Coalition-Backed Syrian Forces Close in on Raqqa Despite ISIS Tactics, Official Says
Syrian Democratic Forces continue to progress every day in their fight to retake Raqqa, Syria, from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria control despite the enemy's fierce and suicidal tactics, the spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters at the Pentagon today.
"Fighting in Raqqa continues to be intense as fanatical ISIS dead-enders and foreign terrorist fighters left to die use the dense urban environment to try to cling to territory," Army Col. Ryan Dillon said from Baghdad by teleconference.
ISIS continues to use the closely spaced buildings and tight streets of the city to hide large improvised explosive devices, attempting to slow the advances of the SDF, which is clawing away at remaining hiding places, the spokesman said. More than 80 percent of the ISIS attacks against the SDF stem from hidden IEDs, he added.
Small Gap Between Two Axes
The SDF is advancing from three axes from the east, the west and south of the Euphrates River, Dillon said, adding that as of this morning, a 250-meter gap, about 820 feet, remains between the east and west axes.
"That can be covered by fire, but it's only a short amount of time before there's an actual, physical linkup there," he added.
In cleared sections of the city, the volunteer Raqqa internal security forces are making sure terrorists neither escape from nor return to Raqqa, Dillon said. The force is about 800 strong, with 230 newly trained members added this week, he noted.
Mosul Clearing Continues
In Iraq, the coalition continues to support Iraqi security forces as they clear Mosul and prepare for offensive operations in Tal Afar, the spokesman said. "[The] Iraqi Army Emergency Response Division and Counter Terrorism Service will transition security to hold forces in West Mosul here shortly," he added. "The [Iraqi forces] are firmly in control of Mosul."
As areas in Mosul become more secure, the colonel noted, humanitarian aid and multiple projects can get underway in the hardest-hit neighborhoods following the collapse of ISIS control.
"There was a surge this week of engineers that assessed some 200 schools, 20 electrical substations, seven sewage treatment plants, two hospitals and several police stations in West Mosul," Dillon said.
Schools have reopened in cleared parts of the city, and electricity has been connected to a water treatment facility that is expected to soon provide clean drinking water to several hundred thousand Moslawis in West Mosul, he noted. "And these are just a few of the many projects decided by local governments to return to life after ISIS," he added.
The enemy poses a global threat because of its commitment to plot, direct and incite terror attacks and its ability to recruit, move and finance the terrorists who commit those attacks, Dillon said.
"The coalition will not stop targeting ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria until this threat is removed, the region is secure, and our homelands are safe," he told reporters.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDOD)