Posts Tagged ‘Raqqa’

250 US-led strikes in, around Raqa in past week: coalition

August 22, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | At least 250 US-led air strikes have pounded the Syrian city of Raqa and surrounding territory in the past week, the coalition fighting the Islamic State group said
BAGHDAD (AFP) – At least 250 US-led air strikes have pounded the Syrian city of Raqa and surrounding territory in the past week, the coalition fighting the Islamic State group said Tuesday.Coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon told AFP that the air raids targeted the greater Raqa area.

Activists and monitoring groups have reported that intensifying coalition bombardment of the city has left scores of civilians dead.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 42 civilians had been killed in US-led strikes on Raqa Monday, taking the civilian toll for the past eight days to 167.

Dillon told AFP that the allegations would be taken seriously and investigated.

Since a US-backed offensive ousted IS from Mosul in neighbouring Iraq in July, the coalition has had more available aircraft to strike Raqa, he added.

“We have increased our strikes recently especially since the end of the Mosul battle,” Dillon said.

Earlier this month, the coalition acknowledged the deaths of 624 civilians in its strikes in Syria and Iraq since 2014, but rights groups say the number is much higher.

The international alliance says it takes all possible measures to prevent unnecessary deaths.

“The avoidance of civilian casualties is our highest priority when conducting strikes against legitimate military targets with precision munitions, unlike the indiscriminate nature of ISIS tactics which result in an enormous number of avoidable civilian deaths,” the coalition told AFP in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

US-backed Syrian fighters win strategic victory near Raqqa

August 12, 2017

France 24 and The Associated Press

© DELIL SOULEIMAN / AFP | A fighter from the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) poses for a photo at sunset in the Syrian town of Ain Issi, some 50 kilometres north of Raqqa.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-08-12

US-backed Syrian fighters advancing on the Islamic State group from the eastern and western parts of the northern city of Raqqa have linked up for the first time since launching their offensive on IS’ de facto capital, officials said Friday.

Though the development marked a significant milestone in the battle for the IS stronghold, a USmilitary spokesman cautioned that there is still tough fighting ahead before Raqqa is completely taken from the militants.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, under the cover of US-backed coalition airstrikes, launched a wide offensive to capture the city on June 6 and have managed so far to take about half the city.

The linkup of the eastern and western fronts deprives IS from access to the Euphrates River — and effectively leaves the remaining militants in Raqqa and thousands of civilians surrounded.

US Army Col. Ryan Dillon said there remains still tough fighting ahead and that although the linkup of the Syrian opposition fighters’ east and west axis on the southern edge of Raqqa was significant, this does not in fact cut the city in two.

Dillon told The Associated Press in an email that the significance is that the SDF, despite IS’ best efforts, have successfully battled across the entire city from both sides and have joined forces. The US spokesman said this shows the steady progress the SDF fighters are making against IS in the militants’ self-declared capital.

“The fighting is ongoing from room to room and from house to house,” said Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media center. Bali also confirmed that SDF fighters pushing from opposite sides of the city have met up.

Bali said by telephone from northern Syria that the key difficulty facing advancing SDF fighters is to avoid striking civilians used by IS as human shields.

“A VERY DIFFICULT SITUATION FOR CIVILIANS” – FRANCE 24 MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT ADAM PLETTS

A ‘milestone’

The top US envoy for the international coalition against the Islamic State, Brett McGurk, tweeted about the linkup of the two fronts, describing it as a “milestone” that is tightening the noose around IS.

Also Friday, neighboring Turkey introduced new regulations at a border crossing with northwestern Syria, allowing only the transport of humanitarian aid, after an al-Qaida-linked group took control of the Syrian post.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after Friday prayers in Istanbul that the Cilvegozu crossing in southern Turkey would remain open for food, medicine and some supplies to go across. Turkey’s Cilvegozu stands across from the Bab al-Hawa in Syria’s Idlib province.

