Raqqa campaign aims at cutting IS from Mosul

Carter issued his remarks as US-backed Kurdish-Arab forces launched an offensive on the Islamic State group's de facto Syrian capital Raqa, increasing pressure on the jihadists who are already battling Iraqi troops in Mosul.

Still others said the USA was trying "to split Syria", arguing "the United States and its allies don't want stabilization for the Arabs and make effort to expand the conflict and fighting among them".

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday "no one in the world will buy this naïve attitude (attacking) DAESH with another terror organization".

But the battle for the Syrian city, home to almost 200,000 mostly Sunni Arabs and an estimated 5,000 IS militants including many foreigners, could be long and costly.

Syrian activists are reporting heavy clashes between USA -backed Kurdish-led Syrian forces and Islamic State militants north of Raqqa.

The operation comes as US-backed Iraqi forces continue their campaign to push IS militants out of their Iraqi stronghold of Mosul.

Earlier this year, it took SDF fighters more than two months to capture the Syrian town of Manbij, which is far smaller than Raqqa.

Raqqa fell under ISIS control in 2014 and is seen as the group's most important stronghold in Syria.

But he says the operation is necessary to "disrupt the group's ability to carry out terror attacks against the United States, our allies and our partners". But Kurdish officials have rejected any role in the Raqqa campaign for Turkey or the opposition forces it backs inside Syria. Many in Syria are wary of those figures, and they fear that the Kurds are aiming to carve out an autonomous state in Syria.

Activists reported clashes Sunday between IS militants and SDF forces north of Raqqa.

Unlike several successful military efforts to drive Islamic State militants out of cities in Iraq, the Raqqa offensive faces several political obstacles and is likely to be much more complex.

The Syrian Defense Forces - a coalition led by Kurds that also includes Arab and Turkmen fighters - are trying to isolate Raqqa before attempting to take control of it. Turkey views the Syrian Kurdish forces as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast.

Turkey's president has reiterated the country's opposition to the use of Syrian Kurdish fighters in the fight against the Islamic State group.

BEIRUT | Backed by USA airstrikes, Kurdish-led Syrian fighters clashed on Monday with Islamic State militants north of the city of Raqqa in Syria as they pushed ahead in their offensive aiming to retake the city that has been the de facto capital of the extremist group since 2014.

Once Raqqa is freed from Islamic State it will be run by a military and a civilian council made up of Raqqa inhabitants, Jihan Sheikh Ahmad, an SDF spokeswoman, said.

He said the Kurds would probably refrain from entering the city and would limit themselves to controlling access to it.

Kurdish officials acknowledged their announcement was prompted by Turkey's growing assertiveness in northern Syria.

Additionally, Raqqa is a predominantly Arab city, and Syrian Kurdish officials have previously said it should be freed from IS by Syrian Arab groups, not the Kurdish YPG. "The battle will not be easy", the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said heavy fighting was underway on Monday north of Raqqa between IS and SDF fighters.

The announcement by a coalition of Kurds and Arabs known as the Syria Democratic Forces came at a news conference in Ein Issa, north of Raqqa, and was attended by senior commanders and representatives of the group.

The SDF alliance, which is dominated by the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) militia, has emerged as a key ally of the US-led coalition over the past two years, leading the fight against IS on the ground in northern Syria.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday that an offensive on Raqqa should be launched while the battle to push the group out of Mosul is under way.

"We want to liberate the surrounding countryside, then encircle the city, then we will assault and liberate it", he said.

SDF said its fighters destroyed a vehicle rigged with explosives on a farm north of Raqqa.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said IS militants hit an SDF armored vehicle north of Raqqa with a missile, killing everyone inside.

According to reports, the SDF has already taken over several villages in the first days of the offensive, as ISIS fighters set off five vehicle bombs targeting the forces.

Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Turkey, Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan, Philippe Sotto in Paris and Gregory Katz in London contributed.

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