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Monday, June 19, 2017

US-supported mostly Kurdish forces enter Syrian city of Raqqa

(June 6)The US-backed Syrian Democratic(SDF) forces have entered into the city of Raqqa in Syria long held by the Islamic State(IS). The offensive is the conclusion of seven months of planning with air support from the US-led coalition.

The offensive has also seen the SDF a multi-ethnic group but dominated by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) , receive support from US military advisers and weapons deliveries. Today, June 6, the SDF broke into the east edge of the city for the first time and are fighting street battles inside the city.
SDF commander Rojda Felat said:"Our forces entered the city of Raqqa from the eastern district of Al-Meshleb. They are fighting street battles inside Raqqa now, and we have experience in urban warfare." There were also reports of fierce clashes in the northern outskirts of the city as well according to Felat. Raqqa is on the Euphrates river. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights also reported that the SDF had already seized a number of positions inside the city.
Head of the Observatory Abdel Rahman claimed: "They have taken control of a checkpoint in Al-Meshleb, as well as a number of buildings. The advance came after heavy air strikes by the US-led coalition." Access routes from the city to the west, north, and east have been cut off. SDF spokesperson Talai Sello said: "We declare today the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqqa, the so-called capital of terrorism and terrorists. With the international coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh," Sello told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS. With the international coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh'"
The coalition air strikes on Raqqa have taken a toll on civilians. Yesterday, the Observatory claimed an air strike had struck and killed 21 civilians as they fled the city across the Euphrates on a dinghy. However Rahman pointed out the same route was being used by fleeing IS fighters. It is estimated that there are about half a million civilians in Raqqa about 80,000 displaced from other areas. Thousands have managed to flee to areas held by the SDF.
The SDF operation to capture Raqqa is called the Wrath of Euphrates. The International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve announced: "​The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their Syrian Arab Coalition partners launched the offensive to unseat ISIS [Daesh in Arabic] from its so-called 'capital' Raqqa in northern Syria." Raqqa was captured by the IS back in January of 2014. The battle to retake it could be long and bloody but would represent a major step forward in defeating the IS in Syria. The US Department of Defense also announced the offensive on its website: “The offensive would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate." The offensive is also covered in another recent Digital Journal article.
Turkey had hoped to be part of the offensive but is not. Turkish president Erdogan is angry that the US continues to support and arm the YPG whom he regards as a terrorist group. He wants Kurdish troops to remain east of the Euphrates river.

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