Posts Tagged ‘SDF’

US-backed forces take Raqa hospital from IS holdouts

October 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Gihad Darwish with Maya Gebeily in Kobane | Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces celebrate at the frontline in the Islamic State (IS) group’s crumbling stronghold of Raqa on October 16, 2017

RAQA (SYRIA) (AFP) – US-backed forces said Tuesday they had retaken the main hospital in Syria’s Raqa from the Islamic State group, leaving the jihadists to make a last stand around the city’s stadium.The capture of the state hospital brought the Syrian Democratic Forces closer to completing their conquest of Raqa, a northern city that was once the de facto capital of IS-held territory.

“The national hospital was liberated and… 22 foreign mercenaries were killed,” the SDF said. “Clashes continue with great intensity near the municipal stadium.”

The jihadists also suffered setbacks Tuesday in the eastern Syrian region of Deir Ezzor, where Russian-backed regime forces retook swathes of territory, further reducing a “caliphate” that three years ago was roughly the size of Britain.

In Raqa, only about 300 IS fighters, mostly foreigners, were believed to remain in the last neighbourhoods still out of the control of the SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance supported by the US-led coalition battling IS in Syria and Iraq.

The retaking of the hospital followed Monday’s seizure by the SDF of an infamous roundabout used by the jihadists for public beheadings and crucifixions.

The Al-Naim traffic circle had been dubbed the “Roundabout of Hell” by residents under IS’s more than three years of rule over the city.

As the sun was setting over Raqa’s west Monday, a group of fighters gathered for the dabkeh — the jumpy line dance traditional in the Middle East — to celebrate their native city’s near-recapture.

Three months after Iraqi forces retook Iraq’s Mosul, the largest city the jihadist group controlled, the loss of Raqa will be another nail in the coffin of IS’s brutal experiment in statehood.

Image result for Al-Naim traffic circle, photos

– End of battle –

The breakthrough in the operation to retake Raqa, which was launched on June 6, came after a deal was struck allowing the evacuation in recent days of civilians who had been held as human shields.

Under the deal, a total of 275 Syrian IS fighters and relatives also surrendered to the SDF, though it was unclear whether they would be given safe passage elsewhere.

The final phase of the Raqa battle was launched on Sunday after a last batch of haggard-looking civilians was able to escape the devastated city.

The SDF said it may achieve full victory in Raqa very soon, but stressed that fierce fighting was still under way near the stadium.

“The end of the battle is fast approaching, maybe today or tomorrow,” SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP.

After IS captured Raqa in 2014, the city become synonymous with the jihadist group’s worst abuses and was transformed into a planning centre for attacks abroad.

After Raqa, anti-IS efforts will focus on Deir Ezzor province, where the jihadists still control areas around the town of Mayadeen, part of provincial capital Deir Ezzor, as well as several villages and remote desert areas.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that regime forces had brought the entire area stretching between Deir Ezzor and Mayadeen under their control following a major military offensive.

“These are not desert areas, they are villages along the Euphrates (river) that were IS strongholds,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.

“The Islamic State group is collapsing under pressure from the regime in Deir Ezzor province,” it said.

IS also controls territory in neighbouring regions on the Iraqi side of the border, where they are facing another US-backed offensive by Iraqi pro-government forces.

by Gihad Darwish with Maya Gebeily in Kobane
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US-backed forces in toughest Raqa fighting yet

October 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) take a position inside a building on the eastern frontline of Raqa on October 5, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – The US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting to wrest the Syrian city of Raqa from the Islamic State group was engaged Monday in its toughest fighting yet, a spokeswoman said.”The Syrian Democratic Forces are currently waging their toughest battles yet,” said Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokeswoman for the operation launched in early June to retake IS’s one-time de facto Syrian capital.

An estimated 300 diehard jihadists holding no more than 10 percent of the eastern city were bracing for a bloody last stand after the weekend evacuation of most civilians set the stage for the SDF’s final assault.

The latest fighting “will bring an end to Daesh’s presence, meaning they can choose between surrendering and dying,” Sheikh Ahmed told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

The jihadists are trapped and the outcome of the battle is in no doubt but flushing out a group of mostly foreign fighters who have nothing to lose and who had months to prepare remains a perilous task.

“The IS elements that are still there are resisting,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the neighbourhoods where fighting is under way “are fortified and heavily mined areas.”

 

U.S.-allied forces begin final assault on Islamic State in Syria’s Raqqa

October 16, 2017
By Bassem Mroue
Associated Press
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U.S.-backed Syrian fighters launched an operation to retake the last Islamic State-held pocket of the northern city of Raqqa on Sunday after some 275 militants and their family members surrendered.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said the operation will continue “until all the city is cleansed from terrorists who refused to surrender.”

