Wed, Jul 05, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Islamic State Raqa defenses breached by US-led fighters

AFP, BEIRUT

Kurdish fighters from the People’s Protection Unit run across a street in Raqa, Syria, on Monday.

Photo: Reuters

US-backed forces have penetrated the heavily fortified heart of Raqa for the first time, in a key milestone in the war against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Airstrikes by the US-led coalition battling Islamic State militants punched two holes in the medieval wall surrounding the Old City of Raqa, allowing fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to breach the militants’ defenses, Washington and the SDF said yesterday.

The landmark advance in the Islamic State group’s notorious Syria bastion comes as the militants face an expected defeat within days in Iraq’s second city, Mosul, the other pivot of the cross-border “caliphate” they declared in 2014.

The SDF — an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces that has spearheaded the coalition’s fightback against the Islamic State group in Syria — said its fighters had thrust into the Old City.

It said the two breaches opened by coalition warplanes in the 2.5km wall around the Old City had enabled its fighters to evade the extensive defenses the militants have put up over the past three years.

“DAESH [Islamic State] have used this archeological wall to launch attacks, and planted bombs and mines in its gates to hinder the advance of SDF forces,” it said on Twitter. “The precise airstrike allowed the opening of two small 25m gaps in the wall, allowing the entry of SDF forces avoiding DAESH explosives.”

Raqa became infamous as the scene of some of the group’s worst atrocities, including public beheadings, and is thought to have been a hub for planning attacks overseas.

The US envoy to the coalition, Brett McGurk, said on Twitter that breaching the wall of the Old City marked a “key milestone in campaign to liberate the city.”

US Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East, said the coalition airstrike had not only spared lives among the advancing SDF fighters, but also reduced civilian casualties and damage to Raqa’s architectural heritage.

“Conducting targeted strikes on two small portions of the wall allowed coalition and partner forces to breach the Old City at locations of their choosing,” the statement said.

This prevented the Islamic Stare group from using booby-traps, landmines and suicide car bombs, while it also “protected SDF and civilian lives, and preserved the integrity of the greatest portion of the wall,” it said.

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