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US-backed forces cut Raqqa’s ‘last lifeline,’ isolating Islamic State capital from strongholds in eastern Syria

AMMAN: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) cut the road […]

6 March 2017

AMMAN: The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) cut the road between Islamic State-controlled Deir e-Zor province and Raqqa city on Monday, severing the extremist group’s “last lifeline” out of their self-proclaimed capital, an SDF spokesman told Syria Direct.

On Monday, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) advanced south from their positions in the sparsely populated eastern Raqqa countryside and severed the road that links Deir e-Zor province to the south with Raqqa city, the faction announced in an online statement and video. Deir e-Zor province is almost entirely controlled by the Islamic State.

With the road cut, “now, Raqqa city is completely isolated,” Mehiar Mohammad, a spokesman for the SDF’s Manbij Military Council, told Syria Direct on Monday. “The road between Deir e-Zor and Raqqa is the last supply route of the Islamic State [IS] terrorists in Raqqa.”

The SDF, a multiethnic coalition of Syrian forces that is dominated by a Kurdish militia, launched the “Euphrates Wrath” campaign to capture Raqqa city from the Islamic State in November 2016. Since then, the SDF has steadily chipped away at Islamic State-held territories in northern Syria with the support of the United States-led international coalition.

The third phase of the Euphrates Wrath campaign resumed on Sunday following a week-long pause “due to poor weather conditions,” the SDF announced in an online statement.

The Syrian Democratic Forces announced Monday that their fighters had taken seven villages and surrounding territory in Abu Khashab and Bir al-Hibah, two areas east of Raqqa city along the Euphrates river.

 SDF fighters in northeastern Syria in March. Photo courtesy of SDF

The latest push by Euphrates Wrath fighters, approximately 70 kilometers east of Raqqa city, cuts off all land routes out Raqqa. The Islamic State’s de facto capital is now isolated from IS holdings in Deir e-Zor province and northwestern Iraq.

US-led coalition airstrikes destroyed the bridges leading out of Raqqa across the Euphrates River this past February. The month before, SDF forces fire cut the road that leads between Raqqa and the IS-controlled Tabqa Dam southwest of the city, spokesman Mohammad told Syria Direct.  

“Our goal now is to completely besiege Raqqa and move to liberate the city from the hands of the Islamic State,” he said. 

In the campaign’s latest phase, which began on February 4, SDF forces have captured large swathes of territory in the northern and eastern Raqqa countryside. Fighters with the Euphrates Wrath campaign are now within 10km of Raqqa city from the north.

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