Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are nearing the “final week” of their assault on the Islamic State (IS) militant group’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, a top commander says.
Supported by U.S. and coalition air cover, the SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters, is moving in on IS-held districts from two fronts along the city's north and east sides, commander Rojda (eds: female) Felat told AFP news agency on October 8.
She said SDF fighters have taken 90 percent of Raqqa and are about to assault the IS holdouts in a small section of territory in the city center.
"If the two fronts meet, we can say we have entered the final week of our campaign to liberate Raqqa," Felat said.
"Within three to four days, we will be able to take the decision to begin the final campaign," she added.
She said extremist fighters were continuing to put up fierce resistance, with snipers and suicide bombers attacking and others holding out in fortified tunnel positions.
IS fighters remain in the city’s national hospital, the football stadium, and in some residential sectors, the SDF said.
An SDF field commander who gave his name as Ardal told Reuters that the extremist fighters are massing in central Raqqa “because this is the last stage. They will resist, or they will surrender or die. This their last stand to the death.”
The loss of Raqqa would represent a major blow to the extremist group, which captured wide swathes of territory in Syria and neighboring Iraq in brutal fighting against government forces in 2014.
IS declared an Islamic “caliphate” over the territory it controlled in 2014, but it has been steadily pushed out of its lands over the past year by U.S.-backed forces in Syria and Iraq. Syrian government forces, fighting separately, have also been attacking IS positions.
The United States and Turkey back differing rebel groups in the civil war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia and Iran support Assad’s government.
U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces recaptured the IS stronghold of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, earlier this year and have made major gains against the extremists in other areas of the country.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters