The ongoing battle for the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed “Islamic State Capital” of Raqqa in Syria, is making headway as the New Year begins. The offensive, led by the U.S backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), began the slow campaign to reclaim the city in early November 2016.
Col. John Dorian, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told reporters from USA Today that “The Islamic State considers Raqqa their capital in Syria, so we expect resistance to stiffen as forces move closer to the city.”
The Pentagon has put several hundred advisers on the ground in Syria to work alongside the SDF and has supported the ground campaign against the Islamic State with airstrikes, as well as $30 million in weapons and equipment to non-Kurdish factions of the SDF.
The offensive to take the city will be broken into phases, according to advisers to the Defense Forces. The SDF is currently in its second phase, which involves cutting the city’s supply lines and isolating the Islamic State from better fortifying positions inside the city.
“We plan to fully liberate the western countryside of Raqqa as well as isolating the city,” an SDF spokesman stated while speaking to Kurdish network Rudaw News.
However, while the SDF surrounds the city and prepares for the next phase in the ongoing operation, the Kurdish Militia, otherwise known as the YPG, has been actively engaging Islamic State combatants on the city’s outskirts.
A western volunteer assigned to the YPG near Raqqa told American Military News that a vehicle borne explosive device placed by ISIS claimed the lives of 15 militiamen late Wednesday night, and it is rumored that among the dead was another western fighter, whose name has yet to be released by the YPG. If confirmed, it would be the second western fighter killed in a matter of weeks in ongoing operations near the city.
According to Brett McGurk, who serves as Special Presidential Envoy to Counter ISIL, the SDF has cleared well over 1180 square miles in their campaign to isolate Raqqa.