US-backed force advances west of IS Syria bastion Raqa: monitor

BEIRUT, June 3, (APP/AFP) – A US-backed alliance has seized new territory west of the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion Raqa, bringing it closer to a final attack on the city, a monitor in Syria said Saturday.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an operation to capture Raqa in northern Syria last November, and have since  surrounded the city from the north and east while closing in from the west.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights   monitor said the SDF captured the town of Mansura late Friday and the adjacent Baath Dam on the Euphrates River, around 20 kilometres (10 miles) west of Raqa, on Saturday.
SDF spokesman Talal Sello confirmed the force was advancing on the western front without providing details.”This advance will allow the SDF to expand its control on the southern banks of the Euphrates River and stabilise the western  front of Raqa before launching the final battle to expel IS from the city,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said.”We’re nearing the major battle,” he added.
Abdel Rahman said combing operations were ongoing in Mansura  and at the dam to “dismantle mines and search for remaining militants”.

The US has previously supplied light weapons and armoured vehicles to the Arab element of the SDF, known as the Syrian Arab Coalition. SDF fighters are only 3km (2 miles) from the eastern edge of Raqqa, which is the de facto capital of the caliphate proclaimed by IS in 2014.US-led coalition air strikes against IS targets have intensified in recent days in preparation for a full assault on the city.