Us-backed Syr­ian fight­ers con­trol al­most half of Raqqa

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World -

US-BACKED Syr­ian fight­ers have cap­tured al­most half of Raqqa from the Is­lamic State group, but the push into the north­ern city has slowed due to large amounts of ex­plo­sives planted by the ex­trem­ists and their coun­terof­fen­sives, a spokes­woman for the fight­ers and a mon­i­tor­ing group said Thurs­day.

The as­sault on Raqqa by the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, a Kur­dish­led fight­ing coali­tion, be­gan June 6, backed by U.s.-led coali­tion airstrikes and U.S. troops ad­vis­ing the lo­cal forces. Since then, the SDF has made steady ad­vances from the eastern and west­ern sides of the city reach­ing the walled old quar­ter.

The cap­ture of Raqqa, the Is­lamic State group’s self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal, would be a huge loss for the ex­trem­ist group that ear­lier this month lost the Iraqi city of Mo­sul. But the lib­er­a­tion of Raqqa is still far off de­spite the progress.

Nazreen Ab­dul­lah, the Kur­dish spokes­woman, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the pace of the ad­vance into Raqqa has slowed be­cause of mas­sive amounts of ex­plo­sives laid by IS fight­ers. As the ex­trem­ists be­come more sur­rounded, they have in­creased their sui­cide at­tacks against fight­ers of the SDF, she added.

“Raqqa has be­come a booby trapped city and this shows their (IS) weak­ness,” Ab­dul­lah, of the Women’s Pro­tec­tion Units, said speak­ing from north­ern Syria. “They are also us­ing civil­ians as hu­man shields and this is slow­ing the push as well.”

She said fight­ers of the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces, which in­cludes the YPJ, now con­trols 45 per­cent of Raqqa. She added that since the of­fen­sive in Raqqa be­gan, SDF fight­ers have fully cap­tured eight neigh­bor­hoods.

Plumes of smoke could be seen be­hind build­ings in Raqqa a day ear­lier as the coali­tion pounded IS tar­gets in the city. Syr­ian chil­dren looked on as U.S. ar­mored ve­hi­cles drove by. One Amer­i­can soldier on a ve­hi­cle made the vic­tory sign.

Mustafa Bali, who heads the SDF me­dia cen­ter, con­firmed Thurs­day that the group now has half of Raqqa and said the most im­por­tant ar­eas lib­er­ated in the past four days were the Na­zlet She­hadeh and Panorama Square both on the south­west­ern part of the city. But he said there are IS coun­ter­at­tacks, IS sleeper cells and tun­nels in the area.

“It was not easy, we have ca­su­al­ties and mar­tyrs,” he said, adding that the fight­ing was on­go­ing.

In the eastern front, where SDF forces breached IS de­fenses on the edge of the old city about a month ago, fight­ers have now reached the old ci­tadel, an SDF com­man­der in charge of one sec­tor in the front told AP.

“As we move for­ward we find a tun­nel ev­ery 100 me­ters,” Ji­had Kha­bat said. He said the en­emy, “be­sieged and in dis­tress”, hides in deep and long tun­nels spread all un­der the city, from where they would ap­pear and ha­rass Syr­ian fight­ers with fre­quent daily coun­ter­at­tacks.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights also said SDF fight­ers con­trol half of Raqqa.

The at­tacks on the city have claimed many civil­ian ca­su­al­ties among the tens of thou­sands who are still trapped in ar­eas con­trolled by IS.

The Ob­ser­va­tory said 29 peo­ple, in­clud­ing eight chil­dren, were killed in airstrikes on the city on Wed­nes­day. The ac­tivist-op­er­ated Raqqa is Be­ing Slaugh­tered Silently group said 36 peo­ple were killed and more than 50 wounded in airstrikes and shelling of Raqqa.

The re­ports could not be in­de­pen­dently con­firmed. – AP

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Us-backed Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces fight­ers stand on their pickup as the flash vic­tory signs on a road that links to Raqqa city on July 26. Photo: AP

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