The U.S. led a group of planes on airstrikes Tuesday against Islamic State positions in Raqqa, Syria.
A British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the attacks targeted IS on the outskirts of the city. This could have been to avoid civilian casualties, although civilian deaths were reported.
IS has declared Raqqa its capital in Syria. Political activists in Raqqa say Islamic State is using innocent people as human shields. They say IS places fighters and weapons in civilian housing.
The reports come a day after a group of Syrian militias backed by the U.S. moved against IS north of Raqqa. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the move in a video posted online.
The SDF are made up of at least 25,000 Syrian Kurds, as well as 5,000 to 6,000 Syrian Arabs.
The new push against IS is on areas north of Raqqa, not the city, a senior commander for the U.S. allied group told VOA.
The SDF commander said his troops were moving with tanks and other heavy weapons toward areas north of Raqqa.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported intense fighting between SDF and IS forces around villages about 56 kilometers north of Raqqa.
Colonel Steve Warren is a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State. He said the coalition will support SDF, but U.S. Special Forces are giving assistance and advice, not fighters.
U.S. officials have downplayed expectations that forces will be able to capture Raqqa anytime soon.
A European diplomat told VOA the plan is to surround much of Raqqa and capture villages north, west and south of the city.
Hussam Eisa, from Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, said most civilians have fled those towns for Raqqa.
In Washington, U.S. Senator John McCain told VOA's Azerbaijani Service that capturing Raqqa would be "very difficult."
“It is going to take a very big and important effort. [Islamic State] will not go down easy,” McCain said. “They will fight to retain their territorial capital.”
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Jeff Seldin, Sirwan Kajjo and Mutlu Civiroglu reported this story for VOANews.com. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section and visit us on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
outskirts – n. the outer parts of a city or town
human shield – n. a person or group held near potential targets to prevent attacks
liberate – v. to set people free from an occupation
civil war – n. a war between citizens of the same country
downplay – n. to make something appear less important, or minimize
territorial – v. relating to the ownership of an area of land