The Battle of Raqqa is the fifth phase of the Raqqa campaign launched by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) de facto capital in the city of Raqqa. The battle began on 6 June 2017, and is being supported by airstrikes and ground troops from the US-led coalition. The operation was named the "Grand Battle" by the SDF. The battle is running concurrently with the Battle of Mosul as part of an effort by the CJTF–OIR and its allies to strip ISIL of its regional centres of power, and to dismantle it as an organization controlling territory.
In 2015, ISIS began to fortify the city and its surroundings with bunkers and a network of tunnels.
By June 2017, Raqqa remained the only major Syrian city fully under ISIL control and was, therefore, its effective centre of operations. With a large number of foreign fighters, Raqqa has been a planning center for terrorist attacks against European cities. The Raqqa campaign was launched by the SDF on 6 November 2016 in an effort to capture the city, and it has resulted in the SDF capturing a large amount of territory in the Raqqa Governorate from ISIL, including the city of al-Thawrah, and the infrastructure at Tabqa Dam, and Baath Dam.
As many as 500 US special forces are operating on the ground in northern Syria in support of the Raqqa campaign. The US and other coalition members are supplying heavy weapons, intelligence collection, communications support and other assistance to the SDF as part of their intervention in the conflict. The battle began in the wake of a tumultuous period for the coalition, as internal pressures had been elevated by the Qatar diplomatic crisis, which had seen diplomatic relations between Qatar and other coalition members severed, and was publicly supported by President Donald Trump.
Local residents stated that many ISIL militants had abandoned the city and traveled to Deir ez-Zor, in anticipation of the impending attack on their capital. It is speculated that the group will assault the city, currently held by the Syrian Government forces, in an effort to make a last stand.
It was reported by AFP that in an US-led airstrike, 21 civilians were killed while attempting to flee Raqqa by dinghy on the Euphrates River. The event was also reported by Al Jazeera, but with uncertainty as to who carried out the bombing.
The United States Air Force conducted heavy airstrikes on Raqqa the day before the battle. The battle was officially launched by the SDF in the dawn of 6 June 2017. The offensive came from Raqqa's north, east, and west. Supported by US airstrikes, the SDF attacked the former base of the 17th Division north of Raqqa and the Mashlab district in the southeastern part of the city. By the end of the day, the SDF captured more than half of Mashlab district and also attacked the Andalus district in the northwest. The SDF also captured the village of al-Jazra.
On 7 June, the SDF captured a ruined fortress on the edge of the city, and a U.S. coalition official said the attack was set to accelerate. On the same day, the SDF captured Tell Harqal districts of the city.
Brett H. McGurk, the special envoy with responsibility over the US-led military coalition, claimed that the fighting in the city would be accelerated by the failures of ISIL in the Battle of Mosul, and claimed that the forces were prepared for a "difficult and very long-term battle".
The SDF entered the 17th Division base and the nearby sugar plant on 8 June, but were eventually forced to retreat due to casualties at the result of persistent ISIS resistance.
The following night, Coalition airplanes heavily struck the city, killing 23 civilians. At the same time the SDF, backed by special forces, were close to capturing the entire al-Mashlab neighborhood. Later that day, the SDF entered Sabahiyah neighborhood from the western axis and captured the remaining parts of the al-Mashlab neighborhood within hours.
On 10 June, SDF forces entered the Roman suburb and were locked "in fierce fighting", while they were reinforcing the western half of Al-Sabahiya. The International Coalition itself stated that they had destroyed numerous targets in Raqqa between 7-9 June; a minefield, 11 fighting positions, four vehicles, three ISIS headquarters, two VBIED's and an ISIS-held building. At the end of the day, SDF forces managed to take control over Harqaliya Suburb. During the battle, US forces reportedly used white phosphorus munitions several times while thousands of civilians remained in Raqqa. A spokesman for the U.S. military did not confirm or deny the allegation.
By 11 June, 79 civilians reportedly had been killed. The SDF forces captured "wide parts" of the Roman suburb and advanced into al-Sinaa neighborhood and al-Hal Market near the northern banks of the Euphrates River. ISIL fighters attacked the sugar plant that the SDF had captured three days earlier in the northern part of the city.
SDF fighters walk through a destroyed area in the suburbs of Raqqa.
On 12 June, SDF forces began the process of capturing al-Sinaa and al-Hattin neighborhoods along with the al-Sinaa industrial zone. SDF forces captured Sahil village southwest of Raqqa after clashes between the SDF and ISIL broke out and lasted until the next morning.
On 14 June, SDF forces entered into al-Berid neighborhood in the western part of Raqqa following intense fighting in which an ISIL suicide bomber was killed.
On 15 June, SDF forces captured al-Sinaa neighborhood and entered Batani neighborhood. Several CJTF-OIR troops were injured by a VBIED planted by ISIL in al-Sinaa neighborhood.
On 18 June, SDF forces captured Kasrat Sheyh Juma village in the south of Raqqa following violent clashes with ISIL. The Kurds also captured a greenhouse in the south of the city as well as Batani neighborhood in the east.
On 19 June, ISIL counter-attacked at the old city walls, and managed to encircle a group of SDF fighters, among them members of the Elite Forces (SEF). The Elite Forces then attempted to break the encirclement of their comrades, shooting down a ISIL bombing drone, breaking through to their fifteen besieged fighters at the Bab Baghdad gate of the old city. In the course of this operation, the SEF lost its first member in the battle for Raqqah city and its fourth in the “Euphrates Wrath” Operation. On the next day, the SDF, supported by especially heavy airstrikes, continued to advance in northwestern Raqqa amid "desperate" attempts of ISIL to stop their progress.
On 20 June, SDF forces began the process of capturing the Kasrat al-Faraj neighborhood in the south of the city. ISIL militants also attacked SDF forces in the area around the bridge to the city in the south, where SDF fighters destroyed 2 bomb-laden motorcycles and a 12.7 mm DShK weapon.
On 25 June, the SDF captured the Qadisiya district of Raqqa after three days of fighting, making it the sixth district in the city under SDF control.
- ^ Most leftist foreign volunteers fight as part of the YPG, though some have also formed an independent unit, the Antifascist International Tabur, or joined the International Freedom Battalion. The latter is a larger unit, mostly composed of Kurdish and Turkish communists.
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