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Coalition Forces See First Success in Raqqa

Alex Ingber
Syrian Democratic Forces troops pictured in February 2017 leaving Deir Ezzor to encircle Raqqa. (Photo: AFP)

Kurdish and Arab fighters belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have seized multiple districts inside Raqqa’s city limits over the weekend, as they continued their week-long advance on Islamic State’s self-declared capital. The violence has left at least a dozen IS fighters dead, but both sides are expecting heavy casualties as coalition forces prepare to retake the city.

With support from U.S. airstrikes, the SDF secured Raqqa’s western district of al-Romaniah and the eastern neighborhood of al-Meshleb. However, the SDF has encountered resistance in the north, especially at the Syrian military’s former Division 17 Army Base and the surrounding industrial area. After taking the base late last week, IS launched a surprise counterattack, according to a pro-Asad news outlet. With help from a suicide bomber, IS killed 23 SDF fighters during the battle, before forcing the SDF into a partial retreat.

The Islamic State has been fortifying its position in Raqqa since gaining control of the city since 2014. Using unconventional warfare tactics, IS fighters have been covering the city’s streets with large sheets of cloth to provide concealment from airplanes above while lacing the city’s perimeter streets with landmines and fortified checkpoints.

The battle in Raqqa will echo the ongoing offensive for Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul. Since October 2016, Iraqi forces have fought off asymmetrical drone attacks, improvised explosive devices, and engaged in street to street fighting. Even with assistance from U.S. military advisors and air support, it has taken Iraqi forces nine months of prolonged combat to reach Mosul’s Old City.  

The coalition has significantly decreased the IS territory since operations against the group started in 2015. “There will still be a lot of hard fighting ahead,” acknowledged Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the Commanding General of U.S. forces fighting IS “but this Coalition is strong and committed to the complete annihilation of ISIS.” Indeed, allied forces are already making political preparations on how to govern the city after ISIS is gone.