RAQQA, Syria (Kurdistan 24) – The US-backed Kurdish-led forces have surrounded the Islamic State (IS) in central Raqqa, but driving militants out could take up to four months, a Syrian Kurdish commander said.
Haval Gabar, a 25-year-old commander of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), told Reuters the operation against IS was advancing according to plan.
“We’ve cleared about half of Old Raqqa…and we’re advancing on all axes,” Gabar said.
The commander highlighted the recent progress of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), spearheaded by the YPG.
“The day before yesterday there was still a small gap,” Gabar said referring to the region in Raqqa’s southern districts before SDF units linked up on Tuesday.
“Yesterday, it was closed,” he continued. “We are now pressing toward Mansour and Rashid districts.”
The multi-phased Kurdish-led SDF operation against IS in Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital in Syria, began in November 2016.
According to Gabar, the offensive to oust the militants from their last major stronghold will be tricky as the US-backed forces expect heavy resistance.
“It could take another three to four months to finish Raqqa,” the 25-year-old commander said.
“They’ve laid many mines, that’s one of the biggest difficulties,” Gabar noted.
“As for car bombs, they don’t use them every day, but if our forces are advancing down a street, then they deploy them,” he mentioned.
In the latest edition of IS’ propaganda magazine Rumiyah, the extremist group warned the battle for Raqqa would be “no picnic,” promising to prolong the fight using snipers, booby-traps, and car bombs.
Despite the difficulty of the operation, Gabar remains optimistic and believes the morale of the roughly 1,000 IS fighters left in the city “is zero.”
“Maybe 600 [IS fighters] have surrendered. It’s mostly foreign fighters left in the city now. Those with families tend to be the ones to hand themselves over,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned up to 50,000 civilians remain trapped inside Raqqa.
Editing by G.H. Renaud