US-backed force ‘mopping up’ last Daesh holdouts in Raqqa

In this file photo, a U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter runs in front of a damaged building as he crosses a street on the front line in Raqqa, Syria. (AP)
Updated 21 September 2017
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US-backed force ‘mopping up’ last Daesh holdouts in Raqqa

BEIRUT: Syrian fighters backed by US special forces battled Thursday to clear the last remaining Daesh militants holed up in their crumbling stronghold of Raqqa.
Most of Raqqa, long a byword for the militants’ most gruesome atrocities, is now in the hands of US-backed fighters supported by waves of heavy air strikes by a military coalition led by Washington.
“The Syrian Democratic Forces and American special forces began a mopping up operation in Raqqa,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday.
The Britain-based monitor said militant holdouts were still hiding in underground shelters in a part of the city center where a football stadium and former government buildings are located.
But the operation was being slowed down by large numbers of mines planted by the militants in the city, where they have been under siege for three months, it said.
The extremists seized Raqqa in early 2014, making it their de facto Syria capital. They are thought to have used the city to plan attacks abroad.
On Wednesday the SDF said they were in the “final stages” of capturing Raqqa as the Observatory said the US-backed fighters controlled 90 percent of the northern city.
The US-led coalition supporting the SDF estimated that 65-70 percent of Raqqa was under the control of the alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters.
Across the border In Iraq, security forces backed by paramilitary units launched a dawn assault on a besieged Daesh-held pocket around the northern town of Hawija, just days after attacking the jihadists’ only other foothold in the country.
The territory still held by Daesh has been dwindling fast since its defeat in Iraq’s second city Mosul in July, with stronghold after stronghold coming under assault on both sides of the border with Syria.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi predicted the assault on the Hawija region would swiftly bring a new victory against the crumbling jihadists.
After the defeat of Daesh in Mosul and the recapture of adjacent areas, Hawija and neighboring towns form the last enclave still held by Daesh in Iraq apart from a section of the Euphrates Valley downstream from the border with Syria.
“Greetings to all of our forces, who are waging several battles of liberation at the same time and who are winning victory after victory and this will be another, with the help of God,” Abadi said.
An AFP correspondent heard heavy shelling around the Daesh-held town of Sharqat where Iraqi forces have been massing in recent days.
The US-led coalition fighting Daesh hailed the new offensive by the Iraqi security forces against the jihadist group.
“Daesh is losing ground and failing in every battle. Soon ISIS will have no sanctuary in Iraq,” said coalition spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon.
Humanitarian organizations expressed concern for the fate of civilians caught up in the offensive.
“The 85,000 civilians still in and around Hawija, including around 40,000 children, now face a terrifying time as they worry about getting caught up in the fighting or being hit by an air strike,” said International Rescue Committee acting country director Jason Kajer.
“For those who decide to flee, there is a significant risk of being targeted by Daesh snipers or killed by a mine.”
In Syria, tens of thousands of civilians have fled the Raqqa fighting in recent months but thousands are still trapped inside the city according to the UN’S Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“We now estimate that up to 15,000 civilians remain trapped in Raqqa city, although exact figures remain difficult to verify due to the situation on the ground,” OCHA’s Linda Tom told AFP.
She said the civilians, many of them women and children, “are facing incredibly difficult conditions,” including food, water and medical shortages.
Daesh has seen the territory under its control fast diminish in recent months in the face of multiple offensives against its fighters in both Iraq and Syria.
On Tuesday, Iraqi forces launched an attack up the Euphrates Valley against the other one of Daesh’s two remaining enclaves in Iraq.
And in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor, IS faces twin assaults — one by Russian-backed government troops and the other by SDF fighters.
Daesh also holds pockets of territory elsewhere in Syria, notably in eastern parts of the central provinces of Homs and Hama, but it has come under attack by Russian-backed government forces there too.


Turkey launches air strike on Iraqi Kurdistan after killing of diplomat

Updated 19 July 2019
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Turkey launches air strike on Iraqi Kurdistan after killing of diplomat

  • Turkish vice consul to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region was shot dead Wednesday in the local capital Irbil
  • Turkish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) is suspected to be involved in the killing

ANKARA: Turkey on Thursday launched an air attack on Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the killing of a Turkish diplomat in the region, the country’s defense minister said.
The Turkish vice consul to Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region was shot dead Wednesday in the local capital Irbil. Police sources said two other people were also killed.
There was no claim of responsibility for the shooting, but many Iraqi experts have pointed to the probability that the Turkish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist group, was behind the attack.
“Following the evil attack in Irbil, we have launched the most comprehensive air operation on Qandil and dealt a heavy blow to the (PKK) terror organization,” defense minister Hulusi Akar said in a statement.
Targets such as “armaments positions, lodgings, shelters and caves belonging to terrorists” were destroyed.
“Our fight against terror will continue with increasing determination until the last terrorist is neutralized and the blood of our martyrs will be avenged,” he added.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which now leads the regional government, enjoys good political and trade relations with Turkey.
But Turkey has been conducting a ground offensive and bombing campaign since May in the mountainous northern region to root out the PKK which has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.
Earlier this month, the PKK announced that one of those raids killed senior PKK leader Diyar Gharib Mohammed along with two other fighters.
A spokesman for the PKK’s armed branch denied the group was involved in Wednesday’s shooting.