The al-Qaida-linked militant group Levant Liberation Committee captured the crossing after battles with the ultraconservative Syrian rebel Ahrar al-Sham group last month.

Erdogan said Turkey “cannot allow the passage of weapons,” suggesting humanitarian aid has “practically turned into an armament process.”

Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported a three-kilometer tailback at the Oncupinar border crossing, located further east, after trucks were rerouted from Cilvegozu.

Meanwhile, the UN migration agency said Friday that over 600,000 displaced Syrians have returned to their homes this year, citing an increasing trend of returns while warning the situation remains “not sustainable.”

International Organisation for Migration spokeswoman Olivia Headon said the 602,759 returns between January and July was on track to surpass the figure of 685,000 returns for all of 2016.

But she also cautioned about the huge number of displaced Syrians this year — nearly 809,000.

IOM said that its partner agencies have found that two-thirds of the returnees have gone to the northern Aleppo governorate, where government forces ousted rebels from the city of Aleppo last year.

A third of the returnees said they went back to “protect their assets” while one-quarter cited “improved economic conditions,” IOM said.

(AP)

After Military Shake-Up, Erdogan Says Turkey to Tackle Kurds in Syria

August 7, 2017

ISTANBUL — Days after a reshuffle of Turkey’s top military commanders, President Tayyip Erdogan has revived warnings of military action against Kurdish fighters in Syria that could set back the U.S.-led battle against Islamic State.

Kurdish militia are spearheading an assault against the hardline militants in their Syrian stronghold Raqqa, from where Islamic State has planned attacks around the world for the past three years.

But U.S. backing for the Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria has infuriated Turkey, which views their growing battlefield strength as a security threat due to a decades-old insurgency by the Kurdish PKK within in its borders.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan [Getty]

There have been regular exchanges of rocket and artillery fire in recent weeks between Turkish forces and YPG fighters who control part of Syria’s northwestern border.

Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States, reinforced that section of the border at the weekend with artillery and tanks and Erdogan said Turkey was ready to take action.

“We will not leave the separatist organization in peace in both Iraq and Syria,” Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday in the eastern town of Malatya, referring to the YPG in Syria and PKK bases in Iraq. “We know that if we do not drain the swamp, we cannot get rid of flies.”

The YPG denies Turkish allegations of links with Kurdish militants inside Turkey, saying it is only interested in self-rule in Syria and warning that any Turkish assault will draw its fighters away from the battle against Islamic State which they are waging in an alliance with local Arab forces.

Erdogan’s comments follow the appointment of three new leaders of Turkey’s army, air force and navy last week – moves which analysts and officials said were at least partly aimed at preparing for any campaign against the YPG militia.

Turkish forces swept into north Syria last year to seize territory from Islamic State, while also cutting off Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria from the Kurdish pocket of Afrin further west. They thereby prevented Kurdish control over almost the whole sweep of the border – Ankara’s worst-case scenario.

Recent clashes have centered around the Arab towns of Tal Rifaat and Minnigh, near Afrin, which are held by the Kurdish YPG and allied fighters.

Erdogan said Turkey’s military incursion last year dealt a blow to “terrorist projects” in the region and promised further action. “We will make new and important moves soon,” he said.

“MORE ACTIVE” FIGHT

His comments follow weeks of warnings from Turkey of possible military action against the YPG.

Washington’s concern to prevent any confrontation which deflects the Kurdish forces attacking Raqqa may help stay Ankara’s hand, but a Turkish government source said last week’s changes in military leadership have prepared the ground.

“With this new structure, some steps will be taken to be more active in the struggle against terror,” the source said. “A structure that acts according to the realities of the region will be formed”.

The battle for Raqqa has been underway since June, and a senior U.S. official said on Friday that 2,000 Islamic State fighters are believed to be still defending positions and “fighting for every last block” in the city.

Even after the recapture of Raqqa, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has left open the possibility of longer-term American assistance to the YPG.

