Turkey Says U.S.-Backed Assault to Retake Raqqa Begins

  • U.S. doesn’t confirm assault launched to expel Islamic State
  • Turkey says operation on self-declared IS capital began June 2

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the U.S.-backed operation to drive Islamic State from its Raqqa stronghold in Syria has begun, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The offensive started on the night of June 2 and the U.S. notified Turkey beforehand, Yildirim told reporters, Anadolu said on Sunday. U.S. Army Colonel Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed coalition against Islamic State, said the Syrian Democratic Forces who would lead the offensive had closed a ring around Raqqa, but he did not confirm the assault had started.

“Raqqa, as with other former ISIS strongholds, will be liberated and returned to its citizens,” Dillon said, using another acronym for Islamic State. The U.S.-backed coalition will support partner forces with air and artillery strikes throughout the operation, he added.

The city on the northern side of the Euphrates River is Islamic State’s de facto capital, and retaking it after more than three years would be a symbolic and strategic victory for forces battling to roll back the group’s expansion across northern Syria and Iraq. Islamic State is also under assault from U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and allied militias in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

The U.S. has been preparing for a campaign to free Raqqa for some time and has been arming Kurdish fighters who dominate the SDF for the operation -- over Turkey’s objections. The Turkish government considers the Syrian Kurdish force a terrorist group, and is worried that the weapons will be used to support Turkish Kurdish militants who have been battling for autonomy for more than three decades.

The U.S. has told Turkey its support for Syrian Kurdish groups is “not long-term but tactical,” Anadolu cited Yildirim as saying. The U.S. guaranteed that weapons it supplied won’t be used against Turkish security forces and citizens, he said.

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