Over the past two days, Kurdish forces and other rebel factions have seized a town and a military base from the Islamic State in its home province of Raqqa. As they have advanced on the seat of the so-called “caliphate,” the anti-Islamic State forces have been backed by US airstrikes.
In a statement released on its web site, the YPG (or People’s Defense Units) announced that the town of Ain Issa has been “liberated” from the Islamic State. Ain Issa is just 50 kilometers, or roughly 30 miles, north of Raqqa.
The YPG says the “fresh assault operation” began on June 22, and involved the “combined forces of the People’s/Women’s Defense Units (YPG/YPJ),” as well as “fighters from the Burkan al-Firat (Euphrates Volcano – FSA).”
The “FSA” is the Free Syrian Army. The YPJ (or Women’s Protection Units) is the YPG’s female brigade. The YPG/YPJ is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US government.
This same alliance of forces drove the Islamic State out of Kobane earlier this year.
In a separate statement, the YPG says it has begun “final mop-up operations,” including “[m]ine-clearing and search operations…in and around Ain Issa.”
The advance on Ain Issa and its surrounding areas was launched just weeks after the Islamic State lost control of the town of Tal Abyad, which resides on Syria’s border with Turkey. Kurdish and other rebel forces have worked their way south from the border town towards Ain Issa in the days since.
In addition to Ain Issa, the anti-Islamic State coalition captured the Liwa 93 military base, which is nearby.
Shervan Derwish, who is the official spokesman for the FSA’s Burkan al-Firat (or “Euphrates Volcano”), has posted several images from inside the base on his own official Twitter feed and Facebook page. One such photo can be seen at the top of this article.
The Raqqah Revolutionaries Brigade (RRB), which fights against both the Islamic State and the Syrian regime, has posted updates on the fighting since the beginning of the week. In the past, the RRB had been associated with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, but the two sides failed to formalize their partnership.
On June 22, the RRB announced on its official Twitter feed that the Liwa 93 base had “been liberated completely from DA’ISH’s [the Islamic State’s] mercenaries” and that its fighters were “advancing” on Ain Issa.
Follow up tweets by the RRB’s propaganda arm purport to show an Islamic State fighter who was killed on the “outskirts” of Ain Issa, as well as arms and land mines captured from Baghdadi’s organization. The RRB says the weapons and explosives were stored in civilian residences. The YPG has posted similar photos on its official Facebook page. The images show dozens of landmines that were reportedly recovered.
A photo of some of the recovered weapons can be seen on the right.
Still another tweet contains a map trumpeting the fighters’ close proximity to the city of Raqqa. And in a previous post on June 18, the RRB posted a picture of an empty white cage, saying it was among the “remnants” of the Islamic State’s presence in the areas of the northern part of the Raqqa province it has lost.
The Kurds and allied FSA fighters are now moving to consolidate their control over northern Raqqa province. According to Reuters, a spokesman for the YPG says that an attack on the city of Raqqa itself is not immediately planned. For now, it appears that the Islamic State’s opposition intends to continue seizing vital infrastructure, including checkpoints along a key highway, in a bid to squeeze Baghdadi’s men.
It remains to be seen, however, if the Kurdish-led forces will continue advancing south, or if the Islamic State will be able to counter the offensive with a new push north.
Either way, the “caliphate” does not control the entire province of Raqqa. Given that the Islamic State’s claim to rule is based, in large part, on the idea that it is “remaining and expanding,” its recent territorial losses are clearly problematic.
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