Posts Tagged ‘SDF’

Fighters from Syria’s Raqa battle to oust IS from their hometown

June 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Delil Souleiman | Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces chat in a neighbourhood in the west of Raqa city, after seizing the area from the Islamic State group on June 11, 2017
RAQA (SYRIA) (AFP) – Khalil al-Hussein fled the Islamic State group’s Syrian stronghold Raqa 18 months ago, but now he is back and fighting to help oust the jihadists from his hometown.The 25-year-old is one of several members of a Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting IS who are originally from the northern city.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces began an operation to capture Raqa last year, and finally entered the city earlier this month.

It was the first time Hussein had been inside his hometown since he fled, following years under terrifying IS rule.

“I fled Raqa because the crimes of Daesh became too much to bear: the punishments, the decapitations, prison, insults,” he told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

“I want to find my house again whatever the price — even if I have to die,” said Hussein, who lived in the city’s eastern district of Al-Rumeilah.

When the SDF broke into Raqa city for the first time on June 6, Hussein was among their ranks.

“I want to liberate my city from Daesh,” he said passionately, standing on the city outskirts, his head wrapped in a green scarf.

“I’m not just here for my house, I’m here to liberate my city’s people.”

– ‘Beautiful memories’ –

Located in a remote desert region and bordered to the south by the Euphrates river, Raqa was little known internationally before the country’s conflict erupted in March 2011.

It was the first provincial capital to fall to rebels, but IS jihadists seized it from opposition fighters in 2014, and transformed it into their de facto Syrian capital.

Since then, it has become synonymous with the group’s worst atrocities, a place of public executions and prison sentences for such “crimes” as smoking or wearing jeans.

But the city still holds a special place in the hearts of its natives, including Hussein, who smiles when he talks about it.

“There is nothing more beautiful than Raqa,” he said, his eyes shining.

“I have beautiful memories of the pretty streets, the generous residents and the coexistence between communities.”

Raqa had some 300,000 residents before the war, most of them Sunni Arabs.

But the population was also about 20 percent Kurdish and included thousands of Syriac and Armenian Christians.

Hussein signed up with the SDF after fleeing Raqa, joining the ranks of its Kurdish and Arab fighters, many of them like him from Raqa city.

– ‘We will free Raqa’ –

At his side, on the outskirts of the city, his fellow fighters discuss the unfolding battle, in which the SDF has so far captured four neighbourhoods, two in the east and two in the west.

Hussein’s Al-Rumeilah neighbourhood, however, remains under IS control.

Some of the fighters smoke, while others take photos of the city.

A group join hands, some with weapons slung over their shoulders, and dance the traditional Middle Eastern “dabke” to celebrate their advances.

“We feel great joy,” said Abu Saleh al-Hindawi, a fighter who commands Arab members of the SDF.

He is also from Raqa, and participated in the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government when it began in 2011, before later joining the SDF.

Walid al-Khalaf, perched on a pick-up truck and bearing an automatic weapon, is also originally from the Al-Rumeilah district, and left last year.

“I haven’t seen my house for eight months. I can’t describe how I feel,” the 28-year-old said.

“I left my house with nothing but a blanket and mattress.”

Now, he has a single thing on his mind.

“We will free Raqa, and God willing the battle won’t last long,” he said.

“And wherever the jihadists go, we will pursue them.”

by Delil Souleiman

Russia To Target U.S. and Coalition Aircraft Over Syria

June 19, 2017

Russia steps up rhetoric after U.S. fighter shoots down Syrian government jet

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June 19, 2017 10:33 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Russia escalated tensions with the United States Monday, promising to actively track U.S. and coalition aircraft over Syria with air defense systems and warplanes, the country’s defense ministry said.

In a statement released Monday, the Russian military said it would treat U.S. and coalition operating west of the Euphrates Rivers as “aerial targets,” but stopped short of threatening a shootdown.

“In regions where the…

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Russia warns US-led coalition over downing of Syrian jet

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Defence ministry says planes flying west of Euphrates will be treated as targets and that it has suspended safety agreement with US

A US navy F/A-18 Super Hornet
The Pentagon confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday. Photograph: US DoD handout/EPA

Russia’s defence ministry has said it will treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river in Syria as a potential target, after the US military shot down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday.

The ministry also said it was suspending a safety agreement with Washington designed to prevent collisions and dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace.

