IS hurries leaders out of Raqqa as battle looms

IS hurries leaders out of Raqqa as battle looms
Syrian Democratic Forces are preparing for a major offensive on IS' self-declared capital Raqqa, as US security officials say they believe the group is pulling commanders out of the city.
2 min read
10 March, 2017
Raqqa is the next target of anti-IS forces [Getty]
Islamic State group leaders are being pulled out of its self-declared capital Raqqa, as Kurdish-led forces appear ready for an assault on the city.

IS commanders will be relocated to fight to other areas of Syria as the group prepare for what could be a protracted guerilla war against its enemies in Syria and Iraq, US defence officials believe.

It comes as Washington-backed Syrian Democratic Forces say they have enough fighters to take the city from IS and the battle for Raqqa looms.

Winning Raqqa is not expected to be an easy fight, The New York Times reported, with fortications, booby traps and other lines of defence all put in place by IS militants ready for the coming assault.

But the preparations for the battle after Raqqa show that IS leaders are preparing for a protracted war against its enemies in Syria and Iraq, the US daily reported.

Syrian Democratic Forces said they have enough manpower to take Raqqa without the Turkish-backed rebel force, drawing support from locals in villages and towns they have captured from IS.

In-fighting between the Ankara backed rebels and the Kurdish led SDF in Manbij has seen questions raised on the when the offensive on Raqqa could begin.

But the SDF now believes they have the strength in numbers to take IS' self-declared capital.

"The number of our forces is now increasing, particularly from among the people of the area, and we have enough strength to liberate Raqqa with support from the coalition forces," Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, an SDF spokeswoman told Reuters.

US artillery has been put in place to bolster the force, while 400 troops will play a role in the offensive.

The fall of Raqqa would be a massive blow for IS, while an ongoing assault by Iraqi forces on the group's other main city, Mosul, is also depleting its manpower.