By Bryan Yeoh Quan Jin, International News Writer
On September 1, the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting in Raqqa managed to wrest control of the Old City districts from the Islamic State forces. “We declare to our people the liberation of the Old City of Raqqa”, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
The SDF is now a step closer to completely recapturing the city of Raqqa, which is located in northern Syria. The capture of the Old City is symbolic as it contains a number of important structures such as the city’s Great Mosque and the clock tower which was used by the Islamic State as a site of public executions.
While the capture of the Old City is a great sign of progress for the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces, the campaign faces its greatest challenge yet. The Islamic State still has control over key areas of Raqqa, most notably the Al-Thaknah district. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Islamic State converted governmental buildings in that area into its headquarters. In addition to that, citizens who were unable to flee when the attacks started are gathered in that same area. A successful campaign into the Al-Thaknah area would severely lessen the Islamic State’s grip on the city of Raqqa.
According to the Washington Post, the Kurdish and Arab forces have been advancing simultaneously on multiple fronts, backed by US assets such as airstrikes and Special Operations forces. While the strategy has been successful in pushing back the Islamic State forces, many international organizations have criticized the campaign for its excessive use of airstrikes. According to the United Nations News Centre, senior United Nations humanitarian officials have expressed deep concern over civilian casualties that occur due to these airstrikes. According to their estimates, 18,000 to 25,000 civilians who remain in Raqqa are in danger of being killed by Islamic State forces, being caught in the crossfire or killed in the airstrikes. Amnesty International describes the situation on the ground as a “deadly labyrinth”.
While the offensive continues in Raqqa, the BBC has reported that President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian troops have managed to break the siege of Deir al-Zour. Deir al-Zour is located towards the south-east of Raqqa.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 12th print edition.
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