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US-backed forces ready for Raqqa assault following military aid-pledges

The US arming the SDF has reignited a dispute with Ankara [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 May, 2017

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The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have announced they will launch their final assault on the Islamic State group's Syrian bastion Raqqa in June.
A US-backed alliance of Arabs and Kurds will launch their final assault on the Islamic State group's Syrian bastion Raqqa in early summer, commanders from the force said Friday.

"The attack on Raqqa will take place in the beginning of the summer," Syrian Democratic Forces commander Rojda Felat told AFP.

She later specified that it would likely start in June based on "military and tactical considerations."

Felat spoke at a press conference in Tabqa, which the SDF captured from IS on Wednesday along with its nearby dam.

Earlier this week, the US announced it would arm the Kurdish elements of the SDF for the fight for Raqqa - dubbed Operation Wrath of the Euphrates.

The assault has already seen the alliance capture large swathes of the surrounding province with help from the US-led coalition bombing IS in Iraq and Syria.

Member of the SDF's military council Shevran Derwish told The New Arab that the US military aid will speed up the recapture of the city.

"The battle for Raqqa has restarted after a short stall. We are once again in the process of containing IS within the city." Derwish said.

He added that thousands of Arabs from recaptured areas in Raqqa Province have joined the SDF, making Arabs the largest ethnic component of the paramilitary force.

The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People's Protection Units [YPG], seen by the US as an indispensable ally in the fight against IS but considered a "terrorist group" by Turkey.

The US change in policy has reignited a dispute with Ankara, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for an "immediate" reversal.

Turkey has shelled YPG positions inside Syria but has also backed rebel groups against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and against IS jihadists.

More than 320,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced since the conflict in Syria broke out in March 2011.

It began with anti-Assad protests but has since widened into a multi-front conflict that has drawn in world powers.

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