According to the Pentagon the Syrian jet in question had dropped bombs near US partner forces involved in the fight to wrest Raqqa from Islamic State (Isis) control. It was the first such US attack on a Syrian air force plane since the start of the country’s civil war six years ago.

In an apparent attempt at deescalation, Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the defence and security committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, described the defence ministry’s statement as a warning. “I’m sure that because of this neither the US nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” he told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”

Ozerov said Russia will be tracking the coalition’s jets, not shooting them down, but he added that “a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft”.

The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the US strike “has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law.

“What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.”

The Russian response increases the risk of an inadvertent air fight breaking out between US and Russian warplanes in the skies above Syria.

The US military confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday. The US said the Syrian jet had dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are aligned with US forces in the fight against Isis. Damascus said its plane had been on anti-Isis mission.

Col John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command, said there were no US forces in the immediate vicinity of the Syrian attack but that the SDF was under threat for more than two hours.

The growing risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Russia follows a decision by Donald Trump to grant his military chiefs untrammelled control of US military strategy in Syria.

Tensions have also been bubbling between Washington and Moscow over efforts to dislodge Isis from its Raqqa stronghold.

Russia, a staunch supporter of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has been pressing the US to make the removal of Isis a joint land and air operation, but discussions over Syria’s long-term political future appear to have ground to a halt, leaving the US military to operate in a political vacuum.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters working alongside western special forces, said it would take action to defend itself from Syrian warplanes if attacks continued.

The Trump administration has promised to improve arms supplies to the SDF after it concluded that it was the force most capable of freeing Raqqa from Isis.

In a sign of how complex the Syrian peace process has become, Russian-sponsored peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, are scheduled to resume on the same day – 10 July – as talks convened by the UN in Geneva.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced the date on Monday in the knowledge that it would coincide with the UN schedule. He also said that the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, would take part.

A spokesman for de Mistura said “the subject is currently being discussed”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/19/russia-target-us-led-coalition-warplanes-over-syria

Russia halts US aviation cooperation over downing of Syrian jet

June 19, 2017

AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press

© Omar haj kadour, AFP | A Syrian army jet fires rockets over the village of Rahbet Khattab in Hama province on March 23, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-19

The Russian defence ministry said Monday that it was halting aviation cooperation with the United States after the US downed a Syrian government warplane on Sunday, a move one Russian official described as a clear “act of aggression”.

The Russian defence ministry said it was halting cooperation with Washington within the framework of the Memorandum on the Prevention of Incidents and Ensuring Air Safety in Syria, effective immediately. It also accused the United States of not using the proper communication channels before shooting down the Syrian army jet.

“The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the ministry said, adding that Moscow “ends cooperation with the American side from June 19”.

Moreover, any coalition aircraft flying to the west of the Euphrates will be treated as targets, the defence ministry said.

“Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates river will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground.”

URGENT: Russian military halts Syria sky incident prevention interactions with US as of June 19 – Moscow https://on.rt.com/8f9g pic.twitter.com/w27zQsyy5y

RT

@RT_comCoalition’s airborne objects in Russian Air Force’s Syria missions areas to be tracked as targets – Moscow https://on.rt.com/8f9g  pic.twitter.com/PHqYQjI6Yo

Voir l'image sur Twitter

Russia previously suspended the memorandum of understanding on air safety in April to protest against US airstrikes launched in response to a suspected chemical attack.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, on Monday firmly condemned the United States for shooting down the Syrian plane, calling it an “act of aggression”.

“This strike has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law,” Ryabkov told journalists in Moscow on Monday, the TASS news agency reported. “What is this if not an act of aggression?”

Ryabkov said the Kremlin had also warned the United States not to use force against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

A Syrian jet plane

The incident marked the first time an American fighter jet had taken down a Syrian warplane, which Washington accused of attacking US-backed fighters.

The tensions come as the US-led coalition and allied fighters battle to evict the Islamic State (IS) group from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

>> Read more: MSF says 10,000 Syrians flee Raqqa as battle for the city nears

The Syrian jet was shot down after regime forces engaged fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance battling IS jihadists with US support, in an area close to Raqqa. The American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian SU-22 around 7pm as it “dropped bombs near SDF fighters” south of the town of Tabqa, the coalition said in a statement.

It said that several hours earlier, regime forces had attacked the SDF in another town near Tabqa, wounding several and driving the SDF from the town.