The influence of Turkey’s once-dominant military has decreased dramatically since Erdogan came to power nearly 15 years ago. A purge in senior ranks since last year’s failed military coup has stripped it of 40 percent of top officers.

Last Wednesday’s appointments were issued by the Supreme Military Council, a body which despite its name is now dominated by politicians loyal to Erdogan.

“Of course the political will is behind these decisions, Erdogan’s preferences are behind them,” the source said. “But the restructuring of the Turkish Armed Forces and the demand for a more active fight against the PKK and Islamic State also has a role”.

Vacancies in senior military ranks resulting from the year-long purge would not be filled immediately, he said, but would be addressed over time.

While all three forces – air, land and sea – are under new command, focus has centered on the new army chief Yasar Guler. As head of Turkey’s gendarmerie, he was seen to take a tough line against the PKK and the movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen blamed by the government for the July 2016 coup attempt.

Ankara considers the YPG an extension of the PKK, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst at the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), said the YPG “remains at the epicenter of Turkey’s threat perception”.

Guler was well-placed to address Turkey’s “transnational counter-terrorism priorities” and lead the campaign against Kurdish forces because of his past roles as chief of military intelligence, head of gendarmerie and postings to NATO.

“There is an undeniable likelihood that Turkey’s new top military chain of command might have to lead a major campaign against the YPG,” Kasapoglu said.

Guler is now favorite to take over from the overall head of the Turkish armed forces, General Hulusi Akar, who is due to step down in two years.

“Guler gets on well with members of Erdogan’s AK Party and is known for his hardline performance against the PKK…and the Gulen movement,” said Metin Gurcan an independent security analyst and retired Turkish military officer who now writes a column for Al-Monitor news website.

For the president, who faces a re-election campaign in 2019, a smooth succession from Akar to Guler would avoid any military upheaval which could send his plans off-course, Gurcan said.

“Until 2023, Erdogan should have smooth sailing without disruption from the Turkish armed forces.”

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Dirimcan Barut in Ankara; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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A Turkish tank on the Syrian border. (Source: Reuters)

Turkey is preparing to ramp up military operations in northern Syria, following a major set back for Ankara’s rebel allies in Idlib province and the continued advance of Kurdish militias, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Syrian opposition forces in the Aleppo countryside have been reliant on the support of the Turkish army and air force, but the offensive by the Operation Euphrates Shield group has stalled in recent months.

“The Euphrates Shield was the dagger we introduced at the heart of the terrorist presence project in Syria, and we are determined to develop new campaigns,” Erdogan said during a speech, in which he discussed the opening of a number of facilities in the Turkish city of Malatya.

“We will take important steps to implement the new campaigns in the near future.”

The Turkish armed forces sent military reinforcements to the border of the city of Kilis, near to areas controlled by the forces of the militias allied to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

Erdogan said the military build-up would strengthen Turkish forces deployed on the Turkish-Syrian border.

Turkish news agencies confirmed the increased military presence along the southern border against threats from Kurdish militants in war-torn northern Syria.

The official Anadolu news agency said on Saturday that Turkey dispatched artillery to Kilis province to back units there.

Turkish-backed rebel groups in Idlib province have also been forces to flee the region after an offensive by al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2017/8/6/turkey-to-extend-military-presence-in-syria

Syria army ‘takes last IS-group held town in Homs’

August 6, 2017

AFP

© AFP file picture | Syrian government forces flash the sign for victory as they approach the strategic Jihar oil fields on the eastern outskirts of Homs on February 7, 2017

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-08-06

Syria’s army seized the last Islamic State group stronghold in the country’s Homs province on Saturday, clearing their path to attack the jihadists in the country’s east, a monitor said.

Al-Sukhna, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) northeast of the famed ancient city of Palmyra, is the last town on the road to the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, where a government garrison has held out under IS siege since early 2015.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said government forces had captured the town after heavy army artillery fire and air strikes by government ally Russia.

