US troops operating inside ISIS-held Raqqa city: official

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American armoured vehicles deployed in Rojava-Northern Syria. File photo

ARA News

A US official confirmed on Wednesday that American military advisors are currently operating inside the city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s (ISIS) de facto capital in Syria.

Colonel Ryan Dillon, a military spokesman for the US-led coalition, said that the troops include special operations forces, and are working in an “advise, assist and accompany” role to support local fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the battle against ISIS.

The American troops are not in a direct combat role. But they are calling in airstrikes and are working closer to the fight than did US forces supporting the Iraqi military in Mosul, according to the official.

“They are much more exposed to enemy contact than those in Iraq,” said Col. Dillon, adding that the numbers of US troops in Raqqa were “not hundreds.”

Furthermore, the US-led coalition’s official Colonel Dillon said that ISIS has been using commercial drone rigged with explosives to attack SDF troops in and around Raqqa.

“Over the course of the last week or two, it has increased as we’ve continued to push in closer inside of Raqqa city center,” he said.

The US military is secretive about exactly how big its footprint is in Syria, but has previously said about 500 special operations fighters are there to train and assist the SDF, an Arab-Kurdish alliance. Additionally, Marines are operating an artillery battery to help in the Raqqa offensive, according to AFP.

The SDF launched a major operation to liberate the city of Raqqa from ISIS radicals. On June 6, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced the official start of the battle for Raqqa city.

Raqqa has been known as a de facto capital for the ISIS self-proclaimed Caliphate since the summer of 2014.

The Kurdish-Arab-Christian alliance of SDF has been isolating Raqqa since November 2016, when the US-backed alliance launched the so-called Euphrates Wrath Operation.

On 13 April, the Syrian Democratic Forces launched the fourth phase of the Euphrates Wrath Operation against Islamic State’s extremists to clear out the northern countryside of Raqqa.

During the first phase of Euphrates Wrath, which began on November 6, 2016, the SDF liberated roughly 560 km² in Northern Raqqa.

On 10 December, 2016, the SDF launched the second phase of the Euphrates Wrath, during which it captured over 2500 km² in Western Raqqa.

On 4 February, 2017, the Syrian Democratic Forces launched the third phase of the Euphrates Wrath Operation, and liberated dozens of villages in Eastern Raqqa from ISIS jihadists.

The campaign is ultimately aimed at liberating the city of Raqqa from ISIS extremists.

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