Syrian forces announce 'the Battle for Raqqa' has started
A spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) told reporters in Ain Issa, 50km north of Raqqa, that troops began the advance on the IS stronghold last night.
"The major battle to liberate Raqqa and its surroundings has begun," said Jihan Sheikh Ahmed.
The operation, referred to as "Wrath of Euphrates", will involve 30,000 soldiers who will be led by Kurdish People's Protection Units [YPG] fighters.
US-coalition war planes will also provide support through air strikes for fighters.
No Iraq-Kurdish role
Earlier, Iraqi Kurdistan's President Masoud Barzani announced that Peshmerga forces would not join the battler.
"We do not have much knowledge of the Raqqa operation; in fact it is not our job," Barzani said.
SDF spokesperson, Talal Silo, told reporters on Sunday that Turkey or its Syrian rebel allies would not play a part in the battle, likely angering the US' NATO ally.
"We have agreed definitively with the (US-led) international coalition that there will be no role for Turkey or the armed factions allied with it in the operation," said Silo.
|We do believe that [the SDF] have the expertise.
- Col. John Dorrian, Operation Inherent Resolve
Rudaw news reports that the SDF are currently advancing on the city from various fronts and will focus their attack from the north.
Col. John Dorrian, a spokesperson for the US campaign against IS known as Operation Inherent Resolve reiterated his country's confidence in the SDF.
"We do believe that they have the expertise," Dorrian said, mentioning SDF's defeat over IS in Manbij in August.
"Certainly, with coalition help, they can do the same in Raqqa."
The US is more confident in the Kurdish-led force than Syrian rebel groups, who have the backing of Turkey.
Ankara has started its own operation against IS in Aleppo province called Euphrates Shield by supporting Syrian rebels with air strikes, tanks, and artillery.
These fighters have won back important territory from IS - including the influential town of Dabiq - but have also clashed several times with Kurdish fighters.
This has brought angry condemnation from the US, who said the forces should work in unison to defeat IS.
It is thought that the operation is a way of clearing Turkey's border region from YPG fighters which Ankara considers part of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party [PKK] and IS militants, who have fired missiles at Turkish villages.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters on 26 October that the operation to take Raqqa would overlap with the Mosul offensive.