Syrian Kurds begin operation against ISIL, reports
ANKARASyrian Kurds began an anticipated operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Raqqa province in northern Syria at around 2 p.m. on May 24, according to reports.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which includes the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), began the operation after a long preparation process, Kurdish news portal Rudaw reported.
“With the participation of all SDF units, we start this operation to liberate northern Raqqa,” the SDF wrote on Twitter, adding that the push will be supported by air strikes from the U.S.-led coalition bombing ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
The reports of the operation came after a top U.S. commander’s secret visits to northern Syria and Ankara in order to discuss the Raqqa operation.
Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), made a surprise visit to Kobane and met U.S. military advisers working with Syrian Arab fighters and the leaders of the SDF, before arriving in Ankara to hold talks with the Turkish General Staff and the Foreign Ministry.
The operation, aiming to cut off supply routes and capture Raqqa from the north, started from Ein Issa, located 50 kilometers north of Kobane, in three prongs.
Two other rebel groups Liwa Ahrar Raqqa and Liwa al-Tahrir are also participating in the operation, according to reports.
Kurds play a dominant role in the SDF, providing the core of the forces that have pushed back ISIL in Syria’s northeast.
The SDF has a total of about 25,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters, according to the Associated Press.
Washington is pushing to bring more Arab forces into the group.
ISIL declared its caliphate in Raqqa on June, 29, 2014. The U.S.-led coalition carried out its first airstrikes on the city three months later.