Offensive to drive ISIS from Raqqa 'capital' in Syria begins

"It will be a long and hard fight, but the SDF have proven themselves the most capable force against ISIS in Syria".

The coalition began its air campaign against IS in Iraq in August 2014, expanding its operations to Syria the following month.

"We announce the good news of the start of the Great Battle which aims to liberate Raqqa city, and we declare that our forces are ready for the fight with high morale and great preparations", the SDF General Command stated in a press conference.

The U.S. -led coalition also struck Islamic State fighters crossing the Euphrates to support their comrades in Raqqa on the first day of the battle to drive the jihadis from the city, the coalition's spokesman said on Tuesday. Though the YPG has been effective fighting smaller ISIS targets, Raqqa will be a huge test for them. The YPG terrorists have been the main partner for the United States in its campaign against Daesh in Syria, where the group is also being fought in separate campaigns waged by the Russian-backed Assad regime and the moderate opposition forces, the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

"The SAC and SDF began marching on Raqqah in November and have been rapidly tightening the noose around the city since their daring air assault behind enemy lines in Coalition aircraft in March to begin the seizure of Tabqah."
"ISIS threatens all of our nations, not just Iraq and Syria, but in our own homelands as well".

"We know that Raqqa as a capital of the caliphate was where the external operations were planned, especially plots against Europe and the West".

On December 10, the SDF unveils the "second phase" of their offensive, and a Kurdish spokeswoman says the 30,000-strong force has already seized 700 square kilometers (270 square miles) of terrain.

Raqqa was one of the first cities taken by Islamic State in January 2014 during a lightning offensive in which vast swaths of Iraq and Syria were captured.

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The US-led coalition has said 3,000 to 4,000 Daesh fighters are thought to be holed up in Raqqa city, where they have erected defenses against the anticipated assault. The SDF operation to capture Raqqa is called the Wrath of Euphrates.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the commencement of the military offensive for the self-declared capital of ISIS on Tuesday morning.

The SDF has said it will hand control of Raqqa to a civilian council from the city after its capture, echoing the pattern in other areas retaken by the SDF.

The advance was backed by heavy air strikes by the US-led coalition, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Airwars, an independent monitoring group that tracks coalition airstrikes and civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq, estimates that between 283 and 366 civilians were likely killed by the coalition this past April alone.

The Euphrates river is south of the Kurdish offensive, preventing jihadists and civilians from fleeing. "We've seen reports of public executions of people who are trying to leave", Davis said.

An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.

More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more have fled their homes since the civil war erupted in Syria in March 2011.

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