Posted on February 22, 2017 by Editorial Staff in Kurdistan
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces SDF fighters, north of Raqqa, Feb. 8, 2017. Photo: Reuters
MAKMANEH,— The fighters from the Kurdish-led alliance seized more than a dozen villages in eastern Syria on Tuesday in their drive to encircle the Islamic State group bastion of Raqqa.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) made a major incursion into the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor as part of their push for Raqa, field commander Dejwar Khabat said.
“Our aim is to cut the road to Raqa and besiege IS… We have liberated 15 villages,” Khabat said Tuesday in the town of Makmaneh, which lies on a major highway approximately 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Raqa city.
He said the IS was dispatching suicide bombers but had not been able to slow the offensive.
SDF fighters on Tuesday set up their base on a hilltop in Makmaneh, digging trenches around it to prevent suicide bombers or car bombs from reaching them.
Backed by air strikes from the US-led coalition, the SDF has seized swathes of territory in northern Syria from the jihadists.
It launched its offensive for Raqa — the de facto Syrian capital of IS’s so-called caliphate — in early November.
Deir Ezzor province lies just east of Raqa, and is almost completely held by IS. The jihadists also hold most of the provincial capital by the same name, and have been battling regime forces to overrun the city.
The SDF alliance is dominated by the powerful Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), but it also boasts several units of Arab fighters.
The SDF alliance has a total of about 30,000 Kurdish fighters and about 5,000 Arab fighters.
“We have entered the first villages of Deir Ezzor province,” said Abu Khawlah, who heads the 1,700-strong Deir Ezzor Military Council, an Arab component of the SDF.
“Our entry into Deir Ezzor was a big surprise (for IS), and thre will be more surprises coming,” he said.
The SDF, which has been lobbying for weapons to help them carry out the offensive, has recently received armoured SUVs from the United States.
A US-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes on IS in Syria and neighbouring Iraq since 2014.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday’s advance was the SDF’s “biggest incursion” yet into Deir Ezzor province.
U.S regards the Kurdish PYD and its powerful military wing YPG of Syrian Kurdistan as key ally against Islamic State and the most effective fighting force against IS in Syria and has provided them with arms, air support as well as the military advisers. The Kurdish militia has seized swathes of Syria from IS.