The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have commenced on a much-anticipated offensive on the de facto headquarters of the Islamic State terror group in Raqqa, Syria.
A predominantly Kurdish force in the SDF is on the front lines of the mission, complemented by Arab partners and U.S. advisers and air power.
For months, the coalition has been choking off entry and exit points outside Raqqa as part of an effort to surround and limit its importation of resources. Raqqa is now surrounded from the east, north and west, according to reports.
Additionally, suspected U.S. airstrikes have been pummeling the city in an aggressive uptick in strikes that began Monday. The strikes targeted vehicles, weapons storage areas, and other strategic assets.
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“Today is Day 1 of the effort to defeat ISIS in Raqqa,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Tuesday. “We know that Raqqa as a capital of the caliphate was where the external operations were planned, especially plots against Europe and the West.”
ISIS has claimed countless terrorist attacks worldwide since ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in 2014. In the last week alone,individuals loyal to ISIS’ brand of jihad have claimed attacks in Australia, Canada, France, and London.
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Islamic State militants have held Raqqa since January, 2014. While most of its fighters have relocated to other parts of Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon estimates that anywhere from several hundred jihadis to 3,000 to 4,000 fighters still remain inside the city.
An SDF spokesman told Reuters Tuesday that the battle for Raqqa would be intense “because Daesh (Islamic State) will die to defend their so-called capital.”
The coalition hopes that ending ISIS control over its claimed capital will delegitimize the group in the eyes of aspiring jihadis.
— aris roussinos (@arisroussinos) June 6, 2017
“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,” coalition leader Lt. Gen Steve Townsend said in a statement.