Northern Raqqa offensive (May 2016)
The Northern Raqqa offensive (May 2016) was a military offensive launched by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern al-Raqqah Governorate, in order to prepare for a future attack on the city of al-Raqqah. The offensive was launched in coordination with airstrikes by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. After 30 May, the offensive stalled, as the SDF shifted its focus and resources to another operation in the northern Aleppo Province.
Kurdish forces have established a stronghold about 37 kilometers (23 miles) north of Raqqa. ISIL is reportedly using the residents of al-Raqqa as human shields, preventing them from leaving the city.
SDF is led and dominated by YPG forces, which generally consists of Kurds. To avoid ethnic tensions with Raqqa's majority Arab population, US special forces trained more than 200 fighters from the Syrian Arab Coalition to take part in the offensive.
The announcement for the offensive was made on 24 May, when the 30,000-strong SDF announced the offensive, "with participation from all SDF units", mobilising thousands of fighters in the countryside north of Raqqa, with the aim of expelling ISIL fighters from north of al-Raqqa. Fighting was reportedly ongoing near Ain Issa, situated 55 km from al-Raqqa.
The US-led Coalition has stated that it will provide air support for the offensive. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced that his country was ready to coordinate with U.S. and Kurdish forces in the offensive, but the U.S., distrustful of the Russian establishment, turned down the offer.
On 21 May 2016 the SDF, led by the YPG, captured the village of al-Hishah, near the town of Ayn Issa in the northern countryside from ISIL, killing eight fighters. In the following days additional SDF fighters were mobilized from Tell Abyad to Ayn Issa. ISIL fighters in Ar-Raqqah responded by creating defensive lines and tunnels in the city. seven Coalition airstrikes on ISIL positions were confirmed on 23 May. On 25 May, the SDF took control of the Namrodia and Matmashraja villages near Ayn Issa.
On 26 May, the SDF reported new gains. SDF forces took the villages of Qartaja, al-Fastah, Indebin and Matmasraja. They had advanced some 6 km into IS-held lands north of Raqqah, and killed at least 31 ISIL fighters. By 30 May, ISIL had redeployed 2,000 to 3,000 militants to ar-Raqqah, from Mosul and other areas controlled by ISIL. It was also reported that ISIL's use of civilians as human shields was slowing down the SDF advance. Later on the same day, the SDF captured an additional nine villages from ISIL, in the northern countryside of Ar-Raqqah.
- Battle of Raqqa (2013)
- Third Battle of Fallujah, a simultaneous Iraqi offensive against ISIL-held Fallujah, Iraq
- Manbij offensive (2016), a follow-up Kurdish offensive in the "Manbij Pocket" in the northern Aleppo Governorate, Syria
- Northern Raqqa offensive (November 2016)
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