The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance, have seized new territory that lies halfway between ISIS’ former stronghold of Tabqa and its de facto capital Raqqa in northern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday.
The Britain-based monitor said the SDF captured the town of Mansoura late Friday and the adjacent Baath Dam on the Euphrates River, around 20 kilometers west of Raqqa.
“This advance will allow the SDF to expand its control on the southern banks of the Euphrates River and stabilize the western front of Raqqa before launching the final battle to expel ISIS from the city,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“We’re nearing the major battle,” he added.
Abdel Rahman said combing operations were ongoing in Mansoura and at the dam to “dismantle mines and search for remaining jihadists”.
The SDF launched an operation to capture Raqqa last November, and has since surrounded the city from the north and east while closing in from the west.
SDF spokesman Talal Sello told AFP the advances on the western front were part of the final stage of operations before the launch of the assault on Raqqa, which has been held by ISIS since 2014.
He said the SDF had received “weapons and advanced equipment from the international coalition… as part of preparations for the launch of the battle for Raqqa, which is close”.
Sello said the SDF would launch the attack from the north, west and east of Raqqa.
“The SDF has already completed the siege from the northern and eastern sides and is working to complete the siege from the west,” he added.
The SDF is fighting with broad weapons, airpower, and ground support from the US-led coalition.
SDF fighters are now just a few kilometers from the city on the north, east and western fronts, with all major routes into the city severed.
ISIS militants are still able to move out of the city to the south, however, crossing the Euphrates river by boat before continuing on through the desert.
The SDF is not expected to try to seal the southern route before launching its final assault.
“The SDF doesn’t need to isolate Raqqa from the south, because the international coalition’s planes can target any jihadists as they cross the river,” Abdel Rahman said.