A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters said Sunday it had began a long-awaited operation to capture the Islamic State group’s de facto Syrian capital Raqa.
“The major battle to liberate Raqa and its surroundings has begun,” Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said at a press conference in Ain Issa, some 50 kilometres north of the jihadist bastion.
The operation, dubbed “The Wrath of the Euphrates,” comes as Iraqi forces backed by the US-led coalition press an assault to take the jihadist group’s Iraqi stronghold of Mosul. Ahmed said the fight would involve some 30,000 fighters and had begun last night.
“Raqa will be liberated by its sons and Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen factions, heroes under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and with the active participation of the (Kurdish) People’s Protection Units… in coordination with the international coalition” led by Washington, a statement read at the press conference said.
Ahmed said the operation planned to free Raqa from “the forces of global, obscurantist terrorism represented by IS that took (the town) for their presumed capital.”
SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP the operation would proceed in two phases, “first liberating the countryside around Raqa and isolating the city, and secondly taking control of the city.”
He said the SDF had received new weapons from the US-led coalition for the battle, including anti-tank missiles.
“The fight will not be easy, and will require accurate and careful operations because IS will defend its bastion knowing that the loss of Raqa will mean it is finished in Syria,” he said.