Coalition set to attack Isil's capital Raqqa 'within weeks'
Published 27/10/2016 | 02:30
The battle to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa, the capital of Isil's so-called caliphate, will begin within weeks, the British defence secretary announced yesterday.
The international coalition hopes a two-pronged attack on Isil's largest strongholds in Syria and Iraq will put pressure on the terror group and weaken its defences.
Speaking 10 days into the offensive to retake Mosul, Michael Fallon said: "We hope a similar operation will begin toward Raqqa in the next few weeks."
US defence secretary Ash Carter said the idea of simultaneous operations "has been part of our planning for quite a while" and that the coalition was confident it was capable of resourcing both.
The US and UK have dozens of special forces training and supporting Syrian opposition fighters.
Mr Fallon announced earlier this week that 20 more British troops would be joining them at their base in south-west Jordan.
An offensive on Raqqa is likely to be far more complicated than the assault on Mosul, however, because unlike in Iraq, in Syria the coalition does not have a strong ally on the ground.
It will probably rely on a band of Kurdish armies, including the People's Protection Units (YPG), as well as moderate Syrian groups.
However, Turkey wants to play a role and the Russians are also insisting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime must also be involved.
In Iraq, troops have been advancing on Mosul from the south, east and north after an offensive was launched on October 17 to retake the last major Iraqi city under Isil control.
The assault is backed by air and ground support from the US-led coalition which launched its campaign against Isil two years ago, shortly after the jihadists seized control of large parts of Iraq and Syria.
Coalition forces have been making steady progress, but have met with snipers, car bombs and suicide attacks.
Residents inside Mosul say the some 6,000 remaining jihadists have booby-trapped all the bridges and roads out the city.
Some reported that Isil fighters have begun shaving off their beards and wearing civilian clothes in a bid to evade Iraqi forces, which are now just 5km from the city limits.
"Isil has no intentions to leave the city, and will be fighting to their last breath," said one resident, who did not wish to give his name. "Isil is hiding among the innocent civilians."
The United Nations reported on Tuesday that the extremist group had recently executed dozens of civilians and taken more than 500 families from surrounding villages into Mosul to use as human shields.
The resident said Isil members were warning that they would kill anyone caught trying to escape from the city.
"They have also been telling people in the mosques that the Iraqi forces only want to kill the Mosulis and to enslave their women. They are trying to brainwash people into thinking they are the better option than the army," he said.
The loss of Mosul, where Isil leaders declared their 'caliphate' in the summer of 2014, would leave Raqqa as the last major city still under the group's control.(© Daily Telegraph London)