Anti-IS Syria force launches new phase in Raqqa campaign
US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters announced a new phase in their campaign for the Islamic State group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa on Saturday, but suggest more weapons are needed to achieve victory.
The Syrian Democratic Forces launched the third phase of the campaign to capture the city, after gaining ground further up the Euphrates Valley since it began last November.
The SDF "announce the beginning of the third phase to liberate Raqqa and its surroundings, which will target the eastern part of the province," spokeswoman Jihan Sheikh Ahmed said.
Some 750 more Arab fighters had joined the SDF after being trained by the US-led coalition, Ahmed said in the village of Aaliyah, north of the city.
The coalition has carried out airstrikes against IS in Syria and Iraq since 2014.
Washington has dispatched about 500 troops – including bomb disposal experts, trainers and special operations troops – to support the SDF's campaign.
In a first, Washington has also provided the SDF with armoured sports utility vehicles since President Donald Trump took office, Pentagon and alliance officials said last week.
"Coalition forces provided our Arab contingent with vehicles, but the numbers are very small and we hope they will increase in the coming days," SDF spokesman Talal Sello said on Saturday.
Local SDF commander Rojda Felat said additional equipment that had been requested was not arriving quickly enough.
"The weapons that we need to liberate Raqqa are tanks, Dushkas (heavy machine guns) and armoured vehicles," Felat told AFP.
"There has been a delay in the arrival of weapons we need, but the support will be increased in the next phases," she said.
Felat could give no timeline for when the SDF would reach the outskirts of Raqqa, but ensure the troops "will get closer" during this phase.
Of the roughly 30,000 fighters within the alliance, around two-thirds belong to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a "terrorist" group.
Washington insists it only delivers military aid to the Arab component of the SDF, but the assistance has still angered Ankara.
The SDF offensive is one of three rival operations targeting IS in Syria.
Further west, the militants are under attack in the city of al-Bab, with Turkish-backed rebels on its northern outskirts and Syrian government forces now six kilometres (four miles) to the south.