The SDF has been on the offensive in Raqqa since early June and now controls about 90 percent of the city that was once the extremist group’s self-styled capital. Most of the fighters who remain in the pocket are foreigners, according to the SDF and opposition activists.

The operation was named after Adnan Abu Amjad, an Arab commander with the SDF who was killed in August while fighting against IS in central Raqqa.

The loss of Raqqa would hand another major blow to IS, which has lost most of the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq. Iraqi forces captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul — the largest ever held by the extremist group — in July, and Syrian government forces retook the eastern Syrian city of Mayadeen, near the border with Iraq, on Saturday.

IS still holds parts of Syria’s Deir el-Zour province and Iraq’s Anbar province, as well as small, scattered pockets elsewhere.

On Saturday, the U.S.-led coalition and local officials said Syrian IS fighters and civilians would be allowed to leave Raqqa, but not foreign fighters. The evacuation appeared aimed at sparing the lives of civilians being used as human shields. As of last week, around 4,000 civilians were believed to still be in the city.

The SDF said the initiative by local tribesmen and members of the Raqqa Civil Council “succeed in evacuating civilians who were still in the city and the surrender of 275 local mercenaries and their families.” It added that the ongoing offensive aims to “end the presence of mercenaries of the terrorist organization inside the city.”

US-backed fighters begin final attack in Syria’s Raqqa

October 15, 2017

The Associated Press

OCTOBER 15, 2017 2:31 AM

© AFP/File | The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say they have begun the battle to capture the last 10 percent of Raqa under jihadist control

‘Islamic State’ facing imminent collapse in Syria’s Raqqa

October 15, 2017

US-backed coalition forces claim they are about to drive the “Islamic State” completely out of Raqqa. Local officials and tribal leaders have reportedly struck a deal to allow IS fighters and civilians to evacuate.

SDF forces fight Islamic State in Raqqa in 2017

US-backed forces were on the brink of defeating the last remnants of the “Islamic State” (IS) group in the jihadists’ de-facto Syrian capital of Raqqa on Saturday, according to officials close to the operation to retake the city.

A spokesman for the US-led coalition, Colonel Ryan Dillon, said that around 100 IS militants had already surrendered and been “removed” from the city since Friday.

“We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think Islamic State will be completely defeated in Raqqa,” he said.

But the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG told Reuters that coalition forces could have the city clear of IS forces within days.

Read more: Syrian Christians advance against IS in de-facto capital Raqqa

“The battles are continuing in Raqqa city. Daesh (IS) is on the verge of being finished. Today or tomorrow the city may be liberated,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud said.

Kurdish YPG in Syrian SDF alliance

The YPG is one of the most influential militant in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of groups that also includes Arabs and Christian units.

The SDF offensive to retake Raqqa started in June with the help of US-led airstrikes and several hundred US special forces.

Syrian IS fighters leaving Raqqa

Hundreds of people are trapped in IS-held pockets in the city, raising concerns over civilian casualties and IS using human shields.

Local officials from the Raqqa Civil Council and tribal leaders announced Saturday they had struck a deal to evacuate civilians and local fighters. The SDF will search and screen all people departing Raqqa.

The US-led coalition confirmed the deal in a statement.

“The arrangement is designed to minimize civilian casualties and purportedly excludes foreign terrorists,” the US-led coalition said in a statement, adding that it does not condone a deal that allows IS fighters “to escape Raqqa without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else.”

 Civil Council/local Arab tribal elders work to minimize civilian casualties as SDF & @CJTFOIR prepare for major defeat in Raqqa

UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitoring group said that the issue of foreign fighters was of particular concern.

“The obstacle to their departure is that the mastermind of attacks in Paris in November 2015 is believed to be among them and he has refused to surrender,” SOHR head Rami Abdel-Rahman said. IS supporters killed 130 people in multiple terrorist attacks across Paris in November 2015.

Separately, the Syrian government and allied Shiite militia retook the town of Mayadeen from IS after intense fighting and Russian airstrikes, the Syrian military said Saturday.

Located along the Euphrates River near the Iraqi border, Mayadeen has been strategic IS stronghold as the group lost territory in Syria and Iraq.

Pro-Syrian regime forces have been trying to secure the Iraqi border and push IS out of a small pocket in the provincial capital Deir al-Zor

IS stronghold since 2014

IS had seized Raqqa as part of a broad offensive in Syria and Iraq in early 2014 and the city has since served as the jihadists’ primary Syrian stronghold.

