A photographer’s journey into the dying center of the Islamic State
Raqqa, Syria – It took Brazu Ahmed and his family atrocious 20 hours to escape from this shattered city, the capital of the caliphate envisioned by the Islamic state that has become an increasingly dangerous battlefield.
US-backed forces, which have a circle in the radical stronghold, urged civilians to flee to avoid the positions of the Islamic state. However, these instructions were not necessary; The family hid in a mosque, only to be burned by grenades propelled by militant rockets.
The danger also had potential liberators from the city: Brother Brazu and a niece were killed in a US-led coalition air strike a few days before they fled.
“The bombing was non-stop. We were terrified.” Said Brazu, who was sitting in the back of a van with about two dozen exhausted and dusty parents, but out of town.
Under the control of the Islamic state in three years, Raqqa was the symbol of the extremist group’s great ambitions, home to many executives and site of atrocities – including murders of journalists – that helped galvanize the coalition in the struggle.
The forces took the last road in Raqqa last week when they entered the city. Several hundreds of US special operations forces advise, and an unknown number of US support personnel – including sailor gun guns and a detachment of troops operating a nearby airport – are all in the region.
But tens of thousands of civilians are still trapped in the city, and the fight must be fierce.
In the west of Raqqa, Syria, the soldiers of the Syrian democratic minaret-led forces suspect of having an Islamic sniper.
ALICE MARTINS for the Washington Post
I met Brazu and his family after spending most of June advancing in Raqqa, while the much awaited assault began. I was one of the two foreign journalists involved in the US support force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a diverse group dominated by Kurdish fighters trying to evict the militants.
He was in Raqqa before, in 2013, after being captured by rebel groups opposed to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. At that time, the rebel fighters had occupied the city as an example of what Syria would look like if the rebels had prevailed.
The party atmosphere did not last.
During a period of six months of this year, during several visits to the city, the Syrian government carries out random and artillery bombings. The majority of the victims were civilians.
The rebels took responsibility for the administration of the city, but soon led the Islamic State, which occupies the government building and raised a large black flag in the square in front of him. The more moderate rebel fighters have finally questioned the militants, but the battle lasted only three days.
In January 2014, the Islamic state was strong enough to take control of Raqqa. The city became famous for public executions, including beheadings and other brutal punishments.
Earlier this month, homeless commanders announced the start of the offensive to capture Raqqa from a 10-mile base out of town. I could hear the explosions of intense aerial bombardment during his press conference and later I learned that the force has suffered its first two victims that day: two soldiers killed inside the city by an improvised explosive device.
Later, when the sun sets, a Kurdish commander using the name of Clara Raqqa war was put on a roof that communicated with the commanders from the front on the radio and marked their positions on a tablet.
It was important to update the exact location of the troops, he said, and pass them on to the coalition forces “to let them know where we are and are not led by mistake.”
Collaboration between Syrian and US Kurdish fighters known as units for the protection of people, or YPG, has been controversial. US commanders have argued that the YPG was the only key partner to lead the Raqqa offensive.