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Last June 6th, the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion that turned the tide of World War II in favor of the Allies, the U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS launched its final siege on the group’s Syrian capital of Raqqa — and nearly 14 weeks later, victory is nigh.
Military leaders with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces told the Associated Press on Oct. 17 that the U.S.-backed militias had “liberated” the northern city from ISIS militants after a grueling block-by-block campaign. According to SDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Talal Sillo, there “are no longer clashes” in the so-called “capital of terrorism.”
Full-blown “victory” might be a bit premature: While the SDF fighters on the front lines of the three-month siege were quick to declare victory, a U.S. spokesman with Operation Inherent Resolve tweeted on Oct. 17 that regional allies currently controlled just 90% of Raqqa, which remains riddled with landmines and is subject to ongoing clearing operations by SDF forces.
“We can confirm that more than 90% of Raqqa is in SDF control, and they continue to make steady progress in defeating ISIS and fully liberating the city,” Operation Inherent Resolve told Task & Purpose in a statement. “The Coalition will continue to support our proven SDF partners in the fight against ISIS until they are completely defeated in Raqqa and throughout the region utilizing all intelligence assets, precision strikes, and combat advice.”
A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by US special forces, holds their flag at the iconic Al-Naim square in Raqa on October 17, 2017. US-backed forces said they had taken full control of Raqa from the Islamic State group, defeating the last jihadist holdouts in the de facto Syrian capital of their now-shattered 'caliphate'.Photo via Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images
The formal conclusion of the Raqqa siege would cap a remarkable turnaround in the multinational anti-ISIS campaign. Almost exactly one year ago, on Oct. 16, 2016, Iraqi Security Forces launched a pitched eight-month battle to expel the ISIS from the militants’ stronghold of Mosul, the heart of its so-called caliphate. OIR declared victory in Mosul on July 10, less than two weeks after ISF troops seized the 850-year-old Grand al-Nuri Mosque, where ISIS has proclaimed the formation of its so-called “caliphate” almost exactly three years earlier, in June 2014.
The peace settling over the Syrian city, rocked by a deluge of American munitions amid the intensifying bombing campaign against ISIS, appears to be real and lasting. On Oct. 14, days before SDF declared victory, local officials in Raqqa reported that ISIS fighters were brokering deals with civil servants to “leave the city with a number of human shields” like cowards, the Guardian reported.
Video by CBS News on Oct. 16, hours before the SDF announcement, captures haggard fighters celebrating in the streets:
"ISIS is finished in Raqqa they told us after hundreds of ISIS extremists surrendered over the weekend," Holly Williams reporting. pic.twitter.com/41nmGvW9hF
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 16, 2017
But the big question facing the U.S.-led multinational coalition and its regional partners is simple: Now what? As Task & Purpose’s Danny Leffler reported in June, nobody in the executive or legislative branches has a clear roadmap for the Pentagon’s continued military involvement in Syria outside of “security, planning, and required support to the government of Iraq and appropriate authorities [emphasis added] in Syria” — a troublingly vague proposition, given the complicated latticework of alliances and grudges that have come to define the six-year civil war and expanded it into a geopolitical cage match for regional powers.
“[I’ll] leave it to the administration to see if they’ve got an endgame,” Rep. Tom Cole, Republican from Oklahoma, told Task & Purpose in June. “Nobody I’m aware of in Congress has a clear idea about what that endgame will be.”
The question of the Pentagon’s future in Syria, however, can wait: For the Raqqa Syrians inching towards liberation after years of oppression under the ISIS “caliphate,” there’s still work to be done to totally rid the city of the group. According to the Guardian, some “300 to 400” militants remain holed up in the city’s narrow latticework of streets and alleys — and according to local officials, there are no ambiguities surrounding the endgame for those fighters who have terrorized Raqqa for years.
“[ISIS] have 400 hostages with them — women and children — in the national hospital,” Raqqa Civil Council chief Omar Alloush told the Agence France-Presse. “The foreign fighters have two choices: either surrender or be taken out.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com.
Inside Forward Operating Base Oqab in Kabul, Afghanistan stands a wall painted with a mural of an airman kneeling before a battlefield cross. Beneath it, a black gravestone bookended with flowers and dangling dog tags displays the names of eight U.S. airmen and an American contractor killed in a horrific insider attack at Kabul International Airport in 2011.
It's one of a number of such memorials ranging from plaques, murals and concrete T-walls scattered across Afghanistan. For the last eight years, those tributes have been proof to the families of the fallen that their loved ones have not been forgotten. But with a final U.S. pullout from Afghanistan possibly imminent, those families fear the combat-zone memorials may be lost for good.
After a string of high profile incidents, the commander overseeing the Navy SEALs released an all hands memo stating that the elite Naval Special Warfare community has a discipline problem, and pinned the blame on those who place loyalty to their teammates over the Navy and the nation they serve.
A group of vets are raising money to pay for a medal the Iraqi government awarded them, but never delivered
In June 2011 Iraq's defense minister announced that U.S. troops who had deployed to the country would receive the Iraq Commitment Medal in recognition of their service. Eight years later, millions of qualified veterans have yet to receive it.
The reason: The Iraqi government has so far failed to provide the medals to the Department of Defense for approval and distribution.
A small group of veterans hopes to change that.
For a cool $8.5 million, you could be the proud owner of a "fully functioning" F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon fighter jet that a South Florida company acquired from Jordan.
The combat aircraft, which can hit a top speed of 1,357 mph at 40,000 feet, isn't showroom new — it was built in 1980. But it still has a max range of 2,400 miles and an initial climb rate of 62,000 feet per minute and remains militarized, according to The Drive, an automotive website that also covers defense topics, WBDO News 96.5 reported Wednesday.