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces”.

Syria’s army disputed the account, saying its plane was hit while “conducting a mission against the terrorist Islamic State group”.

It warned of “the grave consequences of this flagrant aggression”.

International imbroglio

The SDF entered Raqqa for the first time earlier this month and now holds four neighbourhoods in the east and west of the city.

In a further escalation of military action in Syria, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched a series of missiles into Syria on Sunday in revenge for deadly attacks on its capital that were claimed by the Islamic State group. It said the missiles were “in retaliation” for a June 7 attack on the parliament complex and the shrine of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that killed 17 people.

Assad has focused his forces further east, to the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, which is largely under IS group control and where government forces are besieged in part of the provincial capital.

Outside of coalition operations, US forces have only once directly targeted the regime – when Washington launched air strikes against an airbase it said was the launchpad for an alleged chemical attack that killed more than 80 civilians in April.

The Kremlin denounced those US strikes as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”.

Syria’s war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but has since spiralled into a complex and bloody conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people and become a proxy war for regional powers as well as ensnaring the United States and Russia.

Interfax reported that Ryabkov and the US under secretary of state, Thomas Shannon, would meet in St Petersburg on June 23 to discuss persistent tensions in bilateral ties.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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The Syrian SU-22 fighter bomber was shot down by an American F18 Super Hornet after it had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces north of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil)-held city of Raqqa in northern Syria.

The US, which has special forces troops in the area, had earlier sent a warning to the Syrian military to stop targeting the forces and called on Russia to rein in its ally, but they were ignored.

Russia, which intervened militarily to back the Syrian regime in 2015,on Monday condemned the US action, saying it flouted international law.

“It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, adding it was a “dangerous escalation”.

 Image may contain: airplane

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said: “It is hard for me to choose any other words but these: if you [the US] can’t help you should at least not interfere. As your ‘efforts’ once again do nothing but help the militants.

“You are fighting the wrong party: it is not the Syrian army that perpetrates terror attacks in European capital cities.”

See the whole report:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/18/us-forces-shoot-syrian-jet-first-time-move-described-self-defence/

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IS battles to keep US-backed Syria force from Raqa Old City

June 13, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Rana Moussaoui | Members of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand in the village of Hazima on the northern outskirts of the Islamic State (IS) group’s Syrian bastion of Raqa on June 6, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – Islamic State group jihadists waged fierce battles Tuesday in their Syrian stronghold Raqa in a bid to repel US-backed fighters advancing towards the walls of the Old City.

The Kurdish and Arab fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) entered Raqa a week ago, after months of fighting to encircle the northern city that has become a jihadist bastion.

Since then, they have seized one neighbourhood in western Raqa and another in the east, where they are now battling to secure control of the Al-Senaa district that leads to the Old City.

Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokeswoman for the SDF campaign for Raqa, said the jihadist group was putting up stiff resistance.

“There is fierce fighting against Daesh which is making heavy use of mines and snipers and sometimes car bombs,” she told AFP, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

She said clashes in Al-Senaa were continuing on Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor also reported heavy IS attacks against SDF fighters in the area.

“The district is not yet completely secured because of the repeated jihadist attacks,” the Britain-based group said.

Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said the capture of Al-Senaa would be the SDF’s “most important advance in the battle for Raqa because it brings them to the centre of the city.”

“The main battle for Raqa will take place in the city centre,” he said.

He added that a large number of IS fighters were holed up in the Old City, where the jihadist group is also believed to have dug tunnels to facilitate their defence of the area.

Since entering Raqa on June 6, the SDF has captured the eastern neighbourhood of Al-Meshleb, as well as Al-Rumaniya in the city’s west.

It is now battling to push from Al-Rumaniya into neighbouring Hatin district.

– Calls to protect civilians –

The SDF has yet to enter the city from the north, but on Monday captured a military base and adjacent factory after days of clashes and heavy air strikes by the US-led coalition against IS.

IS seized Raqa in 2014, transforming it into the de facto Syrian capital of its self-declared “caliphate”.

It became infamous as the scene of some of the group’s worst atrocities including public beheadings, and it is also thought to have been a hub for the planning of attacks overseas.

An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.

Tens of thousands have fled from the city and its surroundings since the SDF announced the operation to capture Raqa in November.

