ISIS expels Syria regime forces from Raqqa province

ISIS expelled Syrian regime troops from the northern province of Raqqa in a lightning counter-offensive that killed 40 regime forces

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ISIS expelled Syrian regime troops Monday from the northern province of Raqqa in a lightning counter-offensive that killed 40 regime forces, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants’ attack was launched late on Sunday following a regime offensive into the ISIS stronghold of Raqa on June 3 that advanced around 20 kilometers (12 miles) toward the town of Tabqa.

“Daesh (ISIS) has managed to drive out regime troops from the administrative borders of Raqa province after a fierce counter-offensive,” the Britain-based group said.

It said the militants had sent hundreds of reinforcements from their de facto capital of Raqa city to defend Tabqa, which has a dam and an air base, located 50 kilometers to the west.

“More than 40 members of the pro-regime forces were killed,” said the Observatory, which relies on a vast network of sources on the ground for its information.

Militant losses were unavailable.

Syrian troops, backed by Russian air strikes, in early June pushed into Raqqa for the first time since 2014, aiming for the country’s largest dam at Tabqa on the Euphrates River.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday he had read a memo from a group of frustrated diplomats urging strikes against the Syrian regime and found it “very good.”

The “dissent cable” became public last week after 51 serving US officials signed a call for direct US military action to force Bashar al-Assad’s regime to negotiate for peace.

The memo was seen as a criticism of President Barack Obama’s cautious approach, but the “dissent channel” is an approved mechanism for diplomats opposed to official policy.

The State Department has already said the dissident mid-level staff will not face retribution for speaking out, and on Monday their boss Kerry appeared to signal support for their views.

Asked at a public event for college students whether he had read the dissenting memo, which was leaked to the press last week, Kerry said: “Yes. It’s very good. I’m going to meet with them.”

Kerry has remained publicly loyal to Obama as the five-year-old carnage in Syria continues, pushing an improbable joint US-Russian plan to lure Assad and the rebels to the negotiating table.

But Kerry’s equanimity in the wake of the dissent cable - an unusual if not an unprecedented rebuke from frontline staff -- supports the Washington conventional wisdom that he is frustrated.

In the memo, the diplomats argue that the “judicious use” of cruise missile and airborne strikes against regime targets could encourage Assad to seek a negotiated solution.

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