US-backed force gains ground on ISIL in Syria’s Raqqa
U.S.-backed fighters gained ground against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the streets of Raqqa on June 7, a day after their months-long offensive finally broke into the jihadists’ Syrian bastion.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia has spent seven months advancing on the city, with backing from the U.S.-led coalition bombing ISIL in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.
Captured by the jihadists in 2014, Raqa became synonymous with IS atrocities including beheadings and public displays of bodies, and also emerged as a hub for planning attacks abroad.
On June 6, SDF forces finally broke into the eastern Al-Meshleb district of the city.
Early on June 7, the SDF captured the neighbourhood and the Harqal citadel to the west of the city, the command of “Operation Wrath of the Euphrates” said.
The citadel sits on a hilltop roughly two kilometers from the city limits.
Fighting was also raging in a military complex around two kilometres north of the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said the U.S.-led coalition had carried out heavy bombing raids to back the advance.
One of the June 6 air strikes inside the city killed eight civilians, including three children, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Reported civilian casualties in coalition air strikes have swelled as the SDF has ramped up its offensive.
The Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), are the backbone of the SDF. Turkey views both groups as terrorists fuor their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A military alliance fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad, meanwhile, said on June 7 that it could hit U.S. positions, warning that its “self-restraint” over U.S. air strikes on government forces would end if Washington crossed “red lines.”
The threat marks an escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran-backed forces over control of Syria’s southeastern frontier with Iraq, where the U.S. has been training Syrian rebels at a base inside Syrian territory.
The United States launched air strikes on June 6 against what it said were Iranian-backed fighters who it said posed a threat to U.S. and U.S.-backed forces in the area, the second such attack in three weeks.
The statement from the pro-Assad alliance was issued in the name of the “commander of the operations room of the forces allied to Syria”, and was circulated by a military news unit run by the Lebanese group Hezbollah, one of Assad’s military allies.
Assad’s allies also include Iran and Russia. The statement did not spell out whether Moscow was a signatory to it.
“America knows well that the blood of the sons of Syria, the Syrian Arab Army, and its allies is not cheap, and the capacity to strike their positions in Syria, and their surroundings, is available when circumstances will it,” the statement said.