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Islamic State is gone – but Raqqa lies in ruins

Islamic State’s brutal reign of terror in Raqqa may be at an end, but as the liberation of the Syrian city is celebrated in the streets the shadow of the group remains.

Sky News chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay has travelled into the heart of the extremists’ former capital – where little now remains but piles of rubble, and huge numbers of hidden bombs and explosives.

Ramsay, his cameraman Adam Cole and security adviser Mike Mawhinney are the first British broadcast team to enter the city since its liberation.

Here Ramsay describes the scale of the destruction and the joy in the city at the victory against IS:

This was a long, hard battle into the heart of Islamic State’s evil-filled core. Even on the outskirts of Raqqa the fighting was intense, destructive and deadly.

It is an eerie drive into a major town now utterly empty of civilians and any form of life other than soldiers.

IS have been defeated in Raqqa, but the city has paid a high price
Image:The battle against Islamic State has taken its toll on the city

The fighting has only stopped in the last few days. Most of Raqqa is now a silent witness to the force needed to destroy an organisation that planned and brought murder and mayhem from here, across the world.

As methodically as they can, the forces of the victorious multi-ethnic SDF use armoured bulldozers supported by armoured trucks to push into the rubble-filled streets.

Occasionally you hear the boom of an explosion. They will be hitting mines and booby traps here for weeks. But they are savouring the victory nonetheless.

Fighters of Syrian Democratic Forces dance along a street in Raqqa
Image:Syrian Democratic Forces fighters dance along a street in Raqqa

Soldiers pose for pictures and greet us with smiles and victory signs. Many look utterly exhausted.

Perwer (his nom de guerre) stood with me as we looked at one street that is a mass of destroyed buildings and rubble.

“I am from Kobane and it was terrible there but it is smaller, this is worse,” he said as we were enveloped in dust from a passing truck.

He smiled. “They said we couldn’t do this. We destroyed the Isis myth,” and clapped me on the back.

Syrian Democratic Forces take control of the Al-Naim Roundabout in Raqqa
Video:Syrian forces celebrate with tank doughnuts – the same way IS did three years ago

The destruction in the centre is quite incredible. The combination of airstrikes, artillery and street-to-street fighting an extraordinary demonstration in demolition.

:: The enormous costs of Islamic State’s demise in Raqqa

Some 90% of the city is destroyed but what has been achieved here by this force is not to be underestimated.

Around the roundabout where IS used to carry out public executions, leaving the bodies for days or weeks, a convoy of military trucks career around waving flags and beeping their horns.

IS carried out public executions on this roundabout
Image:IS carried out public executions on this roundabout

They are world famous now, but the women’s brigades of the Kurdish YPJ really are quite something.

They have been a constant and equal part of the victory here and in many other battles.

This was their opportunity to lead their own celebrations and to remember their own many dead.

Amongst those celebrating was Briton Kimmy Taylor. A fighter, she is pretty famous here and indeed worldwide.

:: The rise and fall of Islamic State in Raqqa

Kimmy Taylor is now famous wordwide
Image:Kimmy Taylor is now famous wordwide

She believes what has been achieved in this war by the women has sent a message to the world about empowerment and respect.

“I’m a revolutionary and I will go on. One day I will be martyred, but I go on,” she told me when I asked what was next.

“I want to go home for a bit and then do some work as an ambassador for what has been achieved. Then I want to return here and see this new society,” she said.

Members of the women's brigades of the Kurdish YPJ celebrate the victory over Islamic State
Image:The women’s brigades of the Kurdish YPJ celebrate the victory over IS

Islamic State is not finished as an entity for sure. Its ideology has leached across the planet through social media and hate-filled sermons.

But they have been smashed here; in Kobane, in Mosul and now in Raqqa. The costs have been terrible. But Islamic State has lost.

For me reporting that it really is quite something.

Sky's Stuart Ramsay says the city is silent
Image:Sky’s Stuart Ramsay says IS have been smashed in Raqqa

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