The United Nations estimates around 160,000 people remain in the city, where conditions have deteriorated, according to activists.

Bakeries have been forced to close for lack of flour, and residents are experiencing water and electricity outages, activists say.

Civilians also risk being caught in the crossfire, with more than 60 killed in the week since the SDF entered Raqa, according to the Observatory.

Others have been killed or injured trying to flee the city, either by IS fighters or in air strikes by the US-led coalition.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the SDF and the US-led coalition to protect civilians and respect human rights as they press their offensive.

They urged parties to the fighting to take “all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties”, as well as respect detainee rights and provide safe passage for fleeing civilians.

“The battle for Raqa is not just about defeating ISIS,” said HRW deputy Middle East director Lama Fakih, using an alternate acronym for IS.

“Coalition members and local forces should demonstrate concretely that the lives and rights of the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Raqa are a parallel priority in the offensive.”

by Rana Moussaoui

US-Backed Syrian Fighters Seize Parts of IS ‘Capital’ Raqqa

June 11, 2017

BEIRUT — A U.S.-backed Syrian opposition force said Sunday it has captured a northwestern neighborhood of the Islamic State group’s de-facto capital of Raqqa the second district to fall in their hands in days after the group launched a wide offensive to gain control of the extremists’ de facto capital.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said its fighters captured the neighborhood of Romaniah after two days of fighting that left 12 IS gunmen dead, including a commander known as Abu Khattab al-Tunsi.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said SDF fighters now control Romaniah and the eastern neighborhood of Mashlab. The fighters have also entered Raqqa’s western neighborhood of Sabahiya and the industrial district in the east.

Raqqa was among the first cities captured by IS, in January 2014, and has been the home of some of the group’s most prominent leaders. The battle for the city is expected to be extended and bloody, and could mark a major turning point in the war against the extremists.

IS has been fortifying its positions in Raqqa for months, setting up barriers and hanging sheets of cloth over main streets to provide cover from warplanes. A belt of land mines and militant checkpoints circle the city.

SDF fighters began their offensive on the city of Raqqa on June 6 under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said the city was subjected to intense airstrikes and shelling by the SDF and the U.S.-led coalition releasing a video that showed wide destruction in one of the neighborhoods. The video also showed severely wounded men and children being rushed to hospitals.

In southern Syria, Jordan said its border guards have killed five suspected infiltrators approaching the kingdom’s border from Syria in a pickup truck and two motorcycles.

The military said in a statement that the incident took place near the spot where Jordan, Syria and Iraq meet.

Jordan has been on alert for possible infiltrations by IS extremists who seized territories in Syria and Iraq in 2014. In recent months, Jordan expressed concern that U.S.-backed offensives against IS will push some of the militants closer to the kingdom’s border.

The army said nine vehicles approached Jordan from Syria in the past three days, and border guards opened fire to hold them back. The army says that in the latest incident, troops fired on a pickup truck and two motorcycles, killing five.

When IS group reign ends, who will rule Syria’s Raqa?

June 8, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Rana Moussaoui with Ayhem Al-Mohammad in Hasakeh | A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) looks at smoke rising from the al-Meshleb neighbourhood of Raqa as they try to advance further into the Islamic State (IS) group’s Syrian bastion, on June 7, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – 

The battle by US-backed forces to oust the Islamic State group from its Syrian bastion of Raqa will solve one problem but create another: who will then govern the city?

The Syrian Democratic Forces Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by Washington is leading the fight for majority-Arab Raqa.

But the strategic city is also coveted by Bashar al-Assad’s government and its northern rival, Turkey.

– Who lives in Raqa? –

Located 80 kilometres (50 miles) from the border with Turkey, Raqa is believed to be home to some 300,000 residents, including about 80,000 who have fled there from other parts of the country since Syria’s civil war began.

Most of its pre-war population were Arabs, but about 20 percent were Kurds, “concentrated in slums in the city’s north”, according to French geography expert Fabrice Balanche.

But in 2013, two years into Syria’s conflict, rebels and fighters from an Al-Qaeda affiliate seized Raqa. A year later, it fell into the hands of IS and most minority residents fled.

At the time, Syria’s Kurds were setting up “autonomous administrations” in territory abandoned by government forces while fighting IS jihadists in the north and northeast.

“Clashes with the Kurds were multiplying, and IS began suspecting that the Kurdish minority in Raqa was some kind of fifth column,” Balanche said.

