Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

US Experts, Apache Helicopters Heat up Raqqa Battle | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters on their way to Raqqa, Syria. (Reuters)

Beirut – The slow advance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the ISIS-held northern Syrian city of Raqqa forced the United States to activate its presence in the battle.

This was demonstrated through raising the number of its special forces’ missions and bringing in Apache attack helicopters to take part in direct strikes against the terrorist group.

Director of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdulrahman told Asharq Al-Awsat that the first Apache in Raqqa was spotted only hours ago.

He explained that the helicopters were brought in because fighter jets have proven to be ineffective in this battle and because the SDF was makings low progress on the ground.

The forces are still fighting in the Old City of Raqqa.

Activist in the “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” organization Abou Mohammed al-Raqqawi explained that the Apaches were brought in because they are effective in attacks and can come close to the ground, therefore directly targeting ISIS terrorists.

He also confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat Abdulrahman’s remark on the slow advance of the SDF.

Washington’s decision came hours after official spokesman for the International Coalition said that US military consultants, who are helping Arab and Kurdish fighters in combating ISIS in Raqqa, are more prone to engaging with the enemy compared to US troops in Mosul in Iraq.

On the ground, the Syrian Observatory said that battles of different levels of intensity have taken place in Raqqa’s Old City. The SDF on Wednesday night also thwarted an ISIS suicide car bomb attack in the southwestern part of the city.

Dozens of civilians were killed and wounded during Wednesday battles in Hay al-Dariya after ISIS cornered them in alleys that have been booby-trapped with mines. Some 1,500 other civilians from the same area have also been “freed” from ISIS’ clutches.

ISIS’ Aamaq news agency reported that four Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members were killed and five others wounded in bomb attacks near Raqqa’s old wall in the east.

The latest International Coalition estimates said that some 2,000 ISIS terrorists were still holed up in Raqqa, meaning that their numbers have been reduced by 500 from the when the battle for the city first began some 40 days ago.

In other parts of Syria, a United Nations delegation toured the city of Tabqa that was seized by the SDF two months ago, reported the Observatory. It inspected the humanitarian situation in the region and toured the various refugee camps there.

The developments came three days after the World Food Program said that it has managed for the first time in three years to deliver food aid by land to areas in the Raqqa province. Aid reached al-Mansoura and other parts of the countryside, it said in a statement.

In the city of Raqqa, “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” said that some 70,000 civilians are still trapped in neighborhoods that are controlled by ISIS.

It said that they are experiencing a “real humanitarian catastrophe” because of severe food and water shortages. They also lack basic medical needs and only one hospital remains functional, but it is unable to cope with the massive number of wounded civilians because all pharmacies have gone out of service weeks ago, it added.