But IS has lost much of its territory after US and Russian-backed forces began separate offensives against the militant group. In July, US-backed Iraqi forces retook Mosul, the jihadists’ de-facto capital in Iraq.

cw/amp/jm (Reuters, AP, dpa)

U.S. Commander: Final Assault on Islamic State Stronghold at Raqqa To Begin Sunday

October 8, 2017

The Jerusalem Post

By Reuters

OCTOBER 8, 2017 15:56

 

The Islamic State has been pushed out of Mosul and other major cities in the last several months, and Raqqa remains its last real stronghold.

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa recently

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa. (photo credit:REUTERS)

A final assault on Islamic State’s last line of defense in its former Syrian capital Raqqa should begin on Sunday night, a field commander for the US-backed forces operating there said.

The loss of Islamic State’s remaining streets and buildings in Raqqa following its defeat in Iraq’s Mosul this year and its retreat from swathes of territory in both countries, would mark a major milestone in the battle to destroy the jihadist group.

The assault on militants in the center of the northern city will focus on surrounding the sports stadium there, said a field commander in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in western Raqqa, who gave his name as Ardal Raqqa.

“Daesh is massing there because this is the last stage. They will resist, or they will surrender or die,” he said. “This their last stand to the death.”

Islamic State declared a caliphate in 2014 and at the height of its power ruled over millions of people, from northern Syria to the outskirts of Iraq’s capital Baghdad, but it has since endured a series of losses under attack from many sides.

Raqqa was the group’s de facto Syrian capital, a center of operations where it oversaw the management of much of eastern, central and northern Syria and planned attacks abroad.

Now it is hemmed into a small area in the city center that includes the stadium, the National Hospital and a roundabout where Islamic State once displayed the heads of its enemies.

In the hours before the expected launch of the final assault, which the commander said could take up to a week, the sound of gunfire sporadically rattled around the area near the hospital.

The district had been flattened, with buildings completely gone. Coalition jets soared overhead and air strikes pounded at a higher rate than in recent days.

Islamic State has lost most of its territory to the SDF, spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia, and to a rival offensive by Syria’s army and allied forces this year, and has fallen back on the fertile Euphrates valley area downstream of Raqqa.

The army and its allies reached the city of Deir al-Zor in September after a months-long offensive across the Syrian desert, and have since then pushed down the Euphrates towards the border with Iraq.

On Sunday a Syrian military source said they had encircled Islamic State fighters in the city of al-Mayadin, one of the jihadists’ last strongholds in the area.

“Units of our armed forces with the allied forces continue their advance on a number of fronts and axes in Deir al-Zor and its countryside… and encircle Daesh terrorists in the city of al-Mayadin,” the military source said.

However, the group has still been able to launch a series of effective counter attacks against the Syrian army in the central desert region over the past week, putting pressure on the main supply road to Deir al-Zor from the west.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is backed in the war by Russia, Iran and Shi’ite militias including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and its campaign against Islamic State has mostly been on the west bank of the river.

The US-backed SDF campaign has mostly been on the east bank, where Raqqa is located, and has also advanced downstream to hold areas opposite Deir al-Zor. The United States and Russia have put in place channels to lessen the risk of fighting between the rival offensives they back.

US officials have previously said that Islamic State had relocated some of its diminished command and propaganda structures to al-Mayadin as it was forced from territory elsewhere.

The spokeswoman for the SDF campaign in Raqqa, Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, said in a statement on a website for the campaign that it would announce the liberation of Raqqa “in the coming few days” after having captured 85 percent of the city.

Commanders directing the battle in Raqqa have said that Islamic State fighters have taken civilian hostages and are using sniper fire, booby traps and tunnels to slow the SDF advance.

The SDF began its campaign to isolate Raqqa early this year, pushing along several fronts to enclose the city against the Euphrates backed by coalition air strikes and special forces.Its attack on the city itself started in June and the fighting left much of Raqqa in ruins, as intense air strikes and street-to-street battles devastated buildings.

Security tight in Cameroon anglophone region as toll rises

October 2, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by by Reinnier Kaze with Amaury Hauchard in Libreville | Police with riot equipment patrolled Buea’s administrative quarter on Sunday

BUEA (CAMEROON) (AFP) – Police maintained a tight grip in English-speaking Cameroon on Monday a day after the anglophone minority declared symbolic independence, as the toll from weekend clashes rose to at least 17 dead, according to an unofficial tally.

Highways in the anglophone Southwest Region remained blocked or filtered by police checkpoints in the early morning, and in the city of Buea the streets were virtually deserted and heavily patrolled.

