Iraqi forces capture border crossing to Syria from IS
Iraqi forces captured on Saturday a border crossing point to Syria from the Islamic State group, increasing pressure on the extremists and getting closer to meeting up with Syrian troops and their allies who reached the border earlier this month for the first time in years.
Tribal forces and border police, supported by Iraqi and US-led coalition aircraft, took part in the operation to take the al-Waleed crossing, the Iraqi Joint Operations Command said in a statement.
Al-Waleed, in the far west of Iraq, fell to the Islamic State group in 2015, giving the militants full control of the Iraq-Syria border, which they vowed to erase as part of their ambition to build their caliphate.
Saturday’s push by Iraqi troops came nearly three weeks after Iraq’s paramilitary forces — mostly Shia fighters with close ties to Iran referred to as the Popular Mobilisation Forces — reached the Syrian border in northeastern Iraq.
In recent months the militants have been coming under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria where they have lost vast parts of the land they declared as a caliphate in Syria and Iraq in June 2014.
US troops and Syrian opposition fighters control the Tanf area on the other side from al-Waleed. Earlier this month, Iranian-sponsored pro-Syrian government forces outflanked US advisers and rebels holding the Tanf border crossing to establish their own link to Iraq for the first time in years. The Iraqi side is still held by IS.
Syrian troops in the area are preparing to march on Islamic State positions to the north, in the Euphrates River Valley.
In the northern city of Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State group, a US-backed Syrian force entered new neighbourhoods east and west of the city adding that they were able to free dozens of civilians who were trapped in the fighting.
IS has been preventing civilians from leaving Raqqa in an apparent attempt to use them as human shields.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched an offensive to capture Raqqa from the extremists on June 6, under the cover of airstrikes by the US-led coalition. SDF fighters have captured at least three neighbourhoods from IS since then.
The SDF said in a statement posted on social media on Saturday that its fighters have now entered the western neighborhoods of Bareed, Hiteen and Qadissiya, as well as the eastern neighborhood of Bayatra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria’s war, says airstrikes by the US-led coalition since June 6 have killed 117 civilians and wounded hundreds.