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Pressure builds on ISIS in Syria and Iraq

AFP | MAYA GEBEILY AND AHMAD AL-RUBAYE
Published : May 26, 2016, 3:22 am IST
Updated : May 26, 2016, 3:22 am IST

US-backed Syrian fighters and Iraqi forces pressed twin assaults against the ISIS group on Wednesday, in two of the most important ground offensives yet against the jihadists.

US-backed Syrian fighters and Iraqi forces pressed twin assaults against the ISIS group on Wednesday, in two of the most important ground offensives yet against the jihadists.

The operations to the north of ISIS’ de facto Syrian capital Raqa and near the jihadist-held Iraqi city of Fallujah are adding to pressure on the extremist group, which has seen territory under its control steadily shrinking in recent months.

The US-led coalition that launched airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq in mid-2014 is providing air support on both fronts, as efforts intensify to dismantle the group’s self-styled Islamic “caliphate” along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

But there is deep concern for thousands of families in both cities, with fears civilians will be caught in the crossfire or used as human shields by the jihadists.

After the start of the Fallujah offensive was announced on Monday, Iraqi troops backed by pro-government militias have been advancing toward the city from surrounding areas.

On Wednesday, forces from Iraq’s 8th Division, bolstered by tribal fighters, pushed forward from areas to its south, said Major General Ismail al-Mahalawi, the head of the Operations Command for Iraq’s Anbar province.

US-led coalition warplanes and Iraqi aircraft were providing support, Gen. Mahalawi said.

In northern Syria, a Kurdish-Arab alliance also backed by coalition strikes was meanwhile pressing the jihadist group in its bastion province of Raqa.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), formed in October 2015, announced on Tuesday its push for ISIS territory north of Raqa city, which is some 90 kilometres south of the Syrian-Turkish border and home to an estimated 300,000 people.

The SDF is dominated by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, but it also includes Arab Muslim and Christian fighters.

The SDF already has two footholds north of the city: the border town of Tal Abyad and the smaller town of Ain Issa between Tal Abyad and Raqa city.

On Wednesday, SDF fighters cleared two fields that lie southeast of Ain Issa, according to a statement distributed to journalists.

SDF spokesperson Talal Sello told reporters the fighting was taking place in “rural areas”.

Location: Lebanon, Beirut