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ISIS Resistance 'Steadily' Increases as SDF Push Farther Into Raqqa

A soldier and her two brothers take a break while fighting the Wrath of Euphrates operation against ISIS in Raqqa on June 14, 2017. (Syrian Democratic Forces video)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Syrian Democratic Forces defeated ISIS across nearly 28 square miles this week alone in their multi-pronged offensive into Raqqa, the caliphate’s declared capital.

Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told reporters via video from Baghdad today that the SDF, an anti-ISIS, anti-Qaeda, anti-Assad fighting force composed of male and female Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Circassians and other minorities, “continue to fight along three axes towards the center of Raqqa against substantial ISIS resistance.”

The SDF began their Wrath of Euphrates operation in November, clearing more than 5,000 square miles of ISIS territory to make it to Raqqa. They entered the city on the 73rd anniversary of D-Day.

“Moving from the east, the SDF have reached the ancient Al-Rifai Wall. From the northwest, they continue to push past the sugar factory, amidst well-placed IED-laden defenses, and from the west, they continue steady progress one neighborhood at a time into the city,” Dillon said. “South of the Euphrates River, the SDF continue to push eastward to retake ISIS-held territory.”

Dillon was asked about Turkey’s insistence that weapons given to Kurdish forces by the U.S. be taken back after the Raqqa operation.

“There was a private letter that went to Secretary Mattis, to his counterpart in Turkey. And that is between them,” he said. “We currently have a process in place where we are — we know, by serial number, the weapons and the equipment that we are providing to the SDF. We are very open and transparent with our Turkish allies to the north, and they understand and — know, by serial number and by type of equipment, what those — what that equipment is, what those weapons are. So, that process is already in place right now. And we will continue to be transparent with our Turkish allies.”

Robert Ford, the last U.S. ambassador to Syria who left in 2014, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that he believes the Trump administration “will betray the Kurds” and “will not defend the Kurds against Assad’s forces,” adding, “What we’re doing with the Kurds is not only politically stupid, but immoral. Syrian Kurds are making their biggest mistake in trusting the Americans.”

Dillon said the U.S. “will have to evaluate and see where ISIS still holds territory after the fight of Raqqa… and we’ll see what the — where the regime is at that point, and if they are in fact making an effort to defeat ISIS in their — in those ISIS-held territories.”

He would not say what kind of casualties the SDF has suffered in the advance thus far. “What I will say is that, in the first two weeks, there was significant progress — very, you know, quick progress that was made,” the spokesman said.

“The SDF in the advance have since hit some significant resistance from ISIS. And now we are starting to see some of these, you know, better-emplaced defenses as we have gotten to the places where we have advanced to in the campaign in and around Raqqa,” Dillon added. “But I’m not going to give you numbers. I will say that the resistance by ISIS has steadily increased in this last week.”

Russia has been panning the Raqqa offensive, with Sergey Surovikin, the commander of Assad-allied Russian forces in Syria, telling TASS earlier this month that the U.S. and SDF are guilty of “collusion with ringleaders of the ISIL, who give up the settlements they had seized without fighting and head to the provinces where the Syrian government forces are active.”