that Iraqi forces quickly managed, following battles and urban warfare with ISIS fighters, to retake a number of residential neighbourhoods.
"Heavy human and material losses have been inflicted on ISIS," he said.
"The days of the fake caliphate are now numbered," US envoy to the coalition Brett McGurk said Friday in a social media post.
ISIS driven from all major bastions
The international coalition fighting ISIS on Wednesday announced the group has lost 95% of the cross-border "caliphate" it declared in Iraq and Syria in 2014.
Its losses include all its major bastions, confining it to pockets of countryside.
Iraqi troops and paramilitary units "liberated the whole of Rawa and raised the Iraqi flag on all of its official buildings", Joint Operations Commander in Anbar Lt. Gen. Abdul Ameer Rashid Yarallah said in a statement.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi hailed the town's "liberation in record time" and said troops would now "conduct search operations in the desert to secure the border with Syria".
"Militarily, ISIS has been defeated, but we are going to hunt down its remnants to eradicate its presence," Rasul said.
Iraqi ISIS specialist Hisham al-Hashemi said after its loss of Rawa, the group no longer exercised any real military or administrative power.
"What has been liberated are the populated areas with demarcated boundaries," al-Hashemi said. "But the seasonal river valleys, the oases, the empty expanses of desert which make up around 4% of Iraqi territory are still in the hands of ISIS."
Over the border in Syria, ISIS still holds around 25% of rural Deir Ezzor, but is under attack from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Syrian regime.