U.S.-Backed Forces Liberate Raqqa From ISIS Control NPR's Melissa Block talks to Holly Williams of CBS News, who was with U.S.-backed militia forces when they took control of the Syrian city. It had been serving as a de facto capital of ISIS.

U.S.-Backed Forces Liberate Raqqa From ISIS Control

U.S.-Backed Forces Liberate Raqqa From ISIS Control

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NPR's Melissa Block talks to Holly Williams of CBS News, who was with U.S.-backed militia forces when they took control of the Syrian city. It had been serving as a de facto capital of ISIS.


This past week, U.S.-backed forces in Syria announced the liberation of Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State. The fall of the city leaves ISIS without much of a state to speak of. But the battle to claw Raqqa back left the city in ruins. Nearly every building is damaged. Holly Williams with CBS News saw the devastation firsthand. She was with militia forces as they took control of Raqqa.

HOLLY WILLIAMS: I've been to a lot of towns and cities that have been taken back from ISIS both in Iraq and in Syria. And it's obviously a lot of devastation because a lot of ISIS fighters want to fight to the death. That's part of their ideology. What I saw in Raqqa was really - it was a little different to other places I've been to because every building has been shredded by artillery or pockmarked by artillery. Or it's been flattened by an airstrike. I mean, it looks like - I'm not a civil engineer, but it looks as if the city is going to have to be flattened before they can start rebuilding it.

BLOCK: I wonder, Holly, if there were certain scenes of devastation in Raqqa that really stick with you as emblems of what happened to that city.

WILLIAMS: Yeah. One of the strangest things is that we're often going into buildings that are being used as fighting positions by U.S.-backed forces. And then you look around. And you realize that it's someone's home. You know, I was in a fighting position, I think, about a week and a half ago. And it was a beautifully furnished dining room with gorgeous antiques, a lovely dining table and a sideboard.

In a similar vein is that one day we were driving out of the city, down a street where every building had kind of been shredded by artillery or flattened by an airstrike. We drove past this house that had had sort of pockmarks driven through its walls. And I could see into its kitchen, where I could see a drying rack. And there were dining plates. Clearly, this family had left the house in such a hurry that they'd washed the plates and then just left them.

BLOCK: There are all kinds of questions about the future of Raqqa. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed that he will retake control of all of Syria, including Raqqa. So how temporary might this victory be of the militia forces in Raqqa?

WILLIAMS: I suppose that depends whether or not the Syrian regime wants to get into a conflict with these U.S.-backed forces that have been doing so much of the fighting against ISIS in eastern Syria. And I don't know how that's going to play out. The hope, according to a senior U.S. special operations commander who I spoke to, is that those U.S.-backed forces will, sooner or later, take control of all of the land east of the Euphrates River.

So if you look at a map of Syria now, what you see is that the Syrian rebels really hold very little territory at this point. The Syrian regime is clearly here to stay. And it is in control of most of the territory west of the Euphrates River. So, you know, what does that mean for the future? Are we going to have part of Syria that is U.S. influenced or so under American influence and part of Syria that is controlled by the regime and its backers in Russia or in Iran? I don't know. But that's certainly the picture that is emerging at the moment.

BLOCK: Holly Williams is foreign correspondent with CBS News. Thank you so much for talking with us.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

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