Kurds push to­ward Is­lamic State-held city

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Bassem Mroue

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.

DELIL SOULEIMAN/GETTY-AFP

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