A Kurdish-Syrian force is advancing toward one of the Islamic State’s most strategically vital possessions, capturing territory in the group’s landmark province of Raqqa and threatening to inflict what could be the most significant defeat yet for the militants.
The Kurdish-led force, backed by U.S. airstrikes, closed in from the south, east and west on Saturday on the Syrian-Turkish border town of Tel Abyad, a key Islamic State stronghold on which the militants rely for trade with the outside world and also the flow of foreign fighters who sustain their strength on the battlefield.
The Kurdish militias and their allies are within six miles of the town and could soon be in a position to encircle it, isolating the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital in the city of Raqqa farther south, according to statements from the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the main Kurdish fighting force.
The advance is putting the Islamic State on the defensive only weeks after the group celebrated victories in the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra, after the Iraqi and Syrian armies crumbled in their respective battles.
The progress demonstrates that success is possible when a well-motivated and coordinated force is backed by U.S. airstrikes, said Abu Shujaa, a spokesman for Thuwar al-Raqqa, or Raqqa Revolutionaries, one of the Syrian rebel battalions fighting in the coalition force.
“Daesh is not as strong as it thinks, but its enemies are weak. We are successful because we have the will to fight,” Abu Shujaa said, referring to the Islamic State by its Arabic acronym.
“And of course, we are getting help from the coalition in the form of airstrikes,” he added.
The offensive raises the specter of another major battle on the Turkish border similar to the one that dominated headlines last fall for the much smaller Kurdish town of Kobane — except that, in this case, the Islamic State would be the force defending a town.
SOURCE: Liz Sly
The Washington Post