Taking Raqqa: US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving to choke ISIS caliphate

Islamic State militants in Raqqa, Syria on 30 June 2014.


The Syrian Democratic Forces and their Syrian Arab Coalition partners launched the offensive to unseat ISIS from its de facto “capital” of Raqqa in northern Syria, June 6, reports Operation Inherent Resolve.

The SDF and SAC began marching on Raqqa in November, according to an OIR release, and have been rapidly tightening the noose around the self-proclaimed capital since their insertion and assault behind enemy lines via coalition aircraft in March to begin the seizure of Tabqa.

According to BBC News, a monitoring group reported clashes in the east of Raqqa and at a military base on the northern outskirts.

Today, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said in a news conference in the village of Hazima: “We declare today the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of terrorism and terrorists.”

Silo said, according to BBC News, SDF forces were attacking the city from the north, west and east, and urged civilians to keep away from the frontlines and nearby IS positions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports an assault began at dawn following heavy coalition air strikes overnight.

The UK-based monitoring group said, reports BBC News, the SDF was attacking the eastern Mishlab district and the Division 17 military base, north of the city center.

“After we have completed the stages of encircling of Raqqa from three sides — north, east and west — today we are facing a historic moment that the whole world and all peace-loving people have waited for, which is to declare the beginning of (the) campaign to liberate the city of Raqqa and destroy the so-called capital of ISIS,” an SDF spokesperson tells CNN.

“The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult, but the offensive would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate,” OIR Commander Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend said in the OIR release.

Townsend continued, “We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester, England. ISIS threatens all of our nations not just Iraq and Syria, but in our homeland as well. This cannot stand.”

The coalition, which has deployed special-forces personnel to train and advise SDF fighters on the ground, believes there are between 3,000 and 4,000 ISIS militants holed up inside Raqqa, according to BBC News.

It is not clear how many fighters the SDF has deployed around Raqqa. However, the SDF has about 50,000 fighters in total, with the Arab coalition making up about 60 percent of the force and Kurds 40 percent, according to the coalition.

The coalition’s new offensive comes as Iraqi forces backed by the US-led coalition has seized swathes of the key Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, in a fierce months-long offensive that has come down to street-to-street fighting with militants.

“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” Townsend said.

ISIS has a long history of using Raqqa as a staging ground for deadly attacks in the Middle East and abroad. Capturing Raqqa will effectively bring an end to ISIS, according to CNN, and its move to create an Islamic caliphate.

The SDF is encouraging civilians to depart Raqqa so they do not become trapped, used as human shields or become targets for ISIS snipers.

OIR said in its statement, once Raqqa is liberated, the Syrian Democratic Forces have stated they will turn the city over to a representative body of local civilians who will provide security and governance.

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  • Jim Verchio is a staff writer for Popular Military. As a retired Air Force Public Affairs craftsman, Jim has served at all levels. From staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, he has more than 30 years experience covering military topics in print and broadcast from the CONUS to Afghanistan. He is also a two time recipient of the DoD’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award for journalism excellence.

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