Kurds push toward Islamic State-held city
BEIRUT — Kurdish-led Syrian fighters pushed ahead Monday with an offensive aimed at isolating and encircling the Islamic State group’s stronghold of Raqqa, making small advances in villages north of the extremists’ de facto capital.
Warplanes from a U.S.led coalition provided air cover for the fighters from the Syria Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters formed last year with the aim of incorporating nonKurdish elements into the mainly Kurdish militia fighting Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in Syria.
The SDF announced the start of the campaign to liberate Raqqa at a news conference Sunday in northern Syria, and the United States, France and Britain said they would provide air support for the offensive, dubbed “Euphrates Rage.”
But the battle for the Syrian city, home to nearly 200,000 mostly Sunni Arabs and an estimated 5,000 Islamic State militants including many foreigners, could be long and costly.
Islamic State fighters are expected to fight until the end, considering that losing Raqqa would mean the extremist group would not fully control any large cities in Syria, where a civil war has been raging for more than five years.
At the same time, Iraqi forces are pushing forward against Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the militants’ biggest urban stronghold in that country.
SDF fighters needed more than two months earlier this year to capture the Syrian town of Manbij, which is far smaller than Raqqa.