Backed forces launch bid to take Raqqa from ISIS

Raqqa was captured by the IS back in January of 2014. To the north, the SDF has advanced to within 3 miles of the Raqqa city limits.

"We know that Raqqa as a capital of the caliphate was where the external operations were planned, especially plots against Europe and the West".

The coalition began its air campaign against IS in Iraq in August 2014, expanding its operations to Syria the following month.

"Our forces entered the city of Raqa from the eastern district of Al-Meshleb", SDF commander Rojda Felat told AFP, adding that clashes were also raging on the city's northern outskirts.

The advance took place in Al Mashlab, a district in southeastern Raqqa after a night of heavy air strikes.

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 to retreat from most of Syria, Silo said, speaking from the Hukoumiya farms area, 10 km (6 miles) north of Raqqa.

"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.

"We all saw the heinous attack in Manchester, England", said Townsend, referring to a bombing that killed 22 people last month and was claimed by IS. "ISIS threatens all of our nations, not just Iraq and Syria, but in our own homelands as well".

Syrian fighters have been inching toward the gates of Raqqa from different directions since November of past year, only now reading themselves to overtake the city as a whole.

"Contrary to what these opposing efforts and attacks aim at, we have strengthened our will, further knowing our hatred against terrorism and increased our struggle will against it".

It said the attack occurred after forces supporting Syrian president Bashar Assad entered an area near a coalition base in southern Syria with a tank, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, other vehicles and more than 60 soldiers.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Tuesday his country will respond if an offensive by the SDF on Raqqa poses a security threat to Turkey.

According to the Turkish government, which is part of the USA -led coalition against the Islamic State in Syria, the operation started on Friday.

Airstrikes likely carried out by the US -led coalition began on Monday, killing 21 people, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.

The report did not clarify whether the victims were civilians or combatants. The coalition says it tries hard to avoid civilian casualties and investigates any that are reported.

He asked civilians inside the city to keep away from IS positions and from the front lines.

"The IRC has seen a drop in the number of people escaping Raqqa over the past week", its Middle East Director of Public Affairs Thomas Garofalo said, adding this may indicate Daesh meant to use them as human shields.

The SDF, whose main component is a Kurdish militia known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, has been the main recipient of US support in Syria. 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 Kurdish YPG, part of the SDF, had told Reuters on Saturday that the assault on Raqqa was expected to start in a few days.

The SDF has been gradually encircling Raqqa since November, and it remains unclear how many of its fighters have been deployed around the city. The SDF and YPG control a swathe of northeastern Syria from the Iraqi border to the city of Manbij on the western banks of the Euphrates.

According to the United Kingdom -based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the SDF has been repairing bridges across the Euphrates River in preparation for the attack on Raqqa.

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