The SDF are just a few kilometres from the strategic Tabqa Dam site. Photo:AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Intensive clashes between the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and ISIS militants took place early Tuesday morning west of Raqqa, the SDF and a Syria watchdog reported.
The clashes took place in al-Suwaydiyat al-Kabirah, west of Raqqa, close to the strategic Tabqa Dam, the primary target for the current phase of the Kurdish-led operation to isolate Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the extremists in northern Syria.
The SDF reported that ISIS militants launched an aggressive pre-dawn attack on their forces and the fighting continued until 10 o’clock this morning, local time, when the militants were defeated. The SDF claimed that they killed 15 ISIS militants in the clashes.
The SDF did not provide any figures for casualties among their own ranks.
The coalition forces carried out airstrikes against the ISIS extremists, the SDF and the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The Observatory reported that the SDF initially attacked ISIS positions around midnight on Monday as they attempted to advance in the area. The conflict monitor reported casualties but did not give details.
The clashes come a day after the SDF announced that in the ongoing second phase of the military offensive to isolate Raqqa, they have liberated an area of 2480 square kilometers; that includes 196 villages and Jaabar citadel.
"With this, an area of 3200 square kilometers has been fully liberated since the beginning of the operation,” Cihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokesperson for the operation, said at a press conference on Monday. “It includes 236 villages, and tens of hamlets. This means that Raqqa has been encircled from both north and west.”
The SDF have imposed a crescent-shaped siege on Raqqa Province as they continue to push south and east.
Ahmed added that they have lost 42 fighters throughout the operation to isolate Raqqa, three of them foreigners: one British, one American, and one Canadian.
Some 2,500 fighters from Raqqa have joined the military operation since it began. They have received training from the SDF with support from the US-led global coalition which is supporting the military offensive from the air and with advice and training. They are also supplying some material assistance to the Syrian Arab Coalition within the SDF.
Nurhan Abdi, an SDF commander, called on the coalition to increase their material support for his forces. “We are suffering indeed with regard to weapons. Especially armoured vehicles... The global coalition support is not enough, and remains short in supply,” he said at the same press conference on Monday, explaining that ISIS is better equipped as they use weapons captured in both Iraq and Syria.