Police and troops set up five roadblocks on the vital 70-kilometre (43-mile) road link between Cameroon’s economic hub of Douala and Buea, Southwest Region’s chief city, an AFP journalist saw.

In the rundown Buea district of Mile 17 — a reputed haven for separatists — rocks, hurled in demonstrations on Sunday, were strewn in the streets.

Police carried out overnight arrests in one of the city’s districts, and left with individuals who were in handcuffs, an AFP journalist saw.

On social media, pro-independence campaigners reported a wave of raids and arrests, but it was difficult to confirm their claim. Internet access in anglophone region was poor or cut off.

– Rising toll –

Amnesty International said “at least” 17 people had been killed by security forces in the country’s two English-speaking regions, a figure that concurred with a toll given by official sources, who said two Nigerians were among the dead.

An earlier tally compiled by AFP put the death toll at seven, who were shot dead by security forces

On Sunday, separatists used the October 1 anniversary of the official unification of the English- and French-speaking parts of Cameroon to declare independence for “Ambazonia,” the name of the state they want to create.

The violence was the culmination of weeks of mounting tension in the Southwest and Northwest Regions — home to anglophones who account for about a fifth of the West African nation’s population of 22 million.

English-speakers complain they have suffered decades of economic inequality and social injustice at the hands of the French-speaking majority, especially in education and the judiciary.

Most anglophone campaigners want the country to resume a federalist system — an approach that followed the 1961 unification but was later scrapped in favour of a centralised government run from the capital Yaounde.

But a hardline minority is calling for secession.

– ‘No longer slaves’ –

The symbolic declaration of independence was made Sunday on social media by Sisiku Ayuk, who describes himself as the “president” of Ambazonia.

“We are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” he said. “Today we affirm the autonomy of our heritage and our territory.”

Both federalism and independence are opposed by the country’s long-ruling president, 84-year-old Paul Biya.

On Sunday, Biya said he condemned “all acts of violence, whatever their source” and urged “dialogue.”

The European Union has called on all side to refrain from violence and uphold the law, a position echoed on Monday by France, Cameroon’s former colonial power. Amnesty International has called on the government to inquire into the deaths.

Cameroon was a German colony from 1884 until 1919, when it was split into British- and French- run entities at the end of World War I.

Today’s anglophone-francophone rift dates back to 1961, when the British-administered Southern Cameroons united with Cameroon after its independence from France in 1960.

by by Reinnier Kaze with Amaury Hauchard in Libreville
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Seven killed in Cameroon as anglophones declare ‘independence’

October 2, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Reinnier KAZE with Amaury HAUCHARD in Libreville | Cameroon security forces patrolled mostly deserted streets in Buea on Sunday as a separatist group in the English-speaking region made a symbolic declaration of independence

BUEA (CAMEROON) (AFP) – At least seven people were killed in Cameroon’s restive anglophone belt at the weekend as a separatist group made a symbolic declaration of independence.The separatists chose October 1, the anniversary of the official reunification of the anglophone and francophone parts of Cameroon, to declare independence for “Ambazonia”, the name of the state they want to create.

Since November, the anglophone minority has been protesting against perceived discrimination.

 Location of Cameroon on the globe.

The government deployed security forces at the weekend in English-speaking regions, notably Buea in the southwest and Bamenda, the main town in the northwest and a hub of anglophone agitation.

Several people were admitted to hospital in Bamenda Sunday after clashes between demonstrators and police, according to a medical source.

“At least one person was injured by live fire” in Bamenda, where the situation was “very tense”, a source close to the local authorities told AFP.

The “security forces had to resort to tear gas and sometimes to shots to disperse the protesters”, the source said by telephone.

Bamenda residents contacted by AFP reported “shooting” by the security forces without giving further details.

– ‘Real bullets’ –

One of the leaders of the opposition , told AFP the security forces were “firing real bullets at the protesters” but stressed that he was not a supporter of the secessionist movement.

In Ndop, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Bamenda, two people were “shot dead”, according to sources, while one was killed in Kumbo on the sidelines of the protests, city mayor Donatus Njong said.

Also in Kumbo, three prison inmates were shot and killed trying to escape while security forces were mobilised for the deployments in anglophone regions, a source close to regional authorities said.

A young man was shot dead by security forces on Saturday in the southwest town of Kumba, known as a rebellious city since the start of the protests, sparking clashes between security forces and the local population.

“They fired at him during a security operation,” a nurse who requested anonymity told AFP. The incident was confirmed by a security source and several local residents contacted by phone.

Cameroon’s long-serving president, 84-year-old Paul Biya, took to social media Sunday to condemn “all acts of violence, no matter where they come from or who is responsible.”

