Smoke billows over Raqqa on September 4, 2017. Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – US-backed forces fighting ISIS in Raqqa announced they have taken control of several key neighbourhoods in northern Raqqa after a successful surprise attack on ISIS.
“This is the first time that our forces have launched a military campaign on this front,” the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced in a statement on Wednesday.
The SDF began operations against ISIS in the city of Raqqa on eastern and western fronts, approaching mainly from the south.
The northern offensive began five days ago in areas that ISIS had believed were not vulnerable to attack, according to the SDF, who were able to gain ground in “record time and with minimal losses.”
The neighbourhoods of Tishreen, Rumaila, and al-Rawda were taken from ISIS as well as a mill, evacuating “hundreds of civilian families.” They also took control of the city's grain silos - a strategic high position. With this advance, some 80 percent of the city has been liberated, according to SDF figures.
Coalition spokesperson US Army Col. Ryan Dillon tweeted Wednesday evening that 65 to 70 percent of Raqqa is now under SDF control after clearing approximately 40 city blocks over the last 24 hours.
ISIS has largely withdrawn from areas in the north of the city and are concentrated in the city centre, the UK-based conflict monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The Observatory said hundreds of ISIS militants have been killed in recent weeks and those who remain are running out of weapons and food.
According to the Observatory, about 1,100 civilians have been killed by coalition airstrikes in Raqqa since the offensive began in early June. Thousands of civilians remain in the city, being used as human shields by ISIS who have also laid many explosives, slowing SDF advances.
In Deir ez-Zor province, where the SDF and Syrian army forces are running parallel, at time conflicting, campaigns against ISIS, the SDF reported they advanced five kilometres since Tuesday evening northeast of Deir ez-Zor city.
Russian-backed regime forces were engaged with fierce clashes with ISIS around Deir ez-Zor city as they seek to expand areas under their control with “intensive” air cover from Russian and regime warplanes, the Observatory reported.
Flames have been observed at Syria’s largest gas field, Koniko, located in eastern Deir ez-Zor province and still under ISIS control, the Observatory reported on Wednesday. The cause of the fire is unknown.
Syrian state media SANA reported regime forces were attempting to take control of the Koniko gas field.