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Syria - Siege of Raqqa

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fully encircled Raqqa 29 June 2017, which serves as the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group in Syria, cutting off the jihadist group’s last route out of the city. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that SDF forces captured two villages on the southern bank of the Euphrates River, effectively cutting off the last IS escape route.

US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advanced into opposite sides of Daesh's so-called Syrian capital of Raqqa, the forces and a war monitor said 10 June 2017. The SDF, a group of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a US-led coalition, began to attack Raqqa on Tuesday after a months-long campaign to cut it off. A statement by the SDF said their fighters "liberated the neighbourhood of Al-Romaniya on the western front of Raqa, after two days of continued clashes." It said the fighting there had left at least 12 Daesh fighters dead.

Amaq, a news agency affiliated to Daesh, released images of what is said were white phosphorus munitions lighting the city of Raqqa that were dropped by the US-led coalition. The agency said 33 people were killed and 25 injured in a series of raids overnight. Videos posted by Raqqa activists and personal accounts coming out of the city also cited witnesses saying the city was hit for the second consecutive night with incendiary bombs. The US-led coalition does not deny using incendiary bombs and says casualties are unavoidable even as it tries to minimise the impact of its military campaign on civilians.

Daesh seized Raqqa from Syrian rebels in 2014 during their lightning advance in Syria and Iraq, and by 2017 was defended by 3,000 to 4,000 fighters. The SDF's Kurdish elements are made up of the YPG, which Turkey considers to be the Syrian branch of the PKK, which has waged an insurgency within Turkey since 1984 that has claimed some 40,000 lives. Raqqa has been a hub both for Daesh's military leaders and its bureaucrats and has been used to plot attacks in countries around the world.

On 06 June 2017 US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] stormed the first district of Raqqa, Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria. Attacks were launched from the east, west and north of the city. The SDF also seized buildings and a checkpoint from Daesh, their first gains in the battle for Raqqa which has been the de facto capital of Daesh in Syria since 2014. The SDF said on it was launching attacks from the east, west and north of the city, which is bordered to the south by the Euphrates River.

The US-led coalition was carrying out air strikes on Raqqa to support the SDF offensive. The advance took place in Al Mashlab, a district in southeastern Raqqa after a night of heavy air strikes. Clashes were also taking place in Division 17, a former army base one kilometre north of Raqqa.

Daesh captured the city from rebel groups in 2014 and used it as an operations base to plan attacks in the West. The assault on Raqqa will pile more pressure on Daesh’s self-declared "caliphate" with the group facing defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and being forced to retreat from most of Syria.

The US-led coalition thought there were about 3,000 to 4,000 IS fighters holed up inside Raqqa. The Saudi-owned Al Hayat newspaper warned that some sources thought the group was holding many residents inside the city as hostages.

The US-led coalition said on Tuesday the fight for Raqqa would be "long and difficult" but would deliver a "decisive blow to the idea of Daesh as a physical caliphate". Lt Gen Steve Townsend, the coalition commanding general, said "It’s hard to convince new recruits that Daesh is a winning cause when they just lost their twin 'capitals' in both Iraq and Syria". He said once Daesh was defeated in Raqqa and Mosul in neighbouring Iraq, there would still be a lot of hard fighting ahead but reiterated that coalition was strong and committed to the complete annihilation of terrorists in both countries.

The Raqqa campaign had been the source of tension in ties between the US and Turkey, which lobbied Washington to abandon its support for the Kurdish YPG. The YPG has been the main partner for the US in its campaign in Syria against Daesh, which is also the target of separate campaigns waged by the Russian-backed Syrian regime and Free Syrian Army rebel groups, the latter backed by Turkey. The SDF said it will hand control of Raqqa to a civilian council from the city after its capture, echoing the pattern in other areas retaken by the SDF.

On 18 October 2017 US-backed forces in Syria claimed full control of the northern city of Raqqa, which was the de facto capital of the Islamic State militant group. The Syrian Democratic Forces, mainly consisting of Kurdish fighters, on 16 October 2017 seized a stadium and a hospital where the militants had continued their last-ditch resistance. The SDF then announced that they had completely liberated Raqqa from "Islamic State terrorists." Footage from the city shows soldiers waving flags to celebrate the victory.

The US-led coalition forces supporting the SDF said they will continue operations to mop up Islamic State fighters who might be hiding in the city. Raqqa fell to the Islamic State group in 2014. The recapture of the city effectively means the demise of "Islamic State," the group's self-proclaimed caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq. But observers say the fall of Raqqa does not spell the end of battles against extremist groups. The number of terrorist attacks inspired by the Islamic State group's extremism had been on the rise in Europe and Asia.

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Page last modified: 19-10-2017 15:21:26 ZULU