Battle of Raqqa (2013)

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Battle of Raqqa
Part of the Raqqa campaign (2012–13) and the Syrian Civil War
Battle of Raqqa.svg
Course of the battle and control in Raqqa as of October 2013
  Syrian Arab Army control
  Opposition control
Date3–6 March 2013[3]
(3 days)
Location35°57′00″N 39°01′00″E / 35.9500°N 39.0167°E / 35.9500; 39.0167Coordinates: 35°57′00″N 39°01′00″E / 35.9500°N 39.0167°E / 35.9500; 39.0167

Major rebel victory

  • Rebels seize Raqqa[3]
  • Rebels capture two senior government officials in the city[4]
  • The 17th Division retreats northwards to its headquarters

Syrian Islamic Front Ahrar ash-Sham
Free Syrian Army

Al-Nusra Front[1]
Islamic State of Iraq[2]

Syria Syrian Arab Republic

Commanders and leaders
Unknown top provincial al-Nusra commander [5]
Unknown top provincial Ahrar al-Sham commander [5]
Col. Moataz Raslan (top FSA commander)[6]
Brig. Gen. Khaled al-Halabi (Raqqa's state security head)[7]
Maj. Gen. Hassan Jalili (POW)
(Provincial governor)[7]
Suleiman Suleiman (POW)
(Provincial Baath party's secretary general)[7]
Units involved

Raqqa Liberation Front[8]

Ahrar ash-Sham[8]

Conquest Brigade

  • Ghuraba al-Sham Battalion[9]

Syrian Arab Army

Syrian Air Force
Local police
≈7,000 fighters[10] 400 soldiers
Casualties and losses
40–50 killed[5][11][12] 30 killed[5][13][14]
300 captured[15]
More than 100 civilians killed from 4–5 March (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimate)[16]
39 killed in air raids on 6 March.[14]

The Battle of Raqqa, also known as the First Battle of Raqqa and code named by rebels as the "Raid of the Almighty",[8] was a battle for control of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa during the Syrian Civil War between mainly Sunni Islamist rebel insurgents and the Syrian Arab Army. Rebel forces launched the offensive in early March 2013, and declared themselves in "near-total control" on 5 March 2013, making it the first provincial capital claimed to come under rebel control in the civil war.[17] The battle, on the opposition side, was primarily led by the al-Nusra Front[18] and Ahrar al-Sham.[8]


Raqqa was not initially a rebel stronghold. The city itself saw several small protests at the beginning of the uprising, but these soon subsided. The anti-Assad elements within the city also remained peaceful until the end of 2012. Furthermore, previous pro-government tribal coalitions and the presence of more than a half million displaced Syrians, mostly from Idlib, Deir ez-Zor and Aleppo, served to strengthen the Syrian government's opinion that Raqqa was relatively safe.[19] Because of this view, President Bashar al-Assad visited the city to pray in one of its mosques for Eid al-Adha in June 2012.[19]

Armed opposition groups began to spread through eastern Syria, leading to violence being perpetrated by both government and opposition forces. Dozens of people were killed in the Qahtaniya region outside the city in incidents. Shelling also reached a petrol station in the town of Tell Abyad.[19]

By early 2013, the Syrian opposition had secured much of the north of Syria, but had yet to seize control of a major city. The rebels planned an offensive to seize control of Raqqa where government forces were in control, effectively giving the opposition control over a much greater portion of northern Syria.[20][21]


Rebel forces, mostly Sunni Islamist groups, based in the countryside surrounding Raqqa launched a surge into the city between 3 and 5 March, advancing from the north and overrunning army positions at the city's northernmost entrance.[22] Most rebels who took part in the battle came from areas outside the Raqqa Governorate.[8] They engaged forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad in heavy fighting around key state buildings, eventually driving out the army. Rebels seized control of the main square in the city on 4 March, and symbolically tore down a large golden statue of Syria's former president Hafez al-Assad, late father of the current president.[17]

