Syrian Kurds Face Heavy Fighting in Battle to Retake Raqqa

Kurdish-led Syrian forces, backed by U.S. air power and military advisers, captured a number of Islamic State positions amid heavy fighting Monday north of the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there has been «no real progress» so far in the offensive.

Islamic State has used as many as five car bombs in defense, Reuters news agency reported.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S. air support, announced on Sunday the start of an offensive to gain control of Raqqa, the northern Syrian city overrun by Islamic State extremists in 2014 and self-designated as the center of extremist rule.

Britain, France providing air support

Britain and France said Sunday they would would also provide air support for the offensive by the Kurdish-led SDF, which also includes Arab fighters.

«The Raqqa campaign will proceed in phases,» Brett McGurk said Sunday in Amman. «There’s an isolation phase, which began today, and there will be subsequent phases to make sure that we kick Daesh (IS) out of Raqqa,» he added, using an alternate name for the armed extremist group.

McGurk also said the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, met in the Turkish capital Sunday with his Turkish counterparts, including Gen. Hulusi Akar, chief of the Turkish general staff, for talks on the new offensive.

Those talks appear aimed at easing Turkish concerns about the makeup and objectives of the SDF.

Turkey’s government views the main SDF component, the Syrian Kurdish fighting force known as the People’s Protection Units, as a terrorist organization with links to Kurdish rebels fighting government forces in southeast Turkey for regional autonomy.