There was no official confirmation of the capture from Syria’s government.

State news agency SANA said the army had surrounded the town from three sides.

Since May, Syria’s army has been conducting a broad military campaign with Russian support to recapture the vast desert that separates the capital Damascus from Deir Ezzor and other towns along the Euphrates Valley.

Already defeated in its Iraqi bastion of Mosul, IS is facing multiple assaults in Syria.

The US-backed Syrian Defence Forces now control more than half of its most important remaining stronghold Raqa.

(AFP)

About 2,000 Islamic State Fighters Remain in Syria’s Raqqa — Coalition observes car bomb kill SDF troops as danger persists

August 4, 2017

WASHINGTON — About 2,000 Islamic State fighters are estimated to remain in the Syrian city of Raqqa, fighting for their survival in the face of an offensive by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a senior U.S. official said on Friday.

Brett McGurk, U.S. special envoy for the coalition against Islamic State, said the SDF had cleared about 45 percent of Raqqa since launching an attack in early June to seize Islamic State’s stronghold in northern Syria.

“Today in Raqqa ISIS is fighting for every last block … and fighting for their own survival” McGurk told reporters.

Some 2,000 ISIS fighters are left in the city and “most likely will die in Raqqa,” he said.

The assault on Raqqa coincided with the final stages of a campaign to drive Islamic State from the Iraqi city of Mosul, where the Islamist militants were defeated last month.

McGurk said Islamic State has lost 27,000 square miles (70,000 sq km) of the territory it once held in the two countries – 78 percent of what they had seized in Iraq and 58 percent of what they held in Syria.

Before every military operation, coalition forces surround the area targeted to make sure Islamic State’s foreign fighters cannot escape and make their way out of Iraq and Syria, he said.

With the close cooperation of Turkish forces, the entire Syrian-Turkish border was sealed and Islamic State can no longer send militants trained in Syria for attacks in Europe and elsewhere, McGurk said.

The coalition has compiled a database of almost 19,000 names of Islamic State fighters gathered from cellphones, address books and other documents found on battlefields which it is sharing with the international police agency Interpol, he said.

Islamic State is also fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias.

McGurk said “deconfliction” arrangements the U.S. and Russian militaries have made to avoid accidents as they operate separately in Syria were working well despite deteriorating diplomatic relations between the two countries.

President Donald Trump said on Thursday the U.S.-Russian relationship was at “an all-time and very dangerous low,” and Russia said new sanctions imposed by Washington meant an end to hopes for better ties with the Trump administration.

“So far we have not seen an effect on our engagement with the Russians when it comes to Syria,” McGurk said.

(Reporting by Washington Newsroom; Editing by Eric Beech and Tom Brown)

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40 SDF FIGHTERS REPORTEDLY KILLED IN ISIS CAR BOMB ATTACK IN RAQQA CITY

ISIS claimed that 40 fighters of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed after a VBIED (car bomb) driven by a Tajik suicide bomber targeted their gathering in the Al-Hal market in the southern part of Raqqa city. ISIS addded that the attack also resulted in the destruction of two Humvees, two vehicles and 4 SDF fortified positions.

40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

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40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

Click to see the full-size image

40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

Click to see the full-size image

40 SDF Fighters Reportedly Killed In ISIS VBIED Attack In Raqqa City (Map, Photos)

Click to see the full-size image

Separately, ISIS claimed that its snipers killed 5 SDF fighters and wounded 4 others in Hisham bin Abdul Malik and Nazlat Shehadeh districts and near the Al-Atiq Mosque.

US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Ryan Dillon said that ISIS uses IEDs and VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device — or car bomb)   in 80% of its attacks on The SDF in Raqqa city. Dillon confirmed that SDF controls about 45% of the city and not 55% as claimed by several pro-Kurdish sources.

