Hundreds of allied Syrian fighters were air-dropped by the US-led coalition near the Isil-controlled city of Raqqa yesterday in a surprise attempt to cut off the jihadists' main route out.
The aim of the operation is to secure the Euphrates river crossing and isolate the capital of Isil's so-called caliphate from the rest of the group's territory in Syria.
Five helicopters, supported by five fighter jets, dropped the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters near the northern town of Tabqa, 40km west of Raqqa, yesterday afternoon. With the help of coalition air strikes and special forces operations, the SDF, made up of troops from the YPG (Syrian Kurdish militia) and local Arab fighters, is waging a campaign to encircle Raqqa. Eric Pohan, the spokesman for the Pentagon, said if successful, the operation would "basically cut Isil off" from western approaches to the city. Mr Pohan said Tabqa is an important Isil-held area because it includes a dam that provides electricity to the area, as well as a military airfield.
Isil's defeat in Raqqa and the city of Mosul in neighbouring Iraq - where the battle for control is entering its sixth month - would mark the end of the jihadists' caliphate.
There has been a dramatic rise in civilian casualties in the past month. A US-led coalition airstrike hit a school being used as a shelter by families displaced from Raqqa on Tuesday, killing at least 33 people. The nearest Isil installation to the site of the air strike was a religious school two miles away, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (© Daily Telegraph London)