This undated photo shows the walls surrounding Old Raqqa. Photo: MWNF
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) backed by international forces blew through sections of the 1,242-year-old city walls in Rafiqa in Raqqa in order to better counter ISIS fighting coalition, the US-led Coalition announced.
"Conducting targeted strikes on two small portions of the wall allowed Coalition and partner forces to breach the Old City at a locations of their choosing, denied ISIS the ability to use pre-positioned mines, IED and VBIEDs, protected SDF and civilian lives, and preserved the integrity of the greatest portion of the wall," reads a US Central Command Statement released on Tuesday morning.
The 2,500 meter wall that surrounds the Old City was constructed between 771 and 775 CE. CENTCOM says the action “will help preserve the remainder.” It is located in the southeastern section of the city and is home to the Tower of Raqqa.
Coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon told Rudaw English that "precision air strikes" opened gaps in the wall, allowing SDF fighters to have "established footholds within Raqqa's Old City."
ISIS fighters were using the historic wall as a fighting position and planted mines and improvised explosive devices at several of the breaks in the wall, according to the US military.
The UK-based conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Monday that at least 15 fighters of the SDF were killed in the past few days in Raqqa amid an “intense exchange of shelling.”
“The organization [ISIS] is still the part adjacent to the Old City,” SOHR wrote, referring to fighting in nearby neighborhoods of Sinaa (to the southeast) and Hisham bin Abdul Malik (to the south).
Central Command explained the battle on the ground.
“SDF fighters would have been channeled through these locations and were extremely vulnerable as they were targeted with vehicle-borne IEDs and indirect fire as well as direct fire from heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and snipers as they tried to breach the Old City,” added the statement.
The SDF alliance has been advancing from northern, western and eastern axes into Raqqa, while it announced on Thursday full control of the southern bank of the Euphrates river.
"The most humane way to save the people of Raqqah is to swiftly and decisively defeat ISIS, who have terrorized the people of Raqqah for more than three years. Only this way, can the people of Raqqah be saved and city return to peace,” Dillon stated.
He added that Coalition forces “are making a great effort to protect civilians and preserve these sites" and there are "an estimated 2,500 ISIS fighters within Raqqa city."
The SDF are a diverse force of fighters armed by the US-led coalition. One of SDF’s largest and most battle-proven factions is the primarily Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).
Raqqa is the de facto capital for ISIS militants and a symbolic stronghold after the loss of their control of Mosul, Iraq, last week.