The offensive that saw US-backed forces break into ISIS’s Syrian stronghold Raqqa on Tuesday aims to deal a “decisive blow” to the militants, the US-led anti-ISIS coalition said.
Warning that it will be “long and difficult”, coalition commander Lieutenant General Steve Townsend said the fight for Raqqa would “deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate”.
After months sealing off access routes to the city, the Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday announced a new phase in their fight for Raqqa and quickly said they had entered city limits for the first time.
The force, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, has been backed US-led coalition air support, military advisers and weapons deliveries.
The coalition launched air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq in mid-2014 after the militants seized control of large parts of both countries.
US-backed offensives have since greatly reduced the territory the jihadists control, with Raqqa and Mosul in Iraq -- where Iraqi forces have forced ISIS into a final bastion in the city’s west -- the last major urban areas they hold.
“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, using an alternative acronym for ISIS.
He framed the offensive as part of a greater struggle against ISIS, which has claimed attacks in many countries including last month’s deadly bombing in Manchester.
“We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester,” Townsend said. “ISIS threatens all our nations, not just Iraq and Syria, but in our homelands as well.”
Syrian army pushes into Raqqa
Syria’s army advanced into Raqqa province Tuesday, a monitor and a military source said, on the same day US-backed forces pushed into its provincial capital held by ISIS.
“Regime forces entered Raqqa province for the first time in a year, coming from Aleppo province” to the west, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
Backed by Russian air strikes, troops seized the villages of Khirbet Mohsen and Khirbet al-Sabaa from ISIS fighters, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
A Syrian military source confirmed the army had advanced into the province and taken the two villages, west of militants’ de facto Syrian capital of Raqqa city.
The troops aim to “ensure the security of Aleppo province against the attacks of Daesh jihadists’, the source said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
President Bashar al-Assad’s army has since January been carrying out a massive operation to fight ISIS in the eastern part of Aleppo province.
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