The SDF declared the start of the military offensive against ISIS in Raqqa. Photo: Syriac Military Council/Twitter
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A few hours after declaring the start of the ‘Great Battle’ to oust ISIS from Raqqa, US-backed forces “opened their way into the city,” making progress in the eastern neighbourhood of al-Mashalab.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the commencement of the military offensive for the self-declared capital of ISIS on Tuesday morning.
“We announce the good news of the start of the Great Battle which aims to liberate Raqqa city, and we declare that our forces are ready for the fight with high morale and great preparations,” the SDF General Command stated in a press conference.
Beginning last November, the Kurdish-led SDF have closed in on Raqqa from the west, north, and east, coming within a few kilometres of the city.
Tuesday afternoon, they made their first progress into the urban centre in the eastern-most neighbourhood of al-Mashalab, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) announced.
The SDF is a multi-ethnic coalition of forces consisting of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Syriacs, Christians, tribal brigades, men and women. They are backed by the global anti-ISIS coalition who is providing air support, training, advice, equipment, arms, and some ground forces.
After the military offensive, control of the city will be handed over to a local civilian governing council “who will provide security and governance,” the coalition stated.
Spokesperson for the Syriac Military Council, G. Kino, said the battle for Raqqa would open a “new chapter in the history of Syria and especially for the civilians.”
An estimated 230,000 civilians are living in Raqqa, according to the UN. Retaking the key cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq will be major defeats for ISIS and its self-declared caliphate, though the coalition warned “there will still be a lot of hard fighting ahead.”