AIN ISSA, Syrian Kurdistan (Kurditan24) - The Syrian Kurdish-Arab alliance fighting against the Islamic State (IS) group in northern Syria reached the Euphrates and started separating the group's stronghold of Raqqa from the west, an SDF commander said on Thursday.
Speaking to Kurdistan24, Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, the spokesperson of the Raqqa offensive, dubbed the “Wrath of Euphrates," saying their forces liberated about 1300 km2/501 square miles west of Raqqa.
"Our forces liberated 97 villages and dozens of farms in addition to several strategic towns and hills," she said.
The Kurdish-led, US-backed SDF claims to have reached the northern bank of Lake Assad on the Euphrates and are very close to the Thawra Dam (Taqba dam), near the town of Thawra, some 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Aleppo.
According to Raqqa offensive commanders, the mission of controlling Taqba dam and separating Raqqa from its western rural areas are to be accomplished in the second phase of the operation.
Regarding the casualties from both warring sides, the SDF said in a statement that 96 Daesh [IS] insurgents were killed in the second phase of the operation that started about ten days ago.
On the side of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the statement said 10 of their fighters lost their lives and 12 others were wounded.
On the purpose of the operation, SDF commanders say freeing the civilians is the top priority of the operation.
"This operation is organized as a response to the requests of the people of Raqqa and its surrounding areas," said Abdul Qader, an SDF officer.
Qader further pointed out that most of their fighters are from the tribesmen of Raqqa's rural areas.
"No strangers are fighting in this area and tribesmen of those villages are participating in liberating their villages and families," he said.
On Nov. 5, the YPG-led SDF launched the first phase of the operation to drive IS from its de facto capital in Syria.
On Dec. 10, SDF launched the second phase of the operation from the village of Qadiriya in northern Raqqa.
Editing by Ava Homa
(Redwan Bezar from Ain Issa contributed to this report)