5,000

Of­fen­sive un­der way to re­take Raqqa

7 Days in Dubai - - GLOBAL NEWS -

Syr­ian fight­ers clashed yes­ter­day with ISIS mil­i­tants north of the city of Raqqa in Syria as they pushed ahead in their of­fen­sive aim­ing to lib­er­ate the city that has been the de facto cap­i­tal of the ex­trem­ist group since 2014.

Mem­bers of a coali­tion of Kur­dish and Arab fight­ers known as the Syria Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) have been on the of­fen­sive in the area since late Satur­day, aim­ing to ini­tially iso­late and en­cir­cle Raqqa.

The United States, France and Bri­tain said they would pro­vide air sup­port for the of­fen­sive, which was an­nounced at a news con­fer­ence on Sun­day in Ein Issa, north of Raqqa.

But the an­nounce­ment lacked de­tails on how the SDF, dom­i­nated by Kurds, plans to oust the mil­i­tants from the city, home to nearly 200,000 mostly Sunni Arabs and an es­ti­mated 5,000 ISIS fight­ers.

The US com­man­der of coali­tion forces fight­ing ISIS said the op­er­a­tion to lib­er­ate Raqqa is de­signed to even­tu­ally cut off the ex­trem­ists from the Iraqi city of Mo­sul, where ISIS mil­i­tants are al­ready un­der at­tack by US-backed Iraqi forces.

Lt Gen Townsend said in a state­ment the Arab el­e­ment of the SDF is “indige­nous to the area” and will help es­tab­lish “re­gional sup­port” for SDF op­er­a­tions. His com­ments ap­peared to be aimed at sooth­ing con­cerns that Kur­dish forces would take over Raqqa, a pre­dom­i­nantly Sunni Arab city.

The fight­ing in north­ern Syria is tak­ing place un­der the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coali­tion that played an in­stru­men­tal role in the past in bat­tles be­tween SDF and the ex­trem­ists.

The US Cen­tral Com­mand said coali­tion air­craft con­ducted 16 airstrikes in north­ern Syria, mostly near the area of Ein Isssa, north of Raqqa, where the fight­ing ap­peared to be con­cen­trated.

It said that they en­gaged 12 ISIS tac­ti­cal units and de­stroyed six fight­ing po­si­tions, five ve­hi­cles and two ve­hi­cles rigged with ex­plo­sives. The com­mand said the airstrikes were con­ducted on Sun­day.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said heavy fight­ing was un­der­way on Mon­day north of Raqqa be­tween ISIS and SDF fight­ers.

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