Forces battle IS
US-backed Syrian fighters fought Islamic State militants in the heart of Raqa, the extremists’ self-styled capital, on Monday, as scores of civilians fled areas controlled by the group.
The Kurdish-led group has been one of the most effective forces fighting IS in Syria, but has also clashed with Turkishbacked Syrian forces elsewhere in the country. As it battled IS in Raqa, the SDF also fought Turkish-allied Syrian forces in Ein Daqna, in the neighboring Aleppo province, according to Syrian activists and Turkish media.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, aided by the US-led coalition, launched their offensive to capture Raqa on June 6, and have since taken several areas. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday’s fighting is concentrated in Raqa’s southwestern neighborhood of Yarmouk as well as a central area close to the Old City.
The SDF says intense fighting is underway in central Raqa, adding that its fighters have taken positions near a centuries-old mosque known as the Old Mosque.
The SDF said 11 IS fighters have
been killed in the clashes since Sunday. The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said 14 SDF fighters were killed in the fighting in Raqa on Sunday alone.
The intensification of fighting comes a week after Iraqi forces declared victory against IS in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, the largest the extremists have held. The loss of Raqa would deal a major blow to IS, but the group still holds wide areas of the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, bordering Iraq.
The Kurdish-run Hawar news agency says some 180 civilians were able to flee areas controlled by IS, while the Observatory put the number in the hundreds.
The SDF is dominated by a Kurdish militia known as the YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency raging in its own territory. Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces rolled into Syria last year in order to battle IS and halt the advance of the SDF. The US-led coalition has sought to stop the fighting between Turkey and the SDF, both of which are allies against IS.
The website of Turkey’s pro-government A Haber television said Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters launched a “large” operation against the SDF in Ein Daqna, close to the Turkish border. The website quotes unnamed local sources as saying that intense clashes are ongoing.