U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces on Sunday began a campaign to retake the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria, even as fighting still raged in a second militant stronghold in northern Iraq.
A female commander of the Syrian Defense Forces read a statement on television announcing the onset of “our big military offensive to liberate the city of Raqqa and its suburbs from the clutches of the terror forces of the dark world, represented by Daesh (Islamic State) which made the city the capital of its self-styled caliphate.”
She said the campaign bore the name “Wrath of the Euphrates.”
The two-pronged U.S.-backed campaign to recapture Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq aims to shatter the self-styled caliphate that the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced two years ago.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter hailed the campaign “to free Raqqa from ISIL’s barbaric group,” using initials to identify the extremist group, which is also known as ISIS.
“As in Mosul, the fight will not be easy and there is hard work ahead, but it is necessary to end the fiction of ISIL's caliphate and disrupt the group's ability to carry out terror attacks against the United States, our allies and our partners,” Carter said in a statement.
A climactic battle to retake Mosul in northern Iraq began in mid-October, and is progressing more rapidly than anticipated even as Islamic fighters use scores of car bombs to halt the advance of Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Iraqi military units. U.S.-led coalition has swept away pockets of resistance in Mosul suburbs, but anticipates more intense fighting as soldiers approach the city center.
The overlapping campaigns on Mosul and Raqqa have heightened U.S. frictions with Turkey, which views the main Syrian Kurdish fighting force, the People's Protection Units, or YPG, as a terror force linked to outlawed Kurdish separatists in Turkey.