Syrian Kurdish forces to push on IS capital this summer

Syrian Kurdish forces to push on IS capital this summer

US -backed Syrian Kurdish fighters say they expect to push on and capture the Islamic State group's de facto capital of Raqqa in northern Syria this summer, after receiving heavy weapons from the USA military. Syrian Kurdish forces, also known as the YPG, are fighting under the umbrella of the US -backed Syrian Democratic Forces, alongside Syrian Arab forces.

"The SDF were able to deploy onto the dam itself during the night", the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Warplanes from the US-led coalition have pounded Tabqa and nearby IS positions for weeks as part of the SDF's flagship offensive for Raqa.

"The SDF's increased pressure on ISIS from each flank allowed it to. clear the final neighbourhoods of the city and isolate Tabqa dam", said Centcom, referring to IS.

At a Wednesday briefing via video link from Baghdad, Dorrian said that as the SDF puts the squeeze on Raqqa the coalition has "observed ISIS sabotaging infrastructure by blocking river flow to create temporary earthen dams, creating flooding meant to slow our partners' advance in the countryside around Raqqa to both the east and the west".

The long, bloody bid to run Islamic State out of Mosul, the militant group's last major stronghold in Iraq, is in its seventh month. The fighters were clearing the town and the dam Thursday of land mines, the militants' favorite weapon.

The body of an alleged IS fighter was seen today floating in the artificial reservoir created by the dam.

"Every single one of these weapons that are being provided to our partner force, we intend to account for them, and to ensure that they are pointed at ISIS", said Dorrian, referring to the Islamic State group.

While the US -led coalition has already supplied weapons to Arab fighters in the SDF, the White House this week authorized for the first time arming its most powerful element - the Kurdish YPG - to help in the Raqqa assault, infuriating Turkey.

Washington is trying to provide Turkey assurances. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Turkish officials warned their American counterparts of such an attack on Wednesday, citing an unnamed Turkish official who told the newspaper, "Turkey's message to the Trump administration was that Turkey reserves the right to take military action".

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"Both the PKK and YPG are terrorist organizations and they are no different apart from their names", he told a televised news conference.

"We support Turkey in its fight against PKK", he said. So to the frustration and horror of us Turks, they not only train them for combat but also give them heavy arms that will sooner or later be turned against Turkey in the hands of PKK terrorists.

Mattis said he was optimistic that Washington and Ankara would work through tensions.

Turkey has been angered by a US decision to provide arms to Syrian Kurdish fighters that Turkey considers terrorists.

YPG video footage on Thursday showed half a dozen fighters and youths dancing in Tabqa, and children calling out excitedly: "The dam has been liberated".

Washington has relied heavily on the YPG in its campaign against Daesh but until recently had not directly armed the group as a matter of policy.

The move has infuriated North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally Ankara. "I actually see this United States visit as a new beginning in our ties", he said.

The arms include heavy machineguns to be used against IS truck bombs, mortars, small arms and ammunition, as well as armoured vehicles and equipment to detect landmines, said coalition spokesman Colonel John Dorrian. Turkey has designated PKK as a terrorist group because they have been fighting a guerrilla war against the state over the oppression of the Kurdish minority within the country. Turkey is now involved in an extensive anti-terror operation in its southeast against PKK elements, who Ankara fear are cooperating with the YPG in Rojava, or Syrian Kurdistan.

During a visit to Montenegro on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said there was no difference between the Syrian Kurdish fighters and the outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting Turkey.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to convince Mr Trump to reverse his administration's decision to arm the YPG when the two leaders meet at the White House next week. "I hope they turn back from this mistake", Canikli said.

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