US-backed forces breach Daesh defences in Raqa

Author : Mircea Birca | Tuesday, July 4, 2017
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US-backed forces have penetrated the heavily fortified heart of extremist bastion Raqqa for the first time, in a key milestone in the war against the Daesh terror group in Syria.

Air strikes by the US-led coalition battling Daesh punched two holes in the medieval wall surrounding Raqqa’s Old City, allowing fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces to breach the extremists’ defences, Washington and the SDF said on Tuesday.

The advance — the culmination of a nearly eight-month campaign — comes as the extremists face an expected defeat within days in Iraq’s second city Mosul, the other pivot of the cross-border “caliphate” they declared in 2014.

Coalition officials said a few hundred diehard extremists were making a desperate last stand in just one square kilometre of Mosul’s Old City.

In neighbouring Syria, the SDF said coalition warplanes opened up two breaches in the 2.5 kilometre Rafiqah Wall around Raqqa’s Old City, enabling its fighters to evade explosives laid by Daesh.

“Daesh have used this archaeological wall to launch attacks, and planted bombs and mines in its gates to hinder the advance of SDF forces,” the alliance said.

During three years of extremist rule, Raqqa became infamous as the scene of some of Daesh’s worst atrocities, including public beheadings, and is thought to have been a hub for planning attacks overseas.

“There have been fierce clashes [in the Old City] since dawn today, with 200 of our fighters mobilising to the area,” said Mohammad Khaled Shaker, a spokesman for the Syrian Elite Forces, US-backed Arab fighters allied with the SDF.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said US-backed forces “are clashing with Daesh at four points in the eastern part of the Old City” as fresh coalition air strikes pummelled other neighbourhoods.

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