With the departure of Kurds and Armenian and Syriac Christians, “the population of Raqa is today 99 percent Arab Sunni”, Balanche said.

– Who will rule Raqa? –

In mid-April, the SDF announced the creation of a “civilian council” that would be in charge of running Raqa once IS was defeated there.

The council would comprise people originally from Raqa province.

“The council will be in charge of several files, including judicial affairs, healthcare, education, women’s and youth affairs, and other public services including security,” said Omar Alloush, the council’s communication head.

“We have not yet discussed whether Raqa will join the (Kurdish) federal system. This will be decided by the residents after liberation,” Alloush told AFP.

But the SDF’s hand in creating the council has not reassured adversaries of the Kurds — including Arab rebel groups and their ally Turkey.

Formed in 2015, the SDF is backed by US-led coalition warplanes and special forces advisers.

The coalition is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the US recently decided to arm directly for the first time.

That infuriated Turkey, which considers the YPG a “terrorist” group because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously insisted that Ankara take part in the Raqa offensive, on the condition that the Kurds were excluded.

“The US has asked Erdogan to be patient, and to wait for the city to be taken by the Kurds,” said Balanche.

Syria’s government has taken an ambiguous position, concerned about the increasing territory held by US-backed forces, but also recently describing the SDF’s fight against IS as “legitimate”.

– Could ethnic conflict erupt? –

In Raqa, Balanche said, Kurdish forces are hoping for a repeat of events in Manbij, once a major IS bastion in Aleppo province.

After the SDF overran Manbij in August 2016, it handed over the Arab-majority town to a civilian council.

Adversaries have complained that the council is simply a fig leaf for SDF control, but Manbij’s Kurdish minority continues to support it.

“This is not the case in Raqa,” said Balanche. “The tribes in Raqa are not ready to accept Kurdish domination.”

Faysal al-Sibat, a Syrian member of parliament and a leading member of Raqa tribe Al-Welda, said the SDF fighters “do not have popular support”.

“The tribes in Raqa do not recognise this civilian council. And tribal members that are in the council are there in an individual capacity,” he told AFP.

– What about the regime? –

Syria’s government has long insisted that its forces would lead the fight to recapture Raqa.

But on the ground, “Syria’s army doesn’t want to lose any soldiers to take Raqa if the SDF can do it themselves”, Balanche said.

Syrian soldiers seized the key town of Maskana from IS on June 4, and are now on the boundary between Aleppo and Raqa provinces.

“The army is positioning itself nearby, waiting for the inevitable problems between Kurds and Arabs — and among Arabs themselves — so that it can play the role of a stabiliser,” Balanche told AFP.

Government authorities would prefer to “enter the city under a deal” instead of by force, he said.

But SDF spokesman Talal Sello did not rule out the possibility of the Syrian army joining the offensive itself.

“The participation of the Syrian army in the battle depends on agreements between the (Washington-led) coalition and the Russians,” Sello told AFP.

by Rana Moussaoui with Ayhem Al-Mohammad in Hasakeh

US-backed forces launch assault on IS stronghold Raqqa

June 6, 2017

AFP and Reuters

© Delil Souleilman, AFP | Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Tabqa, about 55km west of Raqqa, on May 18, 2017

atest update : 2017-06-06

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Tuesday it had begun a battle to capture Raqqa, Islamic State Group’s de facto capital in Syria, launching attacks from the east, west and north of the city.

In a phone interview with Reuters from Syria, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the operation started on Monday and the fighting would be “fierce because Daesh (the Islamic State Group) will die to defend their so-called capital”.

The Islamic State Group captured the city from rebel groups in 2014 and has used it as an operations base to plan attacks in the West. The assault on Raqqa will pile more pressure on the Islamic State Group’s self-declared “caliphate” with the group facing defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and being forced into retreat across much of Syria.

“The coalition has a big role in the success of the operations. In addition to warplanes, there are coalition forces working side by side with the Syrian Democratic Forces,” Silo said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organisation that reports on the war, earlier said the SDF attacked the eastern edge of Raqqa and a military base on the northern outskirts of the city on Tuesday.

The Kurdish YPG, part of the SDF, told Reuters on Saturday that the assault on Raqqa was expected to start in a few days.

“It started today at dawn,” Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said. “They have reached the city but they have not entered any of its buildings.”

