Anti-ISIS Syrian force starts new Raqqa campaign

Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces gather near a village north-east of Raqa on February 3, 2017, during their advance on the militants’ de facto capital in Syria. (AFP)

US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters announced on Saturday a new phase in their campaign for the ISIS’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, but said they needed more weapons to win. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched their campaign to capture the city last November and have taken some ground further up the Euphrates Valley but are still some distance away.

The SDF “announce the beginning of the third phase to liberate Raqqa and its surroundings, which will target the eastern part of the province,” spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said. Speaking in the village of Aaliyah, north of the city, Ahmed said 750 more fighters had joined the SDF after being trained by the US-led coalition. The coalition has carried out air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq since 2014.

Washington has dispatched about 500 troops – including bomb disposal experts, trainers and special operations troops – to support the SDF’s campaign. In a first, Washington has also provided the SDF with armored sports utility vehicles since President Donald Trump took office, Pentagon and alliance officials said last week.

“Coalition forces provided our Arab contingent with vehicles, but the numbers are very small and we hope they will increase in the coming days,” SDF spokesman Talal Sello said on Saturday. Local SDF commander Rojda Felat said additional equipment that had been requested was not arriving quickly enough. “The weapons that we need to liberate Raqa are tanks, Dushkas (heavy machine guns) and armoured vehicles,” Felat, 38, told AFP.

“There has been a delay in the arrival of weapons we need, but the support will be increased in the next phases,” she said. Felat could give no timeline for when the SDF would reach the outskirts of Raqqa, but said: “In this phase, we will get closer.”

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:50 - GMT 06:50