SDF advances against Islamic State in southern Raqqa

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are on the verge of seizing full control of the southern neighborhoods of Islamic State-held Raqqa, a Kurdish official said on Tuesday.

The U.S.-led coalition said SDF fighters advancing from the east were within 300 meters (330 yards) of meeting up with those advancing from the west. The SDF was making “consistent gains” every day, the coalition spokesman said.

The SDF launched its U.S.-backed campaign to seize Raqqa in early June. The assault on Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria overlapped with the campaign to drive IS from the Iraqi city of Mosul, where IS was defeated last month.

The Kurdish official told Reuters SDF fighters advancing from the east and the west remain separated by a few streets where fighting continued.

Full control of the southern districts would sever Islamic State’s last remaining path to the Euphrates River which is to the south of the city.

Syrian Democratic Forces are seen in Raqqa, Syria July 31, 2017.Rodi Said

“There is a fierce resistance from Daesh, so we can’t determine when exactly we’ll take (full control),” said the official, referring to Islamic State. “Around 90 percent of the southern neighborhoods are liberated,” the official added.

The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said SDF fighters had also captured around 10 square km (4 sq miles) of territory from Islamic State north of Raqqa in the last two days.

“We’ve seen a less coherent ISIS defense in Raqqa compared to Mosul. ISIS is still using car bombs, booby traps, and civilians to hide behind, but their inability to address the multiple advances from the SDF is apparent,” coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said in response to emailed questions from Reuters.

The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia, and is the main partner for the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria.

Last week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the SDF has captured half of Raqqa.

Islamic State has lost large expanses of territory in Syria over the last year to separate campaigns waged by the SDF, the Russian-backed Syrian military, and Turkey-backed Syrian rebels.

Reporting by Sarah Dadouch/Tom Perry; Editing by Tom Perry and Alister Doyle

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