Local fighters say they are launching ‘phase two’ of efforts to recapture Syrian city considered IS capital

December 10, 2016, 2:36 pm

A US-backed alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters announced on Saturday “phase two” of its campaign for the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion of Raqqa, adding that US soldiers would be “on the front lines” of the push for the northern city.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) will “begin phase two of the campaign, which aims to liberate territory west of Raqqa and isolate the city,” spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed told reporters.

The announcement came after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told a security forum in Bahrain that Washington was sending an additional 200 troops to join the 300 it has already deployed in support of the offensive.

Two SDF officials told AFP that US soldiers would be taking part in the offensive “on the front lines” alongside SDF fighters.

Speaking in the village of Aaliyah, north of Raqqa, Ahmed said the SDF had captured 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) of territory since it began its advance on the city on November 5.

The alliance had also grown in size, she said, with more than 1,500 local fighters joining forces with the SDF after being “trained and equipped by the international coalition.”

The SDF’s coordination with the US-led coalition “will be stronger and more effective during the second phase of the campaign,” Ahmed said.

“US forces were on the front lines of the first phase of this offensive, and one member of these forces was killed. Their participation will be even more effective alongside our forces in the second phase,” said SDF spokesman Talal Sello.

SDF adviser Nasser Hajj Mansour said: “American forces will be on the front lines of this phase.”

Backed by coalition air strikes, the SDF has been pushing south from areas near the Turkish border, seizing a string of villages and advancing to within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the city.

With a pre-war population of about 240,000, Raqqa is the de facto capital of the self-styled caliphate IS declared across Iraq and Syria in 2014.

The jihadist group still holds Al-Bab, to the west, and most of the city of Deir Ezzor, to the southeast.

Times Of Israel