The SDF continued its advance from the eastern, western and southern directions on ISIS positions. Only 250 meters is left until SDF units meet and capture all the southern districts of Raqqa city.

US-led coalition warplanes carried out 14 airstrikes on ISIS positions in Raqqa city in the last 24 hours. Opposition sources claimed that eight civilians from one family lost their life as a result of a US airstrike on the city yesterday.

ISIS increased suicide attacks against the SDF in Raqqa city, after the US-backed force had besieged ISIS inside the city completely.

https://southfront.org/40-sdf-fighters-killed-vbied-attack-raqqa-city/

Islamic State Attacks Syrian Army East of Homs

August 2, 2017

BEIRUT — Islamic State militants attacked Syrian government forces and their allies in countryside east of Homs and Hama on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Heavy fighting raged around the mountainous Jabal al-Shomariya area in Homs province, and the government side was carrying out air strikes there, the British-based monitoring group said.

Pro-Damascus media outlets quoted a military source saying warplanes had hit targets in the eastern Hama countryside, which borders Jabal al-Shomariya to the north.

Islamic State has been losing ground to government forces further east, close to its stronghold of Deir al-Zor province and al-Sukhna, the last town it holds in Homs province.

Several sides in Syria’s crowded battlefield are fighting Islamic State, including Syrian government forces backed by Russia and Iran, and U.S.-backed, Kurdish-dominated forces around its Raqqa stronghold.

(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Food access in Syria’s Raqa at ‘critical turning point’: NGOs

July 31, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces move through destroyed buildings in Raqa on July 28, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – Food access in Syria’s battle-torn Raqa is now at “a critical turning point,” aid organisations said Monday, with markets shuttered and residents depending fully on their dwindling stockpiles.

Raqa has been gripped by fierce fighting for nearly two months and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have ousted the Islamic State group from half of the northern city.

An assessment released Monday by REACH, a network of humanitarian organisations operating around Raqa, painted an increasingly dire picture.

“While in previous weeks residents were able to purchase some food at markets, the majority of key informants reported that residents are now relying entirely on food stored from previous weeks,” it said.

“Food markets, which were functioning sporadically three weeks ago, are generally no longer in operation.”

Bread was consistently found in 15 of Raqa’s 24 neighbourhoods several weeks ago. Now it is no longer regularly available anywhere in the city.

Food prices have also skyrocketed, forcing residents to eat smaller meals or skip them entirely, the report said.

Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), an activist collective publishing news from inside the city, has also warned of food problems.

“The bakeries are closed because there’s no fuel or flour, and the shopowners have fled. Whatever flour is here is spoiled and full of worms,” RBSS activist Husaam Eesa told AFP earlier this month.

“People can’t store things in the refrigerators because there’s no electricity. They can’t cook because there’s no water.”

The United Nations estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 people are still in Raqa, but REACH said the number could be as low as 10,000.

It estimated that the most densely populated district was Al-Hurriya in the north, with at most 5,000 residents, and that 14 out of the 24 neighbourhoods were abandoned or almost abandoned.

According to REACH, only one wing of Raqa’s state hospital is still functioning but offers just basic first aid.

Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) echoed those concerns on Monday, saying wounded civilians were often trapped in the city for days or weeks without medical care.

“In Raqa city, if you don’t die from airstrikes, you die by mortar fire; if not by mortars then by sniper shots; if not by snipers, then by an explosive device,” a 41-year-old with shrapnel wounds to his chest told MSF after he fled Raqa.

“And if you get to live, you are besieged by hunger and thirst, as there is no food, no water, no electricity.”

Syrian Army Reaches Town on Deir Al-Zor Road: Hezbollah Media Unit

July 29, 2017

BEIRUT — Syria’s army and its allies on Saturday reached the edge of al-Sukhna, the last town held by Islamic State in Homs province and a key step in their multi-pronged offensive against the militants, a Hezbollah-run military media unit said.

