(MENAFN - Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) WASHINGTON, Oct 14 (KUNA) -- Civilians in Syria were evacuated from the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqah on Saturday in a move that US officials say will reduce casualties in the final push to retake the city.
The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the US-led Coalition did not broker the agreement with so-called Islamic State militants to evacuate remaining Syrian civilians but believed it will "innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Coalition to focus on defeating (IS) terrorists in Raqqah with less risk of civilian casualties.
"We do not condone any arrangement that allows (IS) terrorists to escape Raqqah without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else. We remain concerned about the thousands of civilians in Raqqah who remain subject to (IS) cruelty," said Coalition Director of Operations Brigadier General Jonathan Braga.
"IS terrorists have been hiding behind women and children for three years, and we are against any arrangement that lets them continue to do so." This comes as SDF forces say the final battle for Raqqa is underway. The arrangement made Thursday was arranged by members of the Raqqah Civil Council and tribal elders. It permits a convoy to safely evacuate as many as 4,000 civilians from the beleaguered city.
Coalition and SDF forces will search and screen every civilian leaving Raqqah to ensure the foreign fighters do not try to escape.
Between 300 and 400 militants are believed to be holed up in about 1.5 square miles of Raqqa. The city has been badly damaged by the fighting, and activists have reported that over 1,000 civilians have been killed there since June. (end) hy.hb