Backed Syrian force launches battle to capture Raqqa

Marsha Scott
June 13, 2017

However, the USA views the PKK/PYD as its ally in the fight against ISIL in northern Syria.

The city in northeastern Syria has been an ISIS stronghold since it was captured in January 2014.

"We declare today the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqa, the so-called capital of terrorism and terrorists", Sello told reporters in the village of Hazima, north of the city.

The US military has said coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria had "unintentionally" killed 484 civilians, but observers say the number is much higher. "It will be a long and hard fight, but the SDF have proven themselves the most capable force against ISIS in Syria". Clashes under the cover of US -led coalition led fighters to the northern and eastern gates of the city last week.

Syria's state news agency SANA reported on Monday that at least seven civilians were killed in rocket attacks by the rebels in a Deraa suburb just 4km east of Deraa city.

The battle is likely to be long and bloody, and the extremists are not expected to give up easily. Iraqi forces launched an offensive to capture the northern city of Mosul, the largest held by IS, in October, and heavy fighting is still underway there.

"It's hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin "capitals" in both Iraq and Syria", Townsend said in a statement.

On November 5, 2016, the USA -backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launch an offensive dubbed "Wrath of the Euphrates" to retake Raqa, which has been in IS hands since early 2014.

"We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester, England", said Townsend, referring to a bombing that killed 22 people last month and was claimed by IS.

The dense close-quarters combat in western Mosul has slowed the Iraqi advance, but Townsend said partner forces "are steadily dismantling the physical caliphate of ISIS".

The SDF has been working to encircle Raqqa since November in an offensive backed by the US-led coalition that is also fighting ISIL in Iraq, where the group is on the brink of defeat in the city of Mosul.

The city is about 90km from the border with Turkey.

On March 6, SDF troops backed by worldwide aircraft cut the main supply route between Raqa and the Deir Ezzor province to the east, according to the Observatory.

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The YPG has been the main partner for the United States in its campaign in Syria against Daesh, which is also the target of separate campaigns waged by the Russian-backed Syrian regime and Free Syrian Army rebel groups, the latter backed by Turkey. But the SDF has insisted that it would hand over Raqqa to local administrative councils.

Thousands of civilians have fled the northern city as the SDF has closed in on it.

A belt of land mines and militant checkpoints circle Raqqa. The commander of the Raqqa campaign, Rojda Felat, told Reuters that SDF fighters were attacking the al-Mishlab district at the city's southeastern outskirts, confirming an earlier report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The SDF is a coalition of forces, but dominated by the YPG. US -led coalition warplanes pounded Islamic State positions in the area. "With the worldwide coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh", Sello told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The U.S. has spent months launching airstrikes and supporting Syrian ground forces to cut off supply lines leading into Raqqa, home to an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 Islamic State fighters.

With air support from a US-led coalition, the SDF has spent months sealing off the militants in Raqqa, the heart of their territory in war-ravaged Syria.

Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, an activist group in Raqqa, said people attempted to flee after previous coalition air raids targeted the old and new bridge areas near Raqqa city.

Between Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon, the coalition struck IS tactical units, destroyed 19 boats, 12 fighting positions, eight vehicles and a weapons store, he said.

The Euphrates river is south of the Kurdish offensive, preventing jihadists and civilians from fleeing. The same route had been used by IS fighters, Abdel Rahman said.

"They have had three years to establish their defenses there".

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday Ankara will retaliate immediately if the operation by US-backed forces to capture Raqqa presents a threat to Turkey.

The militants' "weapon of choice" is the armored vehicle bomb, driven by a suicide attacker at defensive positions or concentrations of forces, Dillon said.

"We have clearly seen some of the tactics that they use when it comes to using human shields or herding civilians", he added. Yesterday, SDF spokesman Talal Sello made the long-awaited announcement that the battle for Raqqa itself had begun.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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