Sukhna is on the main desert highway between Palmyra and the government’s besieged enclave at Deir al-Zor, about 130km (80 miles) to the east.

Image result for syrian army, july 2017, photos

The Hezbollah media unit earlier said the Sukhna gas field and heights above the town were within range of the army and its allies’ fire.

A war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported that the army had similar fire control across the whole town and that most Islamic State militants there had fled.

The army and allies including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias are pushing through Syria’s eastern desert to assault Islamic State’s heartland along the Euphrates valley.

Another prong in the offensive is being waged further north, where the army and its allies are advancing along the southern bank of the Euphrates south of Raqqa. Russian jets are supporting the campaign.

U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces have taken swathes of the land north of the Euphrates and are pushing into Raqqa, previously the jihadists’ Syrian capital

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Squeezed in Raqa, IS jihadists ramp up counter-attacks

July 29, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Delil Souleiman | Smoke billows out from Syria’s Raqa after a US-led coalition air strike on July 28, 2017, as US-backed forces battle the Islamic State group inside the city

RAQA (SYRIA) (AFP) – As Islamic State group fighters steadily lose chunks of their Syrian bastion Raqa to a US-backed force, the jihadists are ramping up the ferocity of their counter-attacks.The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) first broke into Raqa in early June and have advanced in a pincer-like motion towards the heart of the city.

The alliance’s Arab and Kurdish fighters now hold half of Raqa, but as they tighten the noose around IS, the jihadist group appears to be lashing out.

“The closer we get to the city centre, the harder IS defends itself, because it’s completely besieged,” said Davram Dersem, an SDF field commander.

To defend Raqa, IS has deployed a barrage of car bombs, suicide bombers, weaponised drones, snipers, and mines scattered across the city.

“They’re cornered like a wounded animal. Raqa is their main stronghold — they’re not going to abandon it easily,” Dersem added.

The Kurdish commander spoke to AFP in the western Raqa neighbourhood of al-Daraiya.

Mortar shells crashed into surrounding neighbourhoods, which were also hit by the occasional air strike.

After IS captured Raqa in 2014, the group transformed the city into a symbol of its most macabre practices, including public beheadings.

Raqa was also thought to have been used as a hub for planning attacks overseas.

Now, much of it has been destroyed by the fierce fighting and US-led air strikes. Roofs have collapsed and streets are littered with rubble, metal, and glass.

– ‘Life-or-death battle’ –

In the adjacent district of Massaken al-Dubbat, 24-year-old SDF fighter Talal Sharif pointed at a devastated row of two-storey homes ahead.

“All of this destruction, it’s because of their car bombs. There have been at least four in each of these streets,” Sharif told AFP.

“Little by little, they’re being suffocated in Raqa. This is why they’re resisting.”

Sharif spoke confidently, but his face was marked by exhaustion after weeks of street-by-street battles.

When his unit recently stormed an IS-held neighbourhood, they stumbled on four enemy fighters sleeping inside a home.

“During the raid, one of the jihadists blew himself up, another two were killed, and one was taken prisoner,” Sharif recalled.

But if they don’t have access to belts of explosives or car bombs, IS fighters resort to something much simpler — grenades.

“In close combat, they just toss grenades. For them, it’s a life-or-death battle,” Devrem said.

Up to 50,000 civilians remain trapped in Raqa in increasingly dire circumstances, with little access to food, water, or life-saving medication, according to the United Nations.

The intensifying fight for Raqa has also forced tens of thousands of its residents to flee, dodging IS sniper fire, mines, and even US-led coalition air strikes.

On Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 21 civilians — including eight children from a single family — had been killed in “intensifying air strikes by the coalition” over the previous 24 hours.

The Britain-based monitor says more than 300 civilians including dozens of children have died since the SDF first broke into Raqa.

Another 467 IS jihadists and 219 SDF have also been killed in the fighting.

