Backed Syrian Force Launches Offensive on ISIS-Held Raqqa

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces said on Tuesday it had begun a battle to capture Raqqa, the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group's de facto capital in Syria, launching attacks from the east, west and north of the city.

The start of the campaign coincided with the Syrian army's takeover of several villages southwest of Raqqa, as part of a larger offensive by Damascus to take back wide stretches of Syria's eastern desert from Islamic State.

The U.S. -SDF partnership has complicated relations with Turkey, which views the group's Kurdish component as an extension of a terror group operating inside its own borders. "In addition to warplanes, there are coalition forces working side by side with the SDF", Silo said by phone from the Hukoumiya farms area, 10 km (6 miles) north of Raqqa, where the SDF later declared the start of the assault.

The US-led coalition quickly reported the launch of the battle on its website, calling the battle against the Islamic State in Raqqa a "blow to the idea of a physical caliphate".

It was one of the twin pivots of IS' so-called "caliphate", with Mosul in neighboring Iraq - where US-backed forces are also bearing down on the militants. "With the worldwide coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh", Sello told AFP, using an Arabic acronym for IS. The SDF operation to capture Raqqa is called the Wrath of Euphrates.

It said the attack occurred after forces supporting Syrian president Bashar Assad entered an area near a coalition base in southern Syria with a tank, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, other vehicles and more than 60 soldiers.

"Raqqa will be an important step towards annihilating ISIS, but this will not be the end of the terrorist organization ISIS in Syria", he said, adding that the terrorists still hold quite a bit of territory downriver that needs to be cleared once Raqqa has been retaken. "They are fighting street battles inside Raqqa now, and we have experience in urban warfare", she said.

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The Raqqa campaign has been the source of tension in ties between the USA and Turkey, which lobbied Washington to abandon its support for the YPG. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK which is fighting for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey.

"Both the SDF and Coalition have a history of downplaying civilian casualties", the monitor tweeted on Tuesday. The same route had been used by IS fighters, Abdel Rahman said.

He said women and children were among the dead, but he could not immediately give a specific number. The fighting has devastated communities in both countries and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

According to the Britain-based Observatory, the death toll in Monday's attack could rise as some of the wounded were in critical condition.

More than 320,000 people have been killed since Syria's war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

"Morale is high and military readiness to implement the military plan is complete".

The Observatory has given a toll of around 1,500 civilians in Syria alone since the coalition began air assaults on September 23, 2014.

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