Pentagon: 'Hundreds' of USA troops in fight for Raqqa

Pentagon: 'Hundreds' of USA troops in fight for Raqqa

"We declare today the start of the great battle to liberate the city of Raqa, the so-called capital of terrorism and terrorists", Sello told reporters in the village of Hazima, north of the city. Iraqi forces are close to clearing Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, from Islamic State control. Since then, the SDF has liberated more than 5,000 square miles of territory in the surgical advance to encircle and choke off Raqqa before moving in. The coalition began its air campaign against IS in Iraq in Aug 2014, expanding its operations to Syria the following month.

He added that US-led coalition forces will continue to support the SDF in Raqqa, providing equipment, training, intelligence and logistics as well as precision firepower.

A Reuters witness at the location could hear the sound of heavy shelling and air strikes in the distance.

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

With its "competent, unitary command" and "generally reliable hostility to jihadists", the YPG established itself as the ground force of choice for the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria, Heller said.

The SDF is a multi-ethnic coalition of forces consisting of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Syriacs, Christians, tribal brigades, men and women.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, praised Mr. Trump for freeing US commanders to carry the fight to the Islamic State but expressed concern Tuesday on Fox News that the heavily Kurdish assault force will have trouble holding the heavily Arab city if and when the Islamic State is defeated. The SDF's assault also follows the attacks in London and Manchester for which the Islamic State, also known as ISIL, Daesh, and ISIS, took credit.

The Syrian Democratic Forces and its Syrian Arab Coalition partners began the operation Tuesday, according to a statement from Operation Inherent Resolve. But it has lost much of that territory over the past two years following grueling campaigns by an array of Syrian and Iraqi forces.

Another wing of the attack was engaging the jihadis in Division 17, a military base north of the city. US -led coalition warplanes pounded Islamic State positions in the area. The city is about 90 km (56 miles) from the border with Turkey.

The powerful Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), became the effective government and security force in Kurdish-majority areas. It said they were likely carried out by the US-led coalition. Islamic State terrorists have also reportedly been preventing civilians from leaving, it said.

"It will obviously be an operation that is going to be hard going forward and there will be a lot of painstaking efforts to try to avoid civilian casualties as they more in".

Civilians trapped in the Syrian city of Raqqa risk being killed by Islamic State snipers or mines if they try to flee but could be used by the militants as human shields if they remain, a leading humanitarian aid organisation said on Tuesday. The Observatory said the SDF had captured some buildings in the al-Mishlab area and Daesh fighters had withdrawn from parts of the district.

Last week, the Pentagon announced that it started delivering weapons to the SDF, a militia dominated by the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units), saying they were necessary to capture Raqqa, despite the objections of Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally. Last week, the USA announced it would ramp up military aid to the group, which claims to have an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 fighters, including more than 13,000 Arab tribal militiamen.

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