Monday, September 25, 2017

Activists say Kurdish-led forces advance on IS-held Raqqa

This frame grab from video provided by The Syrian Democratic Forces, a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces outlet that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, Spokeswoman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, reads a statement after they captured the Tabqa town from the Islamic State militants, in Tabqa town, north Syria, Friday May 12, 2017. (Syrian Democratic Forces via AP)

AP LogoBEIRUT (AP) — Syrian Kurdish-led forces were closing in Saturday on the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group in Syria, seizing a cotton factory only a couple of miles north of the city, activists and Kurdish media reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S-led coalition airstrikes, clashed with the militants in a multi-pronged offensive northeast and northwest of the city. The offensive brings the SDF 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the northeast of the city, the Observatory said. Fighting was also reported about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) north of Raqqa and 13 kilometers (8 miles) to the northwest, the Observatory said.

The Raqqa Campaign, a Facebook page affiliated with the Kurdish-led forces, said the fighters seized the cotton factory, 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) north of the city on Saturday. Kurdish media also report the factory was captured.

The Kurdish-led forces said Friday they expect to advance on Raqqa this summer, following their capture of a strategic town and dam, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of the city.

The activist-run Raqqa Being Slaughtered Silently group said the public markets in Raqqa have been closed, suspecting it is because of how close the clashes have come to the city.

The campaign to recapture Raqqa appeared to be accelerating following a decision by the Trump administration to arm the Kurdish-led forces with heavy weapons, giving a push to their ground partner to move toward the city, held by the militants since 2013.

Turkey strongly objects to Kurdish-led forces leading the campaign. Turkey considers the main component in the Kurdish-led SDF to be an extension of the domestic insurgents it labels as terrorists, and fears their growing influence in northern Syria.

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