On Syria Fronts, US-Backed Forces Probe Raqqa Defenses, Iran-Allied Fighters Gain Key Foothold

On Syria Fronts, US-Backed Forces Probe Raqqa Defenses, Iran-Allied Fighters Gain Key Foothold by Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria, Washington Post

U.S.-backed forces cleared mines from the eastern fringe of the Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa on Tuesday as a second front south of the city appeared to falter.

After a months-long campaign to cut supply routes into Raqqa, the U.S.-backed group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces has made swift progress in the past week since entering the city.

The U.S. military, however, has predicted a potentially “long and difficult” battle as the Islamic State defends its de facto capital.

The patchwork of factions is backed by airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State. But the dominance of Syrian Kurdish fighters in the U.S.-allied ground forces has strained U.S. relations with NATO-ally Turkey, which sees any Kurdish military strength as a threat.

For decades, Turkey has battled Kurdish separatists in the country’s southeast.

In Raqqa, the Syrian Democratic Forces fought around the edges of Raqqa’s Old City as residents reported heavy shelling. The area is fortified by walls built in the 8th century.

Satellite images taken May 20 appeared to show that the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has erected few defenses on the road to the Old City…

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