U.S. backed forces confirmed that operations have begun to retake the city of Raqqa from ISIS rule. The northern city has become the de facto capital of the group as top ISIS officials flee from the besieged former capital city of Mosul.
The fighting is expected to be costly, but if successful, would deal a decisive blow to the extremist group’s ability to call itself a physical caliphate, Fox News Reports.
The city was one of the first seized by the extremists in 2014 and is said to hold some of the most prominent leaders of the group. ISIS militants are not expected to give up the city easily, and U.S. coalition forces are preparing for a long fight ahead.
The city is currently surrounded on the north, east, and west sides. Intense strikes on the cities outer structures have been taking place since Monday, Fox News Reports.
Lt. Gen Steve Townsend, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said in a statement that the double offensive is hurting the groups prestige and ability to attract new recruits.
“It’s hard to convince new recruits that ISIS is a winning cause when they just lost their twin ‘capitals’ in both Iraq and Syria,” Townsend said.
ISIS has been fortifying Raqqa for months, setting sheets above the streets for visual cover from airstrikes and setting various explosive traps around the outer embattlements. But the U.S. is confident in the coalition abilities to defeat ISIS and retake the city.
Townsend noted of the coalition that “Once ISIS is defeated in both Mosul and Raqqa, there will still be a lot of hard fighting ahead, but this coalition is strong and committed to the complete annihilation of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.”