U.S.-Backed Force Breaches Islamic State Stronghold in Old Raqqa

  • Push is most significant since Raqqa battle began, SOHR says
  • Coalition forces opened two small gaps in wall around city

Raqqa on June 12.

Photographer: Alice Martins for The Washington Post via Getty Images

U.S.-backed forces in Syria breached the Old City of Raqqa, Islamic State’s self-declared capital, in the most significant advance since the battle for the city began last month, a monitoring group said.

Three units of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by coalition air strikes, took part in the operation, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war through activists inside Syria. At least 34 Islamic State militants and four SDF fighters were killed in morning clashes, the militia said in a statement.

The U.S.-led coalition supported the SDF advance into the most heavily fortified portion of Raqqa by opening two small gaps in the wall that surrounds the Old City, the U.S. Central Command said.

Islamic State fighters were using the historic wall as a fighting position and planted
mines and improvised explosive devices at several breaks in the barrier, the command said in an emailed statement.

The SDF began the long-anticipated push to remove Islamic State from Raqqa on June 6. The jihadist group captured the city in 2013 and has used it as a base to plot terrorist attacks in Europe. Islamic State declared a caliphate straddling parts of Syria and Iraq after capturing Raqqa and then, Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq, in June 2014. 

The group has also been expelled from most of Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province, by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and allied militias. Noureddin Qablan, vice chairman of the Nineveh provincial council, said Monday that Islamic State fighters remain in control of a small, densely populated area of the city, and that the government advance is being slowed to contain civilian casualties.

Islamic State’s overall territory has shrunk, spanning an estimated 36,200 square kilometers (14,000 square miles) on June 26, or roughly the size of Belgium, according to IHS Markit’s latest analysis. That’s down 40 percent since the start of 2017 and 60 percent from a first estimate in January 2015, the report said.

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