US-backed Kurdish and Arab force says operation to capture Raqqa has started
A US-backed Kurdish and Arab force says it has begun an operation to capture Raqqa, so-called Islamic State’s “capital” in Syria. The Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) will be aided by US-led coalition air strikes. They have warned civilians to steer clear of areas where IS militants are present. The coalition of Kurdish and ethnic Arab militias has been gaining ground in areas to the north of the city.
The offensive was announced at a press conference in Ain Issa, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) away from Raqqa. “The major battle to liberate Raqqa and its surroundings has begun,” a spokesperson for the SDF said. Brett McGurk, US President Barack Obama’s envoy to the US-led coalition against IS, said: “The Raqqa campaign will proceed in phases – very deliberate phases”
“There is an isolation phase which began today and there will be subsequent phases to make sure that that we kick Daesh out of Raqqa and that will happen,” he added, using another acronym for IS.
Another SDF spokesperson told AFP that heavy resistance is expected. “IS will defend its bastion, knowing that the loss of Raqqa will mean it is finished in Syria,” he said. The operation comes as US-backed Iraqi forces continue their campaign to push IS militants out of their Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. Raqqa was named the de facto capital of the “caliphate” proclaimed by IS in 2014.
A report by IHS Conflict Monitor in October 2016 said the jihadists had lost about 16% of the territory they held at the beginning of the year, and that overall they had lost just over a quarter of the territory they controlled in January 2015.