Offensive to drive ISIS from Raqqa 'capital' in Syria begins

In late January, the SDF says U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has delivered armored vehicles to some Arab troops in the alliance, which is dominated by the Syrian Kurdish Peoples' Protection Units (YPG).

Daesh captured Raqqa from rebel groups in 2014 and has used it as an operations base to plan attacks in the West.

Davis said the US -led coalition has been encouraging Raqqa's residents to try to leave the city if they can, and has dropped leaflets advising such a move.

The IS terrorists captured the city in 2014.

The US military has said coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria had "unintentionally" killed 484 civilians, but observers say the number is much higher.

Elsewhere in Syria, at least 11 people were killed and 16 others wounded in government air raids on the southern Deraa province, the Observatory said. Raqqa is now surrounded from the east, north and west, and opposition activists have reported intense shelling and airstrikes on the city since Monday night, which killed at least 12 people.

IS militants are not expected to give up easily.

Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, Commanding General of the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, said in a statement that the fight for Raqqa "will be long and hard but would deliver a decisive blow to the idea of ISIS as a physical caliphate".

"It's hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin "capitals" in both Iraq and Syria", Townsend said, using an acronym for the extremist group. "In addition to warplanes, there are coalition forces working side by side with the Syrian Democratic Forces", Silo said.

"We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester, England", Townsend said in the statement. "ISIS threatens all our nations, not just Iraq and Syria, but in our homelands as well". The assault on Raqqa will pile more pressure on Daesh's self-declared "caliphate" with the group facing defeat in the Iraqi city of Mosul and being forced into retreat across much of Syria.

After the military offensive, control of the city will be handed over to a local civilian governing council "who will provide security and governance", the coalition stated.

Raqqa is the remaining stronghold of the terror group's so-called caliphate. It follows months of advances to the north, east and west of Raqqa by the SDF, which includes Arabs and PYD terrorists. He criticized the United States for launching the Raqqa offensive with SDF.

A belt of land mines and militant checkpoints circle Raqqa. USA -led coalition warplanes pounded Islamic State positions in the area.

"The SAC and SDF began marching on Raqqah in November and have been rapidly tightening the noose around the city since their daring air assault behind enemy lines in Coalition aircraft in March to begin the seizure of Tabqah."

The Observatory said 21 people were killed in the Monday night airstrikes.

The US-led coalition has said 3,000 to 4,000 IS fighters are thought to be holed up in Raqqa city, where they have erected defenses against the anticipated assault. That suggests it does not intend to challenge the USA -backed campaign at Raqqa city.

Over months of fighting to the north, west and east of Raqqa, the SDF has with coalition air, artillery, intelligence and logistics support, isolated it against the Euphrates.

As SDF forces draw closer to Raqa, thousands of civilians flee the city and neighboring territory into makeshift camps nearby. Raqqa is on the Euphrates river.

"We did not forget the SDF support".

The 19 boats hit on Tuesday carried fighters and equipment, he added.

The coalition continues to support the effort with strikes, as well as with advising and assisting partnered forces on the ground, he said. An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of the country.

  • Rogelio Becker