US-backed forces enter Islamic State stronghold within Raqqa

Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have entered the Old City of Raqqa, according to the US military and posts on the SDF’s social media. Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) announced the “breach” in a statement.

SDF fighters, who have faced “heavy ISIS resistance,” streamed into the Old City after the US-led coalition created two holes in the Rafiqah Wall, a historic barrier that dates back to the 8th Century Abbasid caliphate. CJTF-OIR emphasizes that great care was taken to avoid destroying the entire wall, in contrast to the Islamic State’s own tactics.

“ISIS fighters were using the historic wall as a fighting position and planted mines and improvised explosive devices at several of the breaks in the wall,” CJTF-OIR said in its statement. “SDF fighters would have been channeled through these locations and were extremely vulnerable as they were targeted with vehicle-borne IEDs and indirect fire as well as direct fire from heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and snipers as they tried to breach the Old City.”

Therefore, the US-led coalition conducted “targeted strikes” on two small 25-meter sections of the 2,500-meter wall.

“Unlike ISIS who deliberately destroyed the ruins of Palmyra and the Al-Nuri mosque and uses sites such as the Rafiqa Wall, hospitals, schools and mosques as weapons storage facilities and fighting positions, Coalition forces are making a great effort to protect civilians and preserve these sites for future generations,” military spokesman Col. Ryan Dillon said.

The Old City is the “most heavily fortified portion” of Raqqa, meaning that the battle for the Islamic State’s capital is entering a new stage. Press reports indicate that the SDF reached the outskirts of the Old City in mid-June. But they were evidently stalled there, and in a nearby neighborhood, for more than two weeks since.

The self-declared caliphate continues to produce propaganda from the battle for Raqqa. One video, released on July 3, features an Australian jihadi known as Abu Yousuf al-Australi. He was previously identified in the Australian press as Tareq Kamleh after he first appeared in Islamic State productions more than two years ago. In his latest appearance, Abu Yousuf is first shown (see the screen shot above) attending to a child purportedly wounded during coalition airstrikes. The scenery changes and he is then depicted as a fighter stationed in one of the jihadists’ tunnels.

Abu Yousuf calls on Muslims in the West to either join the Islamic State’s cause overseas, or lash out at home — a recurring theme in the group’s propaganda.

“Is there no shame in those Muslims still in the West, sitting in the West, even the doctors in the West?” he asks.

“These kids are still only here, and their families are only here, because they wanted to live under the law of Allah,” Abu Yousuf says, as he is standing over the wounded child. “And they don’t want to live under this concept of democracy.”

There are hints of desperation in Abu Yousuf’s propaganda video. Even though the Islamic State mushroomed into a global menace, Abu Yousuf expresses his dismay with the limited support the organization receives throughout the broader Muslim-majority world.

“It really surprises me of [sic] how the Muslim nation is acting at the moment and how stagnant you have all become,” Abu Yousuf says. “We are under continuous bombing here and we are fighting hard to try to hold the lands of Islam.” He adds that only the “law of Allah is implemented in these lands.”

“What more will it take for it to be a justified cause for you to come here to fight for Allah’s sake?” the Australian jihadi asks. He continues: “And if you can’t…make hijrah, you can’t come here, jihad itself isn’t only in the lands of Syria, or only in the lands of Iraq. Fighting for the cause of Allah is anywhere. You are living in the countries that are sending us rockets. You are living in the countries that are killing [Muslims] here. You are paying taxes still to them. You have no honor. You have no self-respect. You have no love for fellow Muslims. You can’t undertake anything in your own countries, if you can’t come here.”

Abu Yousuf directly addresses President Trump, claiming that the jihadis can’t wait to battle American forces in northern Syria. He references the increased presence of US Special Operations forces, which are supporting the SDF in its head-to-head match with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s men.

“We were so happy, because for a long time we have been waiting for your soldiers to meet us on the ground here,” Abu Yousuf says while dressed in fighting garb. “And your effeminate predecessor Obama danced around this subject for too long. He refused to send us your soldiers. And now we know they are on the lands, wanting to enter our lands. We are really eagerly awaiting for them to enter our cities.”

“We love death more than you love life,” the Australian says, repeating a common jihadi concept.

While Abu Yousuf claims he can’t wait to face off with American soldiers, the truth is that the bulk of the fighting is carried out by the SDF’s fighters. The Islamic State frequently refers to the SDF as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a US-designated terrorist organization. For instance, Amaq News Agency released an infographic on July 1 claiming that that 74 PKK fighters had been killed in the Islamic State’s sniping operations between June 6 and June 30.

The SDF draws many of its fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Defense Units (YPJ). The PKK is affiliated with the YPG/YPJ.

The SDF has played a key role in taking territory from the Islamic State in Raqqa province and elsewhere. With American support, the SDF helped liberate the city of Tabqah, the Tabqah Dam and an airfield from the Islamic State in May. The battle for Tabqah was a key part of the US strategy for capturing Raqqa, which is less than 30 miles away. The Islamic State has continued to launch attacks near Tabqah, including to its south, in the weeks since.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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9 Comments

  • Devendra Sood says:

    I have a message for this Australian Jihadi, Abu Yusuf alias Tareq Kamleh. Your meeting with Allah is very near. I hate to inform you that there are NO 72 Hoories waiting for you. May be 72 Big Brothers waiting for you to have your acqintance whether you like it or not.

  • Paddy Singh says:

    It was only the indifference and lack of guts on the part of Cameron and Obama to put their boots on the ground and exterminate the Isis when still in labour. It’s too late now even as thousands of Western troops have now put their boots in.

