Battle for Raqqa, Islamic State Capital, to Begin Next Week
The apocalyptic battle to conquer the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of the caliphate created by the Islamic State (IS), is widely expected to begin next week following dramatic territorial gains by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The U.S.-backed SDF, which consists of around 40,000 Arab and Kurdish fighters, will lead the attack on Raqqa. This city is expected to fall within the year, effectively ending the existence of IS as an organized terrorist organization capable of holding ground.
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SDF is the largest armed group surrounding Raqqa. Its multi-ethnic combat forces are led by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia fighting against IS in Syria.
YPG is the primary component of the SDF, whose main goal is to topple Russian-back Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and establish a democratic government in Syria.
At the urging of the United States, YPG founded the SDF in late 2015 as an umbrella group combining Kurds, Arabs and minorities into the war effort against IS.
U.S. Army officials said yesterday that SDF forces have pushed to within three kilometers of Raqqa and that the major battle for control of the city "could begin in the coming days" or by next week.
The SDF was "poised around Raqqa" after gaining 350 square kilometers from IS in Syria in the last week., revealed Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, U.S. Central Command.
Some SDF fighting units are within three kilometers of Raqqa to the north and east while others are some 10 kilometers of the city to the west.
Other U.S. Army officers told American media the encirclement of Raqqa is almost complete.
SDF is being supported by men of the U.S. Special Forces Command (USSOCOM), as well as special forces from France and Germany.
U.S. Central Command confirmed earlier this week it had begun distributing weapons and vehicles to YPG fighters in preparation for the Raqqa battle.
It was only on May 9 the White House approved a plan to directly arm the YPG with more and better weapons. Sources said YPG has begun receiving advanced combat helmets; digital camouflage uniforms; chest rigs that hold ammunition and body armor.
YPG will also get Colt M4 automatic rifles with various modifications, including infrared lasers used for targeting during nighttime raids. These weapons and gear make YPG more lethal.
YPG will also receive other needed equipment such as radios and bulldozers, which have proven their usefulness against ISIS car and truck bombs.