US-Backed Fighters Move Further into Raqqa With Coalition Help

A B-52 receives fuel from a KC-10 during a flight supporting Operation Inherent Resolve over southwest Asia on July 19. Air Force photo by SrA Preston Webb

US-backed fighters have moved deeper into ISIS-held Raqqa, claiming more territory as coalition airstrikes have continued to batter ISIS targets in the city at a high rate.

The US-backed Syrian Dem ocratic Forces have faced heavy resistance in Raqqa but have gained a stronger foothold with the help of heavy air support, the Pentagon said Monday. US and coalition aircraft on July 22-23 conducted 19 strikes in and around Raqqa, destroying ISIS tactical units, fighting positions, storage facilities, and supply routes, according to US Central Command. Elsewhere in Syria and Iraq, airstrikes hit ISIS oil facilities, tankers, and buildings.

These ongoing operations have denied ISIS territory and denied them their push for sovereign territory, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Saturday at the Aspen Institute Security Forum in Colorado.

“So the idea of a physical caliphate in Iraq is being eliminated, as we finish up operations in Mosul with some other operations that take place, and Raqqa, which is in Syria, and then the Euphrates River Valley,” Dunford said.

Fighters allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have also moved closer into the area, taking countryside southeast of the city, Reuters reported.

At the same time, the US-led coalition has not been able to take out ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Defense Secretary James Mattis said Friday he believes Baghdadi is alive, and “until I see his body, I’m going to assume he’s alive.”

Gen. Raymond Thomas, commander of US Special Operations Command, said Baghdadi might be south of Raqqa. He is still relevant, but has been an “utterly ineffective leader.”

“The bottom line is, we will get him eventually,” Thomas said at the Aspen forum. “It’s not safe for him on this earth, for what he’s done, and what his organization has done.”