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Raqqa campaign in final stages: SDF
September 21, 2017
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BEIRUT: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Wednesday its campaign to capture Raqqa from Daesh was in its final stages and its fighters had seized 80 per cent of the city.

In its fight against a separate operation waged by the Syrian army and its allies, Daesh has collapsed along the west bank of the Euphrates downstream of Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.

Daesh has lost swathes of territory in Syria this year, attacked from the north by the SDF and from the west by the Syrian army, which has pushed it back across the desert to its last strongholds in the Euphrates valley.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, launched its offensive on the militant group in Raqqa city in June, backed by US-led air strikes and special forces on the ground.

The city had served as Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria.

In a statement on Wednesday, the SDF said it had opened a new front against Daesh on the northern edge of Raqqa. This was “a feature of the final stages of the Euphrates Wrath campaign, which is nearing its end.”

“We can say that 80 per cent of the city of Raqqa has been liberated,” the statement said.

An SDF media official said the main obstacles facing the alliance in Raqqa are avoiding civilian casualties and a high concentration of mines.

He estimated that 700 to 1,000 Daesh militants remain in the city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday that Daesh now controls only 5 per cent of the city and its remaining militants there have nearly run out of food and munitions.

In Deir Al Zor province of eastern Syria, Daesh is battling two separate offensives, launched by the SDF on one side and the Syrian army and its allies on the other.

The Syrian army, backed by Russian and Syrian war planes, has captured about 100km of the west bank of the Euphrates this month, reaching Raqqa provincial border on Wednesday, the Observatory reported. Syrian troops also crossed to the eastern side of the river on Monday.

The SDF’s advances have been on the eastern bank of the river.

The convergence of the two rival offensives has increased tensions in Deir Al Zor.

The US-backed militia on Monday warned against any further Syrian army advances on the eastern riverbank.

On Tuesday, Russia’s Defence Ministry said the Euphrates had risen as soon as the Syrian army began crossing it.

The only way that could have happened was if upstream dams held by the US-backed opposition had been opened, it said.

A fire at a major gas field known as Conoco raged through on Tuesday night and into Wednesday, the Observatory said, after Syrian state media reported that the army was advancing towards it.

Daesh had fled the area, the Observatory added.

The hardline militants lost their main stronghold in Iraq, the city of Mosul, in July to Western-backed Iraqi forces.


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