SDF advisor Nasser Hajj Mansour said the battle for Raqa is far from over.

“It could still be long. In the coming days, the battles will become more ferocious,” Mansour said.

“IS jihadists will either try to hide amongst the civilians or fight until the end.”

by Delil Souleiman

US-Backed Syrian Fighters Control Almost Half of Raqqa

July 27, 2017

BEIRUT — A spokeswoman for a U.S.-backed Syrian opposition force and a monitoring group say opponents of the Islamic State group have captured nearly half of the extremists’ de facto capital of Raqqa.

Nisreen Abdullah of the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the push into the northern Syrian city has slowed down because of massive amounts of explosives laid by IS fighters.

Image result for Nisreen Abdullah , Women's Protection Units, photos

Nisreen Abdullah

She said fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a coalition that includes the YPJ, now controls 45 percent of Raqqa.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says SDF fighters control half the city.

The SDF began an offensive to capture Raqqa on June 6, under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S-led coalition and have since captured 11 neighborhoods according to Abdullah.

Kurdish Women’s Protection Units

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ISIS is rapidly losing control of Raqqa, its headquarters in Syria

The Islamic State is struggling to mount an effective defense of the Syrian city of Raqqa, its headquarters, as local forces make rapid headway in ousting the militants, the U.S. military said.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they have captured 40% of the city since June 6, when a ground assault began.

“We don’t see any significant counterattacks,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Dirk Smith, a deputy commander of the U.S.-led coalition, “I’d characterize them in disarray.”

Since this month’s recapture of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from the Islamic State, Raqqa has become the main focus of the fight against the militants, also known as ISIS. The battle to win back control of Mosul took nearly nine months.

It’s not clear how many ISIS fighters remain in Raqqa. Before the offensive began, some leaders escaped to the city of Mayadin, southeast of Raqqa on the Euphrates River. “ISIS made a strategic retreat,” said Andrew Tabler, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Smith said U.S. airstrikes and surveillance support have helped weaken the militants in Raqqa, leaving them confused and unable to effectively defend the city.

“ISIS is not quite sure what to do,” he said, adding that the militants have not been able to leave or enter the city.

SDF fighters and U.S. strikes began operations to isolate the city and weaken defenses months before the final ground offensive was launched.

One advantage the SDF has over Iraq’s military while fighting in Mosul is the terrain. Many neighborhoods in Mosul are crowded with narrow streets and alleys, and the city was home to about 150,000 civilians as Iraqi forces began their final assault. Attacking in a city is among the most difficult types of combat.

Raqqa is smaller than Mosul and not as densely packed.

But the U.S.-backed forces in the Raqqa offensive are not as well organized as Iraq’s military, which led the ground assault into Mosul. In Syria, the coalition relies on a loose coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters who don’t have the same level of training and organization as Iraq’i troops.

The United States provides the SDF’s 50,000 fighters with arms and has deployed hundreds of advisers to work with them.

The coalition has increased airstrikes as the SDF closes in on Raqqa. On Tuesday, the coalition launched 24 strikes around the city, destroying 14 militant units, six fighting positions, four observation posts and other targets, U.S. Central Command reported.

It is difficult to predict whether the SDF will be able to maintain the pace of recent weeks. The militants may be allowing the opposition to advance into the city before hitting them with counterattacks, a tactic used in Mosul, said Jennifer Cafarella, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C.

The Mosul offensive slowed amid stiff resistance from ISIS after an initial rapid advance.

The eventual fall of Raqqa will bring the coalition closer to ending ISIS control over cities and towns in Iraq and Syria, but it will not end the group’s ability to launch terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere and spread propaganda over the Internet.

“The physical representation of the caliphate will fall, but they have had three years to prepare for that,” said Katherine Zimmerman, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

“These guys never give up,” Cafarella said.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/07/26/isis-struggles-defend-raqqa-syria/513127001/