Assad's Syrian Army, is advancing towards the so-called IS capital in Syria Raqqa. An offensive launched in Hama province has now entered Raqqa Province to the west of Raqqa.
Raqqa is the provincial capital of the province.
While Assad forces are advancing from the west, an offensive is being launched by the Kurds and others with the backing of the US from the east and is covering some northern parts of Raqqa province. While earlier Raqqa was in an area controlled by the IS and with supply lines linking it to other possessions, those links are becoming increasingly contested. Both its supply lines to Mosul in Iraq and to Aleppo in Syria are coming under more pressure.
The Syrian army advance is accompanied by Russian air strikes. Heavy Russian air strikes hit IS-held territory along with the ground offensive to facilitate the advance on the ground. Director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory on Human Rights, Ramil Abdel Rahman, said: "Regime troops backed by Russian air strikes and Russian-trained militia entered Raqqa province on Saturday morning."
Rahman said at least 26 IS fighters were killed together with 9 Syrian government and allied troops. This is the first time that Assad troops have entered Raqqa province since 2014. The offensive brings troops within 40 kilometers of Tabqa where there is an airbase and a big reservoir.
The Tabqa dam is just 40 kilometer upstream from Raqqa. It is also the target of a Kurdish-led offensive from the north supported by the US. Hashem Ahelbarra of Al Jazeera said that the push into Raqqa province was significant but there was still a long way to go: "Raqqa is besieged by government troops from the west and Syrian factions from the north and from the east - the south is linked to the bordering province of Deir Az Zor which is still an ISIL stronghold. Now, whoever controls Raqqa will face a mammoth challenge, which is basically securing a vast territory." He noted that both the Assad forces and the Kurdish fighters were involved in fighting at other locations and could not afford to keep a large troop presence in the area.
The Kurdish-led forces are the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are backed by US air strikes. They are advancing on the strategic city of Manbji on the west side of the Euphrates. It is a major transit point for IS fighters and supplies. The SDF had advanced within 8 kilometers ofr Manbji and had taken control of the Raqqa-Manbji roads helping to cut supplies to Raqqa. There are US special forces embedded with the SDF. The SDF also announced an offensive in the northern countryside of Raqqa province but this may have been a decoy operation while the main offensive was at Manbji.
It is not clear if the Assad offensive and that of the SDF were coordinated. The effect is as if they were in any event. Turkey objects to the Kurdish fighters in the SDF considering them as allied to a terrorist Kurdish group. In the northern Aleppo countryside IS has launched a successful offensive in and around Azaz and Marea.
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Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.