Syrian militia launches offensive to capture Raqqa

Aaron Brown
June 7, 2017

"After we have completed the stages of encircling of Raqqa from three sides - north, east and west - today we are facing a historic moment that the whole world and all peace-loving people have waited for, which is to declare the beginning of (the) campaign to liberate the city of Raqqa and destroy the so-called capital of ISIS", an SDF spokesperson said.

A similar fight against the Islamic State in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul had led to months of intense urban combat. To the north, the SDF has advanced to within 3 miles of the Raqqa city limits.

This undated image posted online Monday, May 1, 2017, by supporters of the Islamic State militant group on an anonymous photo sharing website, purports to show an Islamic State fighter firing his weapon during clashes with US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa.

In Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country leaves open options to use military force if the battle for Raqqa is seen as a threat to Turkey.

The advance took place in Al Mashlab, a district in southeastern Raqqa after a night of heavy air strikes.

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.

Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, said the twin offensives against Mosul and Raqqa are hurting the Islamic State group's prestige and ability to recruit new loyalists. "We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester", he said.

"IS threatens all of our nations, not just Iraq and Syria, but in our own homelands as well".

The fate of Raqqa post-IS has been the subject of intense speculation and tension among the various entities fighting in Syria.

SDF commanders said the level of coalition support and arms supply would depend on the durability of the forces and difficulty of the battle.

That campaign has already threatened to ignite conflict with the coalition against the Islamic State.

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Davis acknowledged much of Islamic State's leadership had fled Raqqa in anticipation of the US -backed assault, moving south down the Euphrates River Valley to Dair Alzour and Mayadeen. The Observatory also said an attack was underway against a military barracks, Division 17, on the northern outskirts of Raqqa.

Airstrikes on the city of Raqqa, believed to have been carried out by USA -led coalition forces, killed at least 21 people on Monday night, the United Kingdom -based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The city is about 90 km (56 miles) from the border with Turkey. Thousands have managed to flee to areas held by the SDF.

The U.N. human rights office has raised concerns about increasing reports of civilian deaths as air strikes escalate.

An estimated 230,000 civilians are living in Raqqa, according to the UN.

"It will obviously be an operation that is going to be hard going forward and there will be a lot of painstaking efforts to try to avoid civilian casualties as they more in".

Questions also remain over the strategic importance of reclaiming Raqqa.

He asked civilians inside the city to keep away from IS positions and from the front lines.

The coalition struck similarly described forces in the area last month. The SDF has advanced for months steadily southward toward Raqqa, clearing out IS along the way with the help of US bombing efforts.

The same route leading out of the city's southern districts has been used by IS fighters, it said.

The DOD would not comment on how many Apaches, Howitzers or troops were taking part in the assault because "we have a limited presence in Syria and we don't want ISIS to have an idea of our capabilities", Payhon said.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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