The European Union called on all sides to be responsible and “respect the rule of law and avoid any act of violence.”

The crisis provoked by the protests, which was exacerbated at the start of 2017 when internet access was cut for three months, has intensified in recent weeks with the push to symbolically proclaim independence of the English-speaking regions.

On September 22, “between 30 and 80,000” people demonstrated across Cameroon’s anglophone regions, according to estimates by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

– ‘No longer slaves’ –

The symbolic declaration of independence was made Sunday on social media by Sisiku Ayuk, who describes himself as the “president” of Ambazonia.

Image result for Sisiku Ayuk, photos

“We are no longer slaves of Cameroon,” he said.

“Today we affirm the autonomy of our heritage and our territory.”

Ahead of the declaration, Cameroonian authorities announced a temporary curb on travel and public meetings across the Southwest Region, adding to a curfew in the neighbouring Northwest Region, also English-speaking.

Internet access has been disrupted since Friday, according to an AFP journalist, despite government assurances that there would be no cutting of access in the anglophone areas.

The majority of Cameroon’s 22 million people are French-speaking, while about a fifth are English speakers.

The legacy dates back to 1961, when a formerly British entity, Southern Cameroons, united with Cameroon after its independence from France in 1960.

The anglophone minority has long complained about disparities in the distribution of Cameroon’s oil wealth.

Since November, the anglophone minority has been protesting against perceived discrimination especially in education and the judicial system, where they say the French language and traditions are being imposed on them, even though English is one of the country’s two official languages.

Most anglophone campaigners want the country to resume a federalist system — an approach that followed the 1961 unification but was later scrapped in favour of a centralised government run from the capital Yaounde. A hardline minority is calling for secession.

President Biya opposes any such changes.

by Reinnier KAZE with Amaury HAUCHARD in Libreville

Russian Jets Strike U.S.-Backed Forces in Eastern Syria: SDF

September 25, 2017

BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian militias said Russian warplanes struck their positions in Deir al-Zor province on Monday, near a major natural gas field they seized from Islamic State in recent days.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, has been fighting Islamic State on the eastern bank of the Euphrates river with U.S.-led jets and special forces. The SDF on one hand, and Syrian troops with Russian air power on the other, have converged on Islamic State in separate offensives in Deir al-Zor.

Spokesman Mustafa Bali said the attack on Monday “by land and air” had wounded SDF fighters.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

US-led strikes killed 84 civilians near Syria’s Raqa: HRW

September 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Human Rights Watch says civilians were killed in a March air strike by the US-led coalition on a bakery in the Syrian town of Tabqa, shown here in September 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – US-led coalition strikes near the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold Raqa in March killed at least 84 civilians, including dozens of children, Human Rights Watch alleged Monday.The group said the strikes hit two sites: a school housing displaced families in the town of Mansourah, and a market and bakery in the town of Tabqa.

It said witnesses acknowledged IS fighters had been present at both sites, but that large number of civilians were also there.

“These attacks killed dozens of civilians, including children, who had sought shelter in a school or were lining up to buy bread at a bakery,” HRW deputy emergencies director Ole Solvang said.

“If coalition forces did not know that there were civilians at these sites, they need to take a long, hard look at the intelligence they are using to verify its targets because it clearly was not good enough.”

HRW said the first of the two strikes was on March 20, and killed at least 40 people including 16 children at the Badia school in Mansourah. The second was on March 22 and killed at least 44 people including 14 children at the Tabqa market and bakery.

The US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes in support of anti-IS operations in Syria since September 2014, after expanding its existing campaign in neighbouring Iraq.

Since last November, it has been supporting the Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as it battles to capture Raqa province, including its capital Raqa city.

The SDF broke into Raqa city in June and is on the verge of capturing the former jihadist bastion.

But activists have criticised what they say are disproportionately high civilian death tolls in the campaign.

The coalition says it take all possible precautions to avoid civilian casualties and investigates credible reports of civilian deaths in its strikes.

In August, it acknowledged the deaths of 624 civilians in its strikes in Syria and Iraq since 2014.

But rights groups say the real figure is much higher, and HRW criticised the coalition’s methodology for assessing civilian casualties.

It said the coalition reported having assessed the Mansourah and Tabqa strikes, but it appeared they carried out no site visits nor witness interviews even though both places have been under SDF control for weeks.

“If the coalition had visited the sites and talked to witnesses they would have found plenty of evidence that civilians were killed in these attacks,” Solvang said.

“The coalition should follow our lead, conduct full investigations, and find ways to make its civilian casualty assessments more accurate.”

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.