Although, according to al-Akhbar, the city (which had been surrounded on four sides by checkpoints) did not fall militarily, pointing out that, despite not having a formidable Syrian Army deployment, it was not normal that Raqqa fell in hours. The Lebanese newspaper reported that the morning of the attack Syrian forces manning the eastern checkpoint pulled out, handing over the city’s eastern entrance – and the entire eastern district – to the fighters of the Muntasir Billah Brigade and al-Nusra, while officers of the Syrian military police and the Hajana – the border guard – were seen moving their equipment, without any harassment from the opposition fighters, from the center of the city to the headquarters of the 17th Division, before the opposition brigades advance.[7]

Rebels also stormed the residence of the provincial governor Hasan Jalali, reportedly capturing him along with the head of the Raqqa Governorate branch of the Baath Party, Suleiman al-Suleiman.[21]

Government forces retreated from the city westwards and eastwards, and also remained 60 km from the city at the provincial airport.[22] The Syrian Air Force carried out airstrikes against rebels in the city after its fall.[23]

On 5 March, footage emerged of both Hasan Jalali and Suleiman al-Suleiman surrounded by jubilant rebel fighters.[4]

Ahrar ash-Sham (part of the Syrian Islamic Front), al-Nusra Front, and the Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman Brigade were the main rebel groups involved in the battle. Several groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army were also involved.[8]

Among those killed in the fighting were also the top al-Nusra commander for Raqqa governorate, as well as the main provincial Ahrar ash-Sham field commander.[5] Raqqa's police chief was also killed. Some residents pleaded with rebels not to enter the city, fearing it would bring retribution from government forces.[4]

The last pockets of government resistance in the city were eliminated on 6 March, when rebels seized several key security buildings where loyalist troops were hiding, prompting the activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to officially declare that Raqqa was fully under rebel control.[24] The Syrian Air Force conducted 25 air-strikes against the city in an attempt to dislodge the opposition forces. In total, 39 people were killed, including 17 in a strike on a square.[14] At least 10 of those killed were confirmed as rebel fighters.[12]


Following the rebel capture of Raqqa, the Syrian Army sent army reinforcements from Tabqa military airport, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported rebels had intercepted them.[25][26]

Some of the captured government troops were publicly executed by the Islamic factions after the takeover, with their bodies put on display or dragged through the city streets.[27]

On 10 March, further air strikes on the city left another 14 people dead.[28]

Situation in Raqqa, mid-March 2013, showing the siege of the 17th Division base

On 4 April 2013, it was reported that rebels of the Free Syrian Army and allied Islamist groups besieging the 17th Division base outside Raqqa city were in control of three quarters of the base with the Syrian Army holding the command centre. A Syrian Army source at the base reported that 80 soldiers had been killed and 250 injured in the fighting, and that many injured troops had died of gangrene.[29]

On 20 May, Syria's Raqqa opposition chief was kidnapped[by whom?], according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "The Observatory condemns in the strongest terms the abduction of opposition lawyer Abdallah al-Khalil, and demands his immediate release," it said.[30]

As of 28 May, air raids and artillery strikes continued against rebel lines on the outskirts of the city, but government forces were still unable to break through the lines.[31]

In mid-August, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) announced that they would stop participating in the siege of the 17th Division, one of the two last remaining loyalist bases in Raqqa. They wanted to focus on civil administration instead, in building an Islamic state, and so they would withdraw fighters from the most urgent battlefields.[32]

By early November 2013, ISIL was in full control of the town.[33][34] By January 6, 2014, rebels had ousted ISIL from the city as part of the Syrian opposition–Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant conflict.[35]

On 9 January, fighting raged between the jihadists and opposition on Thursday, the Great Britain-based Observatory claimed. "The opposition forces have taken control of the strategic political intelligence building, which had been under ISIL control and is just 400 meters from the jihadists' headquarters," Abdel Rahman said. "But ISIL still controls the bridges leading into the city, so people have to take boats to get in."[36] By 12 January, ISIL fighters had recaptured much of the provincial capital. By 14 January, ISIL secured complete control of the city.[37]

On 25 July 2014, ISIL took control of the 17th Division headquarters away from the Syrian Army.

