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Families of IS foreign fighters flee Syria's Raqqa

Raqqa is the Islamic State group's self-declared capital [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 March, 2017

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Families of foreign Islamic State group fighters are escaping the militants' self-declared 'capital' Raqqa, as Kurdish-led forces prepare an assault on the Syrian city.

Three hundred families of Islamic State group foreign fighters have fled the militants' self-proclaimed Syrian capital of Raqqa in a 24-hour period, as rival forces advance on the city, a monitor said on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "300 families of foreign fighters of IS have left the city of Raqqa since dawn Friday to take refuge in the province of Deir ez-Zor to the east and Hama to the west".

The northern city of Raqqa is the target of advancing Turkish-backed Syrian rebels, a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces as well as Syrian regime troops supported by Russia.

The Observatory's head, Rami Abdel Rahman, said that IS families were using the only remaining escape route on boats across the Euphrates River to the south.

On Thursday, the US turned up the heat on the militants, sending an additional 400 American troops into Syria to support operations to retake Raqqa.

The operation prompted the group to pull out its leaders from its self-declared capital Raqqa, US defence officials said this week.

IS commanders are being relocated to fight to other areas of Syria as the group prepare for what could be a protracted guerilla war against its enemies in Syria and Iraq.

Winning Raqqa is not expected to be an easy fight, The New York Times reported, with fortications, booby traps and other lines of defence all put in place by IS militants ready for the coming assault.

But the preparations for the battle after Raqqa show that IS leaders are preparing for a protracted war against its enemies in Syria and Iraq, the US daily reported.

The fall of Raqqa would be a massive blow for IS, while an ongoing assault by Iraqi forces on the group's other main city, Mosul, is also depleting its manpower.


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