The advance took place in Al Mashlab, a district in southeastern Raqqa after a night of heavy air strikes.
In a phone interview with Reuters from Syria, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said the operation started on Monday and the fighting would be “fierce because Daesh will die to defend their so-called capital”. The group started maneuvers to block the city in November.
Raqqa was among the first cities captured by the Islamic State, in January 2014, and has been the home of some of the group’s most prominent leaders. The assault overlaps with the final stages of the USA -backed attack to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh terrorists.
“Morale is high and military readiness to implement the military plan is complete, in coordination with the US-led coalition“.
The SDF is a Kurdish-Syrian Arab alliance including fighters from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a “terror group” linked to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) separatists inside Turkey.
The last big city fully controlled by ISIS, Raqqa’s status as their capital city also means they’ve got substantial defensive forces positioned in the city, anticipating an invasion that the U.S. has been telegraphing since the middle of a year ago. Last week, they reached the northern and eastern gates of the city after intense clashes under the cover of US-led air strikes.
The assault overlaps with the final stages of the US-backed attack to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from Daesh.
But as the SDF drew closer to the city, thousands were smuggled out to territory newly captured by the US-backed fighters.
Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, commanding general the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, told Fox News the operation, in conjuction us special operations troops as advisors, is expected to be long and hard, but it would deliver a blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate.
The Raqqa offensive is being supported by US-led coalition airstrikes, Silo told Reuters. Last month they gained control of al-Tabqa, a city 35 miles west of ISIS’ capital Raqqa that includes a critical dam on the Euphrates. Turkey has been conducting genocide against the Kurdish since 1984 while the world did nothing.
The Raqa operation has been a deep source of tension between Washington and Ankara because of USA support to YPG, which has included air cover, assistance from special forces on the ground and weaponry. It began with anti-government protests but has since evolved into a complex multi-front war involving the army and rebel groups as well as the SDF and IS.
The United States last week said it had started distributing arms to the YPG to help take Raqqa.
The observatory reported that the death toll of suspected US-led coalition air attacks that allegedly targeted boats carrying people who tried to flee the fighting in Raqqa city on Monday has risen to 21 civilians. The Raqqa campaign has “resulted in massive civilian casualties, displacement and serious infrastructure destruction” so far, it said in a May report.
State news agency SANA claimed women and children trying to escape the city were among the dead.
Refugees who fled Raqqa city gather for water in Syria May 19, 2017.