Syrian army, US-backed forces advance separately against IS

urdish fighters in Syrian city of Kobani have pushed back Islamic State militants in a number of locations as U.S. airstrikes on ISIS positions continue in and around the city. Since mid-September more than 200,000 people from Kobani flee into Turkey Photograph:( Getty )

Reuters Beirut Jun 07, 2016, 11.27 AM (IST)

Syrian government troops backed by Russian air power moved to within 25 km (15 miles) of an Islamic State-held town in Raqqa province today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, as state media reported air strikes against the jihadists in the area.

In a separate simultaneous campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, US-backed militias captured more territory from the group near the city of Manbij in Aleppo province, said a spokesman for the forces. The Observatory said they were now two km from the Islamic State-held city.

The offensives both got underway last week and are targeting the Islamic State in areas of major strategic importance to its foothold in Syria, where it controls swathes of land up to the Iraqi border.

They are taking place at the same time as an assault by the Iraqi army against Falluja, an Islamic State bastion close to Baghdad. The simultaneous assaults by a myriad of enemies on farflung fronts amount to some of the greatest pressure Islamic State has faced since declaring its caliphate to rule over all Muslims from Iraq and Syria two years ago.

The Syrian army's advance into Raqqa province, which has not been announced by the military, is initially targeting the Islamic State-held town of Tabqa, according to the Observatory and pro-Damascus media sources.

Raqqa province is a major base of operations for Islamic State and home to its de facto capital, Raqqa city.

Syrian state-run TV station Ikhbariya said that the Syrian air force had targeted Islamic State positions south of Tabqa in the Rasafa area, destroying vehicles equipped with machine guns.

The Syrian military could not immediately be reached for comment. A military source said that on Monday the army had advanced to the edge of Raqqa province, from where it could move in several directions against the Islamic State.

The Observatory, citing its activists on the ground, said the Islamic State had sent weapons and fighters from Raqqa city to Tabqa.

The separate US-backed campaign that got underway last week aims to dislodge the Islamic State from its last foothold at the Syrian-Turkish frontier and shut off its main access route to the outside world for material and manpower.

It is being fought on the ground by militias including the Kurdish YPG and allied Arab groups, which together formed an alliance last year known as the Syria Democratic Forces. It has proven to be the first effective fighting force allied to Washington during five years of multi-sided civil war in Syria.

Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council that is part of the US-backed force, said: "We are advancing on all fronts of our assault."

The United States has consistently rejected the idea of partnering in the fight against the Islamic State with President Bashar al-Assad, saying he should leave power. Some of Assad's opponents have accused the Kurdish YPG of coordinating with his government's forces, which the Kurds deny.