AIN ISSA, Syrian Kurdistan (Kurdistan24) - The US-backed Syrian Kurdish-Arab alliance announced on Wednesday they liberated dozens of villages and approached a strategic town held by the Islamic State (IS) group west of the city of Raqqa.
Kurdistan24 correspondent embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reported that about twenty villages were liberated from IS in the western countryside of Raqqa.
On the third day of the second phase of the offensive launched last month to liberate the Syrian de facto capital of IS, the SDF advanced about 15 km/9 miles towards the IS-held area of Tabqa, some 60 km (40 miles), to the west of Raqqa.
[A screenshot of a live map of northern Syria by an online project: The yellow spaces indicate the SDF-controlled areas, the gray spaces are controlled by IS, the red areas by the Syrian army, and the green areas by the Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces. (Photo: Syrian Civil War Map/Edited on December 14, 2016 at Kurdistan24)]
Several SDF fighters on the frontlines told Kurdistan24 that most of IS insurgents were leaving their positioning without any resistance.
"[IS] insurgents don't fight, they just flee in front of our forces," said Hoger, a Syrian Kurdish SDF fighter.
Additionally, the fighters said they were fighting IS and helping civilians return to their villages immediately.
"After we liberate a village, we clean it and remove the mines, and then we help people return to their homes safely," said Hasan, a Syrian Arab SDF fighter.
SDF officers who talked to Kurdistan24 on conditions of anonymity said the target of SDF and their allies is controlling the Thawra Dam (Taqba dam), near the town of Thawra, some 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Aleppo.
By controlling the Tabqa dam, the SDF can control the western areas of Raqqa, and then separate those areas from the city, so that IS will be besieged from three sides.
On Dec. 10, SDF launched the second phase of the operation from the village of Qadiriya in northern Raqqa.
On Nov. 5, the YPG-led SDF launched the first phase of the operation to drive IS from its de facto capital in Syria.
In the first phase, the SDF liberated dozens of villages in the northern countryside of Raqqa in addition to two strategic towns: Hisha and Tal Samin.
Editing by Ava Homa