The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) now control approximately half of the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa, Operation Inherent Resolve spokesman Army Col. John Dillon told reporters Thursday.
Dillon’s comments reveal a lag in early progress of the SDF fighters that controlled 45 percent of the city as of July 27. “There has been stiffer resistance, compared to the beginning of offensive operation,” Dillon said, adding that some ISIS fighters have been discovered trying to slip out of the city by posing as fleeing civilians.
Dillon described brutal tactics used by ISIS, including “rigging buildings and corpses” with explosives to target SDF forces, and noted that the terrorist group has not taken back any territory it has lost in the campaign. The SDF are supported by U.S. airstrikes, have received small arms, and are accompanied by some special operators on the ground.
U.S. operations to retake Raqqa have been active for nearly two months, but the longest phase of the operation is still come, SDF commanders warn. “It could take another three to four months to finish Raqqa,” a Kurdish commander told Reuters. “They’ve laid many mines, that’s one of the biggest difficulties. As for car bombs, they don’t use them every day, but if our forces are advancing down a street, then they deploy them.”
The terrorist group’s prolific use of human shields, concentration of fighters in heavily defended positions, and insurgent tactics are the same conditions which drew out U.S.-backed Iraqi Security Force operations to retake the city of Mosul. The SDF do not, however, have the advantage of being a sovereign government with much of its own security infrastructure.
U.S. military commanders refuse to a put a timeline on operations to retake Raqqa, noting that operations to retake Mosul took far longer than originally expected.
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