The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) prepare to launch a major operation aimed at liberating Raqqa city from ISIS militants. The key operation will start in a few days, the official spokesman of the Kurdish Peope’s Protection Units (YPG) said on Saturday.
The YPG is a leading force within the US-backed SDF.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have recently imposed a heavy siege on the ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa, after liberating its countryside in a military campaign launched last November.
The assault on Raqqa is expected to put a greater pressure on the ISIS’s self-proclaimed Caliphate, as the group has been facing a heavy defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
“The forces reached the outskirts of the city, and the major operation will start in the coming few days,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told Reuters on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS, Colonel Ryan Dillon, said the SDF were “advancing closer and closer every day”, having moved to within 3 km (less than two miles) of Raqqa to the north and east.
“To the west, the SDF were less than 10 km (six miles) away,” Col. Dillon said.
“The battle will not be easy,” Mahmoud said. “Of course (ISIS) has tunnels, mines, car bombs, suicide bombers, and at the same time it is using civilians as human shields.”
After the fall of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor province in eastern Syria will be ISIS’s last major foothold in Syria and Iraq.
The United States has begun sending small arms to Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State (ISIS) group in northern Syria, despite concerns from NATO-ally Turkey.
The Pentagon confirmed that the weapons shipments began ahead of an upcoming offensive to recapture Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS in northern Syria.
“We have begun to transfer small arms and vehicles to the Kurdish elements” of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said on Tuesday.
The weapons sent to the SDF’s Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) include AK-47s and small-calibre machine guns, Rankine-Galloway added.
The Pentagon said then that the YPG are “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future”.
The progress comes as part of the US-backed Euphrates Wrath Operation to liberate Raqqa province from ISIS jihadists.
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.
Reporting by: Helin Saeed
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