US-backed forces launch as­sault on Syr­ian IS ‘cap­i­tal’

The Myanmar Times - - World -

UNITED States-backed Kur­dish-Arab forces launched an of­fen­sive on the Is­lamic State group’s de facto Syr­ian cap­i­tal Raqa, up­ping pres­sure on the ji­hadists who are al­ready bat­tling Iraqi troops in Mo­sul.

The start of the as­sault by the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) came as Iraqi forces fought in­side Mo­sul for the third day run­ning amid fierce ji­hadist re­sis­tance.

The two cities are the last ma­jor ur­ban cen­tres un­der IS con­trol af­ter the ji­hadists suf­fered a string of ter­ri­to­rial losses in Iraq and Syria over the past year.

The US-led coali­tion bat­tling IS is back­ing both as­saults, hop­ing to deal a knock­out blow to the self-styled “caliphate” it de­clared in mid-2014.

SDF com­man­ders an­nounced the start of the Raqa op­er­a­tion in Ain Issa, say­ing the bat­tle to lib­er­ate Raqa and its sur­round­ings has be­gun.

SDF spokesper­son Ji­han Sheikh Ahmed said Op­er­a­tion “Wrath of the Euphrates” in­volves some 30,000 fight­ers.

SDF forces are ad­vanc­ing on three fronts, from Ain Issa and Tal Abyad to the north of Raqa, and from the vil­lage of Mak­man to the east.

US De­fense Sec­re­tary Ashton Carter said the fight will not be easy but is nec­es­sary to end the fic­tion of the IS’s caliphate and dis­rupt the group’s abil­ity to carry out at­tacks.

Ms Ji­han said 10 vil­lages and sev­eral ham­lets had been re­taken.

Later the pow­er­ful Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) de­nied an IS report that 14 of its fight­ers were killed in a car bomb at­tack the Su­luk area.

Driv­ing the IS from Mo­sul and Raqa has been the endgame since the US-led coali­tion launched air strikes against it in sum­mer 2014.

The coali­tion has also pro­vided train­ing and de­ployed hun­dreds of ad­vis­ers to work with Iraqi forces and select Syr­ian fight­ers, in­clud­ing the SDF.

Near Ain Issa, the AFP cor­re­spon­dent saw at least one soldier who had US mark­ings on his hel­met with SDF fight­ers.

Another SDF source said 50 US mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers would be in­volved in the op­er­a­tion, par­tic­u­larly to guide air strikes.

Af­ter it was seized by IS, Raqa saw some of the ji­hadists’ worst atroc­i­ties, from ston­ings and be­head­ings to the trad­ing of sex slaves. –

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