Battle for IS 'Capital' Raqqa Begins

The offensive has also seen the SDF a multi-ethnic group but dominated by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units), receive support from United States military advisers and weapons deliveries.

The SDF was also trying to push into Raqa's northwestern district of Al-Andalus, the monitor said, as fighting continued to the north, east and west of the city. Clashes are also taking place in Division 17, a former army base one kilometre north of Raqqa.

"We declare the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of terror and terrorists", he said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are steadily routing Islamic State from its last redoubt in the city of Mosul, the largest city the group had controlled in Iraq.

The SDF first enters Tabqa on April 24, advancing north and cornering the jihadists in two neighborhoods near the Tabqa dam.

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It also said as many as 12 people, including women and children, had been killed on Monday night in airstrikes by the US-led coalition, which has been pounding alleged Daesh targets in Syria since 2014 without succeeding in eliminating the group.

On November 5, 2016, the US -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.

The assault overlaps with the final stages of the US-backed attack to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh.

Al-Masdar News, which has been accused of being sympathetic to the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, reported that the SDF had captured three villages on the outskirts of Raqqa by Monday.

The US-led coalition said on Tuesday the fight for Raqqa would be "long and difficult" but would deliver a "decisive blow to the idea of Daesh as a physical caliphate". "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", he said. "They are fighting street battles inside Raqqa now, and we have experience in urban warfare", she said. Yesterday, SDF spokesman Talal Sello made the long-awaited announcement that the battle for Raqqa itself had begun.

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The Raqqa campaign has been the source of tension between the U.S. and Turkey, which fears growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria and has lobbied Washington to abandon its Kurdish YPG allies.

"We know that Raqqa as a capital of the caliphate was where the external operations were planned, especially plots against Europe and the West".

The US last week said it had started distributing arms to the YPG to help take Raqqa. The Raqqa campaign has "resulted in massive civilian casualties, displacement and serious infrastructure destruction" so far, it said in a May report. Humanitarian aid organization International Rescue Committee said 200,000 people were still trapped inside, and warned civilians in Raqqa risk being killed by Daesh snipers or mines if they try to flee but could be used by the militants as human shields if they remain.

On April 4, a U.S. military source says an airstrip has been prepared in Kurdish-controlled zones for use by C-17 cargo planes. The fighting has devastated communities in both countries and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

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(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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