On 28 August 2014 after a 36-day general offensive, the Tabqa air base was captured by ISIL with significant losses on both sides.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Activists: Syrian regime bombs rebel-held city".
  2. ^ Winter (2014), p. 6.
  3. ^ a b "Rebels look to extend gains from Raqqa | News, Middle East". The Daily Star. 6 April 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "Syria crisis: Raqqa governor held by rebels 'as city falls'". BBC News. 5 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Monday 4 March 2013".
  6. ^ "Syrian rebels seek relevance by joining Turkey's offensive". Archived from the original on 9 February 2018. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Firas al-Hakkar (8 November 2013). "The Mysterious Fall of Raqqa, Syria's Kandahar". al-Akhbar. Retrieved 27 November 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Matthew Barber (3 April 2013). "The Raqqa Story: Rebel Structure, Planning, and Possible War Crimes". Syria Comment.
  9. ^ "انضمـام ثاني أكبر تشكيل عسكري في حلب إلى حركـة أحرار الشام" [The second largest military formation in Aleppo joins the Ahrar Sham movement]. Baladi News. 14 December 2015. Archived from the original on 17 May 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  10. ^ "Los rebeldes quieren forzar el colapso del régimen en el este de Siria" (in Spanish). El Mundo. 19 April 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  11. ^ "Syria crisis: Warplanes 'bomb Raqqa after rebel gains'". BBC News. 5 March 2013.
  12. ^ a b "نحو 140 سقطوا امس في حصيلة غير نهائية". Archived from the original on 25 December 2013.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ "نحو 190 سقطوا يوم امس". Archived from the original on 7 January 2014.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  14. ^ a b c "39 killed in air raids in Syria city of Raqqa as attacks intensify". Reuters. 6 March 2013.
  15. ^ Stack, Liam. "Syrian Rebels Interview Captured Government Officials". Syria: Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  16. ^ Zeina Karam (5 March 2013). "Syrian jets bomb northern city overrun by rebels". Associated Press.
  17. ^ a b "Syria rebels capture northern Raqqa city – Middle East". Al Jazeera English.
  18. ^ Hubbard, Ben (10 March 2013). "Activists: Syrian regime bombs rebel-held city". Associated Press. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  19. ^ a b c Haydar, Ziad (6 March 2013). "Syria: Raqqa Lies in Ruins". Al-Monitor. Archived from the original on 4 July 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2013.
  20. ^ "Syria rebels capture northern Raqqa city". Al Jazeera English. 5 March 2013.
  21. ^ a b Adnan, Duraid; Gladstone, Rick (4 March 2013). "Syrian Soldiers Killed in Iraq, as War Grows". The New York Times.
  22. ^ a b Yacoub, Khaled (4 March 2013). "Syria opposition says captures eastern city of Raqqa". Reuters. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  23. ^ "Syria's rebels: We have captured Raqqa". The Daily Star.
  24. ^ "Syrian activists say rebels seize security buildings in Raqqa, declare it 1st 'liberated' city". Fox News. 6 March 2013.
  25. ^ "U.N. agency: Syrian refugee figure hits 1 million". USA Today. 6 March 2013.
  26. ^ "Syrian Rebels Capture Raqqa Governor, Reports Say". International Business Times. 5 March 2013.
  27. ^ "Newser - Headline News Summaries, World News, and Breaking News". Archived from the original on 15 March 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  28. ^ "Syria refugee numbers may triple this year - UN". BBC News. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  29. ^ Al Arabiya, Syrian regime troops appeal for immediate aid in Al-Raqqa, 4 April 2013.
  30. ^ "Syria's Raqa opposition chief kidnapped, NGO says". 20 May 2013. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  31. ^ "Syrian rebels divided in fight against Assad". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
  32. ^ "The Southern Front, Part II". NOW. 17 August 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2013.[permanent dead link]
  33. ^ Tim Whewell (13 November 2013). "Syrian activists flee abuse in al-Qaeda-run Raqqa". BBC. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
  34. ^ Nick Paton Walsh; Raja Razek; Gul Tuysuz (5 November 2013). "CNN Exclusive: Inside Syrian town living under al Qaeda reign of fear". CNN. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
  35. ^ Martin Chulov. "Syrian rebels oust al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists from northern city of Raqqa". the Guardian. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  36. ^ "Jihadists battle back in north Syria, says monitor". NOW. 9 January 2014. Archived from the original on 9 January 2014. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  37. ^ Regime advances near Aleppo, ISIS tightens grip on Raqqa The Daily Star, 15 January 2014