  • irebukeu says:

    I love how they both play victim and play tough with such a straight face.They have to pretend the west is there in force at the tip of the spear. It helps their story line. This is very common in military history-to over inflate the quality or identity of ones enemy. Napoleon it is said, told his troops that the dust from the coming Prussians was in fact French relief. He lied. I’m sure everyone that tangled with a Roman told the story of how they fought the Roman LEGIONS. Any read of most WWII books of a platoon or company commander will show the amount of 88mm guns the Germans had for artillery. In the stories almost every gun is an 88 and every tank encountered was a TIGER TANK. You would think they built THOUSANDS of them.

    At this point there is no need for American forces or money to defeat IS but it looks as if there are plans for the middle east that will involve the destruction of Syria and the limiting the ability of the Iraqi Government to assert control over its borders. We all know that any nation that cannot control its borders will become a failed state. Goodbye old Old Iraq. Syria is already gone.
    My guess it that the plan calls for an independent Kurdistan and some type of Sunni state as some kind of Buffer from Assad and the Iraqi government. I’m just not sure how this is playing out but its happening now. I hope they remember to give our Kurdish “friends” and new ‘bedfellows of a conflict zone’ a sea port of some kind as they are surrounded by enemies.
    Any failure of a Kurdistan at any future point will create a new wave of Muslim refugees to the USA supported by the right wing and left wings in American politics. This batch of refugees will be large and strongly represented in that group will be Marxism and Islam. All of this will cost heavy to the US taxpayers.
    In the end, it looks like Joe Biden of all people, who I recall saying that the solution for Iraq was some type of split 3 ways, was right, as it is indeed going to be the end result in my opinion. Does the future rump state of Iraq know this? I assume Iran must have told them. Why exactly are we still training the Iraqi army and showing them how we fight? Can someone explain this? I wonder (rhetorically) what the desertion rate is and how many recruits, after western paid training, wind up in the PMU?
    This guy in ar Raqqa reminds me of Hitler turning on the German people in his little bunker claiming that they were not worthy of him and that Germany should burn while calling for relief of Berlin by the mighty German Army (people). This guy knows there is no way out for him as he crossed the Rubicon long ago. I hope Cantlie finds a way to survive this. Any news on him?

    • Perduun says:

      Not to minimize the “Big Fish” aspect of retelling experiences, it should be noted that Germany did produce over 21,300 “88’s” and over 5,300 higher caliber artillery pieces which could have been mistaken for an “88”. There were over 2,300 Tiger tanks built; and over 6,600 Panther tanks which some infantry and even “green” tankers may have confused for a Tiger because the Panther was about 15% longer, 25% wider, and 45% heavier than the US main battle tank, the Sherman.

    • Perduun says:

      If your Napoléon reference was relating to the third day of battle of the Waterloo Campaign, then to be fair, one must point out that Napoléon himself thought (or certainly hoped) that it was the French Marshall Grouchy arriving with his troops. Grouchy had been tasked to keep the remnants of the previously defeated Prussian army from returning to the combat area; and return with his troops if the Prussians continued to retreat eastwards. Napoléon was surprised and disappointed to learn it was not French troops, but Prussian troops, approaching towards his right flank at a critical moment during his assault against the British and their allies before Waterloo. (Grouchy had been classically out maneuvered by the Prussian Blucher.) The real “Big Fish” story was the British claiming THEY won the battle. Had it been Grouchy, and not Blucher, arriving the French would have most likely won the day to have been defeated on another by the huge coalition against them since the Austrians and Russians were marching westwards.

  • irebukeu says:

    What was sad about these female protection units forming up about the time of Kobani was that so many of the videos of refugees showed men of military age. Able bodied men as refugees and LOTS OF THEM. Some of the YPJ women spoke about how proud they were to defend their lands, others about how there was no one else to fight and others still would say how civilian men , some of them, would not look them in their eyes as they shuffled by into Turkey protected by girls.
    I remember hearing about how in WWI women on the streets of Paris I think, would hand Roses of a particular color, white or yellow, I forget, to able bodied civilian men that seemed involved in the war as an attempt to shame them.
    How do so many men avoid the fight?
    I guess it comes down more to personality types then gender.

  • Pete says:

    Death to ISIS and their allies in Turkey. Victory to the SDF, YPG and the PKK!

  • george mallon says:

    It is fully apparent, at least to this observer, that someone in US Congress needs to take the bull by the horns regarding State Dept. listing PKK as a designated terrorist group. The same justification for actions against Assad can be applied to pressuring Erdogan to make political deal with HDP. No one can refute evidence of support for IS at highest levels of Turkish government and within its intelligence branch, MIT. Our relationship with Turkey will survive the Erdogan-AKP shock wave of despotism, but Kurds in Turkey and N.Syria are continually under attack. President Trump, in the case of Gen. Flynn and more recently in the brutality of Erdogan’s security detail, has seen how Pres. Erdogan operates, if our Chief Executive and Congress wish to foster democratic change in Turkey and Syria, it will best be advanced by assisting the community which has proved worthy of our support in both Iraq and Syria. The eradication of IS from Deir-ez-Zor, Al- Bukamal might be accomplished by the SDF; however, in the event of a massacre in Afrin, our Kurdish allies could not be faulted for making Afrin their priority, so there will be little hope of liberating communities south of Raqqa ahead of the Syrian Arab Army and Iranian backed units. Realizing FDD is not a lobbying effort, nevertheless, Congress needs to hear from all quarters the message that SDF boots on the ground are proven allies and if you want to have allies, then you have to be an ally.

  • den says:

    Abu yousuf ,…you sound so….frustrated…lol..waiting for something. .only death you will find…enjoy.)

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