WASHINGTON --- Syrian Democratic Forces have launched the battle to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, a Pentagon spokesman said today.
"Overnight, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced the beginning of operations to liberate Raqqa from ISIS. That makes today Day 1 of the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa," Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at the Pentagon.
The coalition continues to support the effort with strikes, as well as with advising and assisting partnered forces on the ground, he said.
"We have there assisting in this battle Marine M777 howitzers, which are providing a significant enabling capability to our special operations forces and partners on the ground," Davis said, adding that U.S. attack helicopters, AH-64 Apaches, are also being used.
'Fighting and Winning Against ISIS'
Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Arab Coalition late last night and early today attacked the outskirts of Raqqa from the east, Davis said. They cleared about 4 square miles of terrain in the Raqqa valley. "Our partners there on the ground, the SDF and the SAC, are fighting and winning against ISIS," he added.
In the western Raqqa valley, Davis said, the SDF is isolating and clearing supply routes. To the north, the SDF has advanced to within 3 miles of the Raqqa city limits.
'Most Capable' Force Against ISIS
The fighting is expected to be hard, Davis said, noting that civilians are trapped in the city and the terrorists are targeting those who are fleeing.
"The Raqqa campaign will take time; this is a large urban area in which ISIS has been preparing its defenses for more than three years," he said. "It will be a long and difficult fight, but the SDF have proven themselves the most capable force against ISIS in Syria."
Over the weekend, the SDF cleared and secured the Baath dam west of Raqqa, ISIS' last path across the Euphrates River besides a water crossing, Davis told reporters.
"Raqqa will be an important step towards annihilating ISIS, but this will not be the end of the terrorist organization ISIS in Syria," he said, adding that the terrorists still hold quite a bit of territory downriver that needs to be cleared once Raqqa has been retaken.
"We can be assured that it will be a very, very difficult battle going forward," he said.