US-backed force advances in fight for Daesh-held Raqqa

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) female fighters gather at the eastern outskirts of Raqqa city, Syria June 7, 2017. Picture taken June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said
Updated 09 June 2017

US-backed force advances in fight for Daesh-held Raqqa

Beirut: US-backed Syrian fighters Friday seized part of a district on the western edge of the Daesh group’s Raqqa bastion and battled to advance inside the city’s east, a monitor said.
The Kurdish-Arab alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) broke into Raqqa city for the first time earlier this week, months after they launched an operation to capture the jihadist stronghold.
They are backed by the US-led coalition which carried out heavy air strikes on Raqqa and its surroundings overnight and into Friday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said SDF fighters took parts of the suburb of Jazra just west of Raqqa’s city limits on Friday.
The monitor said heavy clashes were continuing in other parts of the neighborhood, where at least 15 civilians were killed on Thursday night in the air strikes that hit an Internet cafe.
The casualties in Jazra were among 23 civilians killed in over two dozen US-led coalition strikes on and near Raqqa on Thursday night, the Observatory said.
SDF spokesman Talal Sello said fighters were advancing on several fronts on Friday.
“The SDF has control of Al-Meshleb district (inside eastern Raqqa) and is clearing it of mines and explosives at the moment,” he told AFP.
He said SDF forces had also advanced on the northern front outside the city.
Al-Meshleb was the first neighborhood in Raqqa city entered by SDF fighters.
They are expected to progress from the district into neighboring Al-Senaa, and the Observatory said some of the overnight strikes targeted area between the two districts.
Daesh fighters have been fighting back against the advancing forces with snipers as well as drones armed with explosives, according to the SDF.
They have also reportedly dug defensive trenches and tunnels to try to slow the SDF advance.
“Hundreds” of US military personnel are taking part in the Raqqa offensive, according to the Pentagon, which said Thursday it believed up to 2,500 Daesh fighters were still holed up in Raqqa.
Captured by the jihadists in 2014, Raqqa has become synonymous with Daesh atrocities including beheadings and public displays of bodies, and also emerged as a hub for planning attacks abroad.
An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under Daesh rule in Raqqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.
But thousands have fled in recent months, and the UN humanitarian office estimates about 160,000 people remain in the city.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF warned Friday that “an estimated 40,000 children remain trapped in dangerous conditions in Raqqa city.”
“Many are caught in the crossfire,” said UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere.
“Children are deprived of the most basic and life-saving necessities,” he added, urging safe passage for those who want to leave the city.
Tens of thousands of people have fled Raqqa and the surrounding area since the SDF launched its Operation Wrath of the Euphrates to capture the Daesh bastion last November.
Many have described harrowing journeys as they fled Raqqa city, with Daesh fighters targeting them as they tried to escape.
Elsewhere in Syria, a US warplane shot down a pro-regime drone on Thursday night near the Jordanian border in the latest incident in escalating tensions in the country’s south.
The US-led coalition said the drone was downed after it fired at coalition forces near the Al-Tanaf garrison, where anti-Daesh Syrian rebels are being trained.
The shooting down came after another incident earlier Thursday in which coalition forces struck “technical vehicles” advancing toward Al-Tanaf.
It was the third time the coalition has struck pro-regime forces near Al-Tanaf in less than a month.
Syria’s government is eager to deploy forces in the area and head off any dispatch of foreign-trained Syrian rebels to fight Daesh in the country’s eastern Deir Ezzor province.


Bahrain to join US-led efforts to protect Gulf navigation

Updated 19 August 2019

Bahrain to join US-led efforts to protect Gulf navigation

  • Bahrain’s King Hamad voiced his appreciation of the US role in supporting 'regional security and stability'
  • US is seeking coalition to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf

DUBAI: Bahrain said Monday it would join US-led efforts to protect shipping in the Arabian Gulf amid tensions between Washington and Tehran after a series of attacks on tankers.
Bahrain’s King Hamad voiced his country’s appreciation of the “US role in supporting regional security and stability” during a meeting with US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Kenneth McKenzie, state media said.
“The king confirmed the kingdom of Bahrain’s participation in the joint effort to preserve the safety of international maritime navigation and secure international corridors for trade and energy,” the official Bahrain News Agency reported.
The US has been seeking to form a coalition to guarantee freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
Britain, which already has warships on protection duty in the Gulf after a UK-flagged tanker was seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, has said it will join the planned operation.
But other European countries have declined to join, for fear of harming European efforts to rescue a 2015 treaty with Iran over its nuclear program.
Bahrain, which hosts the US Fifth Fleet, said last month that it would co-host a conference with the US on “maritime and air navigation security,” set for October.
Iran has seized three tankers in strategic Gulf waters since last month, including a British-flagged vessel.
That came after British Royal Marines helped impound a tanker carrying Iranian oil off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar on July 4.
Britain suspected it was destined for Syria in defiance of European Union sanctions, which Iran denies.
The US and its Gulf allies have also accused the Islamic republic of carrying out several mysterious attacks on ships in the region, which Tehran denies.