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

US-backed force on eastern edge of Syria's Raqa monitor

US-backed force on eastern edge of Syria's Raqa monitor

On March 6, SDF troops backed by global aircraft cut the main supply route between Raqa and the Deir Ezzor province to the east, according to the Observatory. 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.

The attack on the northern city at the heart of ISIL's Syrian territory has been seven months in the making and is backed by air support, military advisers and weapons deliveries from the US-led coalition.

"We announce the good news of the start of the Great Battle which aims to liberate Raqqa city, and we declare that our forces are ready for the fight with high morale and great preparations", the SDF General Command stated in a press conference.

The U.S. -led coalition emphasized the SDF's "multi-ethnic" composition in its statement Tuesday.

Raqqa is now surrounded from the east, north and west, and opposition activists have reported intense shelling and air strikes on the city since Monday night, which killed at least 12 people.

The extremists are not expected to give up its hold on Raqqa easily.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces are steadily routing Islamic State from its last redoubt in the city of Mosul, the largest city the group had controlled in Iraq.

The SDF launched the Raqqa attack on Monday at dawn, the start of what Davis said "will be a very, very hard battle going forward".

"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".

SDF commanders said the level of coalition support and arms supply would depend on the durability of the forces and difficulty of the battle.

ISIS terrorists ride tanks during a June 2014 parade in Raqqa, Syria.

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The U.S. -SDF partnership has complicated relations with Turkey, which views the group's Kurdish component as an extension of a terror group operating inside its own borders.

Last week, the United States announced it had begun providing weapons to members of the Kurdish militia that dominates the SDF, the Popular Protection Units (YPG). Two of the government's three routes to Deir el-Zour intersect with rebel and Kurdish forces supported by the U.S. In May, the U.S. struck a column of pro-government forces it judged were moving threateningly toward its local allies in the eastern Syrian desert. The alliance in April seized the strategically important Tabqa Dam, roughly 30 miles west of the Islamic State capital, providing a prime launching point for the push toward Raqqa.

The Observatory said the SDF had captured some buildings in the al-Mishlab area and Islamic State fighters had withdrawn from parts of the district.

A belt of land mines and militant checkpoints circle Raqqa.

Among them are as many as 200,000 civilians, who aid groups fear may be used as human shields, a tactic employed by the Islamic State in its strongholds across Syria and Iraq as coalition forces closed in.

SDF commanders said they are closely monitoring the fate of residents.

Earlier Tuesday, state news agency SANA reported that the airstrikes by the US-led coalition killed 12, including women and children. On Monday, the Observatory said a coalition bombing raid killed 21 civilians as they tried to escape Raqqa by dinghy on the Euphrates River. It said they were likely carried out by the US -led coalition. It follows months of advances to the north, east and west of Raqqa by the SDF, which includes Arabs and PYD terrorists. Coalition warplanes and artillery began strikes Monday afternoon, and continued through Tuesday afternoon. That suggests it does not intend to challenge the US -backed campaign at Raqqa city. "With the worldwide coalition's warplanes and the state-of-the-art weapons they provided to us, we will seize Raqqa from Daesh" The coalition air strikes on Raqqa have taken a toll on civilians.

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

"It will obviously be an operation that is going to be hard going forward and there will be a lot of painstaking efforts to try to avoid civilian casualties as they more in".

The coalition struck similarly described forces in the area last month.

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