U.S.-Backed SDF Says 'Victory Near' against IS in Syria's Raqa
A U.S.-backed force battling to oust the Islamic State group from its former Syrian stronghold Raqa said Thursday that "victory is near" and would be declared in coming weeks.
The Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, broke into Raqa city in June after working for months to encircle the one-time jihadist bastion.
The militia has advanced swiftly in recent days, and is nearing the end of the battle for the city, said Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokeswoman for the SDF's operation to capture Raqa.
"We're in the final stage and will deliver victory to our people in Raqa within weeks," she told AFP in the city on Thursday.
"We control 80 percent of Raqa and the other 20 percent is in the firing line of our forces," she added.
"Daesh members are set up inside the Raqa hospital and have taken civilians inside it as human shields and that is slowing our control over it," she said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
She said fighting was continuing around grain silos in the north of the city and the Raqa sports stadium, where IS fighters are believed to be storing weaponry.
"But victory is near," she said.
SDF spokesman Talal Sello said the militia was battling jihadists in "20 percent of the city."
"That sector is not under the control of Daesh... our forces are present there," he told AFP.
In Raqa on Thursday, aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition supporting the SDF carried out air strikes near the silos, sending columns of smoke into the sky above.
The sound of gunfire from running battles could also be heard as an AFP journalist traveled across parts of the city.
The U.S.-backed coalition said the SDF had "isolated the majority of northeast Raqa and continue(s) back-clearance operations."
And the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a "mopping up" operation was under way in the city, with the large number of mines planted by IS slowing down the process.