In the wake of the ISIS-claimed suicide bombing in Manchester, U.S.-backed allies in Syria are closing in on the capital of the terror group.
Three and a half years after Raqqa came under the control of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), U.S.-backed militia have captured the last major road leading into the self-styled caliphate's capital. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), comprised of Kurdish and Arab fighters marched into outlying towns and suburbs of Raqqa earlier this week, according to Ara News, cutting off the last major supply route for the besieged terror army. Tweets from the frontline reportedly showed female Kurdish fighters taking part in operations.
Kurdish officers were bullish after their victory.
"The liberation of Hamrat al-Ghannam was a major victory for our forces and a heavy blow to ISIS, as the group cannot support its operations inside Raqqa anymore," the Kurdish officer told ARA News.Raqqa sits on the famed Euphrates River, with arable land to the north and the impassable Syrian desert to the south. The SDF has been creeping around Raqqa's northern and western flanks, trying to cut the city off from ISIS reinforcements in the heart of Syria. The Raqqa offensive began in November 2016, not long after the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq began its military operations to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city and the biggest prize to fall to ISIS during its 2014 blitz across Syria and Iraq. Like the Mosul offensive in Iraq, the campaign to take Raqqa has been slowed by a lack of supplies, manpower, roadside bombs, and squabbling between the anti-ISIS coalition. In March 2017, Turkish-backed rebels fought a pitched battle with the SDF at Manbij in northern Syria, according to Ara News. This prompted the United States to deploy Special Forces to Manbij to broker a deal between the two factions. Russian forces later arrived in the same city, according to the Military Times. No clashes were reported between Russian and U.S. troops.
Another hitch? The Taqbah Dam, which ISIS claimed was on the verge of collapse in March after it changed hands several times, according to the Daily Caller. Some analysts believed ISIS might use the dams under its control as scorched Earth weapons, blowing them up rather than letting them fall to incoming forces. That didn't end up happening, but fears over the catastrophic potential of sabotaged dams slowed operations.
The fall of Raqqa would signify a major blow to the terrorist organization. Raqqa is the only major city still under ISIS control and is the capital of the self-proclaimed caliphate. The city serves as a strategic command and control center and may house the group's top leadership, including its Number 1, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Raqqa fell to anti-Assad rebels in March 2013, back when the Syrian uprising still operated under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army. Led by the al-Qaffiliateliate Jabhat al-Nusra, Raqqa's city center fell under opposition control rapidly, with its nearby Division 17 army base remaining under siege until October of that year. When al-Baghdadi decided to split from al-Qaeda in early 2014, Raqqa was the first city to fall under the control of his new group, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Since then, numerous atrocities have been documented by the group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, an activist group that has contacts still inside the city.
Kurdish peshmerga forces often include women as part of their combat battalions, a legacy from their days of ideological influence from the Soviet Union, which also conscripted women into its combat forces. Women fighters have taken part in the battles for Sinjar and Mosul in Iraq and Kobani in Syria since the Kurds became the leading anti-ISIS force. Turkey continues to see armed Kurds as terrorists and opposes their territorial gains. Most recently, Turkey invaded Syria in August 2016 to prevent Syrian Kurds from building a contiguous Kurdish enclave across the Turkish border.
[Featured Image by John Moore/Getty Images]