The attack on the al-Mashlab district and on the Division 17 base around 1km to the north of the city centre followed heavy overnight air strikes, the Observatory said.

The SDF has been working to encircle Raqqa since November in an offensive backed by the US-led coalition that is also fighting the Islamic State Group in Iraq.

The US-led coalition has said 3,000 to 4,000 Islamic State Group fighters are thought to be holed up in Raqqa city, where they have erected defences against the anticipated assault. The city is about 90km from the border with Turkey.

The United States said on Tuesday it had started distributing arms to the YPG to help take Raqqa, part of a plan that has angered NATO-ally Turkey, which is worried by growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said that Ankara will retaliate immediately if the operation to capture Raqqa presents a threat to the country.

Speaking to deputies from the ruling AK Party on Tuesday, Yildirim said Turkey was taking the necessary measures on the issue.

Turkey views the Kurdish YPG militia within the SDF as a terrorist group aligned with militants who have fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.

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Raqqa: Syrian Kurdish-led forces launch offensive on IS ‘capital’

June 6, 2017

BBC News

File photo showing Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters holding up their weapons north of Raqqa, Syria (3 February 2017)
Syrian Democratic Forces fighters have been gradually encircling Raqqa since late last year. Reuters photo

A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters has launched an offensive to capture the jihadist group Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

Spokesmen for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the assault began on Monday, with forces advancing on several fronts.

A monitoring group reported clashes in the east of Raqqa and at a military base on the northern outskirts.

The US-led coalition was supporting the assault with air strikes, it said.

The SDF, which is says it is not aligned with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad or the rebel forces seeking to overthrow him, has driven IS from about 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq miles) of northern Syria over the past year.

IS seized Raqqa in early 2014, months after it became the first Syrian provincial capital to fall to the rebels in the six-year civil war.

The jihadist group established the city as the de facto capital of its “caliphate” and implemented a strict interpretation of Islamic law there.

Map showing control of Iraq and Syria (31 May 2017)

US-backed fighters advance on Syria’s IS-held Raqa

May 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Commanders of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up of an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, in the recaptured Syrian town of Tabqa as they advance in their battle for the Islamic State’s (IS) bastion of Raqa

HASSAKE (SYRIA) (AFP) – 

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia has advanced to within four kilometres north and east of the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion Raqa, a spokesperson and monitor said Tuesday.

The advances bring the SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, closer than ever to the jihadist group’s most important remaining Syrian stronghold.

But the fighters are still 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Raqa to the west, and they do not control any territory directly to the city’s south, which is bordered by the Euphrates river.

The SDF “on Monday took three villages four kilometres (two miles) north of Raqa”, spokesman Talal Sello told AFP.

The alliance also seized two more villages four kilometres to the east of the city on Monday night, he added.

“We are close to encircling Raqa from the east and the north, but we need to advance on the western front before launching the assault (on the city) at the right moment.”

Last week, the SDF seized the town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam, around 55 kilometres (35 miles) west of Raqa, and the alliance will now push on towards their next target, the town of Al-Mansura.

The SDF has said the long-awaited attack on Raqa would start at the beginning of the summer, probably in June.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor confirmed the capture of the five villages, saying the SDF had advanced by four kilometres on the northern front and two kilometres on the eastern one.

“The SDF wants to link up its troops to the north and east of Raqa,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

IS fighters are still able to move in and out of the city via the area to its south, crossing the Euphrates by boat, according to SDF sources.

From there they head further south to the IS-held town of Al-Sukhna in Homs province, and onwards east, to Deir Ezzor province, which remains almost completely under the control of the jihadists.

The SDF launched an operation to retake Raqa city in November 2016 and it has received key backing from the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes on IS.

Kurdish-Led Forces Advance on Islamic State Stronghold Raqqa

May 13, 2017

BEIRUT — Syrian opposition activists and media say Kurdish-led forces are closing in on the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group in Syria, seizing a cotton factory only a couple of miles north of the city.

The Raqqa Campaign, a Facebook page affiliated with the Kurdish-led forces, says the fighters seized the cotton factory, 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) north of the city on Saturday. Kurdish media also report the factory is captured.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition, are on a multi-pronged offensive, clashing with militants northeast and northwest of Raqqa.

The Kurdish-led forces said Friday they expect to advance on Raqqa this summer, following their capture of a strategic town and dam west of the city.

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