Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Kurdish-led fighters marching against IS near Syria's Raqqa

Published:Friday | November 11, 2016 | 11:00 AM

BEIRUT (AP):

A Syrian Kurdish-led force fighting the Islamic State group north of the country is on the verge of surrounding a wide area north of the IS stronghold of Raqqa, according to a spokeswoman for the group.

Cihan Ehmed of the United States (US)-backed Syria Democratic Forces (SDF) told The Associated Press yesterday that its fighters are advancing on two fronts north of Raqqa, the de facto capital of IS' self-declared caliphate. The push from Ein Issa and Suluk north of Raqqa has been ongoing for days under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition.

The US-backed SDF, which includes Kurdish, Arab, Syriac and Turkmen fighters, say they have committed 30,000 fighters to the offensive, aiming to eventually recapture the city of Raqqa, which was announced on Sunday. Iraq is meanwhile waging a major offensive to drive IS from the northern city of Mosul.

Ehmed said once the forces coming from the two directions meet north of Raqqa, they will surround 550 square kilometers (212 square miles) of territory controlled by the extremists.

"The operations are ongoing according to the plan," she said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said many people are fleeing areas of fighting north of Raqqa. It added that SDF fighters have advanced north of Raqqa, capturing new areas and raising to 17 the number of villages and farms taken from IS since the offensive began.

Later yesterday, the SDF said on social media that its fighters had captured three farms, a village, and had approached the village of Hayes, where intense clashes are ongoing.

The operation to recapture Raqqa has been dubbed "Euphrates Rage" and a joint operations command has been set up to coordinate various factions taking part in the battles.