The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces broke into the western part of ISIS’ so-called Syrian capital of Raqqa on Saturday, the SDF and a monitor said, opening up a second front inside the Syrian city after it had seized an important district in its far east.
The SDF has spent months tightening the noose on Raqqa and entered the city for the first time earlier this week from the east.
SDF said it had seized al-Mishlab district in the far east of Raqqa on Friday and al-Sabahia district in the west.
The war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the SDF had taken Mishlab and more than half of Sabahia.
“The SDF captured the western half of the Sabahia neighborhood and are reinforcing their positions there,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said.
“They then advanced north to the adjacent district of Al-Romania and are fighting ISIS there,” he told Agence France Presse.
A statement from the SDF’s Operation Wrath of the Euphrates said its fighters stormed Romania on Saturday and were locked “in fierce fighting inside the district”.
Held by ISIS since 2014, Raqqa emerged as a key hub for the jihadists’ operations in Syria, neighboring Iraq, and beyond. The US-led coalition estimates that the city is defended by 3,000-4,000 jihadists.
The SDF — an Arab-Kurdish alliance formed in 2015 — launched its campaign to capture Raqqa in November and chipped away at ISIS territory around the city’s north, west, and east.
But the force has struggled to advance from the city’s north, where ISIS holds a military complex known as Division 17.
“ISIS has reinforced the northern approach to Raqqa much more, thinking that’s how the SDF would try to advance on the city,” Abdel Rahman said.
“The western and eastern entrances to the city were much less fortified,” he said.
The offensive has been backed by the US-led coalition with air strikes, special forces advisers, weapons, and equipment.