The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Friday announced the launching of a new stage in ongoing operations to liberate Raqqa from Islamic State group militants.
In ongoing operations titled the “Wrath of the Euphrates” the majority Kurdish SDF will aim to liberate villages east of Raqqa, IS’ de facto capital and cut the city’s connection with Deir az-Zor, located around 140 km to the south-east, according to SDF spokesperson Cihan Ehmed.
The Deir az-Zor Military Council – one of four military councils established by the SDF – is set to play a crucial role in the ongoing operations, said Ehmed, speaking in al-Mekmen, in Raqqa governorate.
SDF forces are now positioned within 10 km of the city of Raqqa.
The SDF announced the launching of operations on Raqqa in November 2016, stating that 30,000 fighters would participate.
Before Syria’s war Raqqa, which lies in northern Syria on the banks of the Euphrates River, was home to 240,000 people before the Syrian war broke out.
It was the first provincial capital to come under rebel control in March 2013, two years after a popular uprising against the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad broke out.
Rebel forces were driven out of Raqqa in January 2014 by IS militants who quickly imposed their brutal, puritanical rule on the city. Public executions have regularly been held in Raqqa while the city itself has been pummelled by airstrikes by the US-led coalition.
The Turkey-backed “Euphrates Shield” operation is currently battling IS militants in al-Bab in Aleppo governorate, has clashed with SDF forces and has previously said that it would march on Raqqa after liberating al-Bab from IS.
Such rhetoric from Ankara had caused tension with the US administration.
However, operations on al-Bab have additionally stalled, amid a growing death-toll among both Ankara backed Syrian rebel troops and Turkish military personnel, raising doubts over whether the Euphrates Shield will continue on to Raqqa.