Northern Raqqa offensive (May 2016)

Not to be confused with Raqqa offensive (2016).
Northern Raqqa offensive (May 2016)
Part of the Syrian Civil War,
the Syrian Kurdish–Islamist conflict (2013–present),
and the American-led intervention in Syria
Date21–30 May 2016
(1 week and 2 days)
LocationAr-Raqqah Governorate, Syria

Offensive stalled[1][2]


Syrian Democratic Forces

 Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Commanders and leaders

Rojda Felat (YPJ commander)[4]

Assyria Kino Gabriel (MFS commander)[5]
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (Leader of ISIL)
Units involved

Syrian Democratic Forces

United States special operations forces[9]
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Military of ISIL
30,000 fighters[4] Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant 5,000–8,000 fighters (inside ar-Raqqah city)[4][10]
Casualties and losses

18 SDF fighters killed[3][11]

1 US soldier wounded[12]
79 killed[11]
300,000 civilians displaced[13]

The Northern Raqqa offensive (May 2016) was a military offensive launched by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in northern al-Raqqah Governorate, in order to prepare for a future attack on the city of al-Raqqah. The offensive was launched in coordination with airstrikes by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve.[14] After 30 May, the offensive stalled, as the SDF shifted its focus and resources to another operation in the northern Aleppo Province.


On 1 April 2016, PYD leader Salih Muslim stated that SDF forces are preparing with the US-led Coalition to launch an offensive on ar-Raqqah.[15]

There have been a visit in north Syria by U.S. Central Command Commander General Joseph L. Votel, the highest-ranking U.S. military official to visit Syria since the war erupted in 2011.[16]

Kurdish forces have established a stronghold about 37 kilometers (23 miles) north of Raqqa.[17] ISIL is reportedly using the residents of al-Raqqa as human shields, preventing them from leaving the city.[18]

According to Joshua Walker of the German Marshall Fund, ar-Raqqah could be "the beginning of the end" for ISIL, and the most important offensive since Kobani last year.[19]


On 20 May the US-led coalition dropped leaflets on the city, encouraging the residents to leave.[20]

SDF is led and dominated by YPG forces, which generally consists of Kurds. To avoid ethnic tensions with Raqqa's majority Arab population, US special forces trained more than 200 fighters from the Syrian Arab Coalition to take part in the offensive.

The announcement for the offensive was made on 24 May,[21] when the 30,000-strong[18] SDF announced the offensive, "with participation from all SDF units",[22] mobilising thousands of fighters in the countryside north of Raqqa, with the aim of expelling ISIL fighters from north of al-Raqqa. Fighting was reportedly ongoing near Ain Issa, situated 55 km from al-Raqqa.[19]

The US-led Coalition has stated that it will provide air support for the offensive.[19] Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced that his country was ready to coordinate with U.S. and Kurdish forces in the offensive,[19] but the U.S., distrustful of the Russian establishment, turned down the offer.[23]

The offensive

On 21 May 2016 the SDF, led by the YPG, captured the village of al-Hishah, near the town of Ayn Issa in the northern countryside from ISIL, killing eight fighters.[24] In the following days additional SDF fighters were mobilized from Tell Abyad to Ayn Issa.[14] ISIL fighters in Ar-Raqqah responded by creating defensive lines and tunnels in the city.[4] seven Coalition airstrikes on ISIL positions were confirmed on 23 May.[25] On 25 May, the SDF took control of the Namrodia and Matmashraja villages near Ayn Issa.[26]

On 26 May, the SDF reported new gains. SDF forces took the villages of Qartaja, al-Fastah, Indebin and Matmasraja. They had advanced some 6 km into IS-held lands north of Raqqah,[27] and killed at least 31 ISIL fighters.[28] By 30 May, ISIL had redeployed 2,000 to 3,000 militants to ar-Raqqah, from Mosul and other areas controlled by ISIL.[10] It was also reported that ISIL's use of civilians as human shields was slowing down the SDF advance.[29] Later on the same day, the SDF captured an additional nine villages from ISIL, in the northern countryside of Ar-Raqqah.[30]


On 3 June 2016, a YPG unit infiltrated into a detention center in Ar-Raqqah city and raided it, rescuing a number of prisoners, including a Yezidi family.[31]

See also


  1. "Syrian rebels on outskirts of ISIL-held Manbij in north". The National. 8 June 2016.
  2. Wilgenburg, Wladimir van (10 June 2016). "Report From the Front: ISIS Crumbling in Key City on Turkish Border". The Daily Beast.
  3. 1 2 Editor3. "قوات سوريا الديمقراطية تتقدم نحو الطبقة وتسيطر على 12 قرية ومزرعة وترفع عدد قتلى تنظيم "الدولة الإسلامية" إلى نحو 80". Syrian Observatory on Human rights.
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Syria conflict: Kurds launch campaign north of IS-held Raqqa". BBC. 25 May 2016.
  5. "The new coalition to destroy the Islamic State". The Washington Post. 22 May 2016.
  6. "Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?". Voice of America. 24 May 2016.
  7. 1 2 "What has happened during the Operation Liberate North Raqqa?". ANF News. 26 May 2016.
  8. SyriacMFS (24 May 2016). "PRESS RELEASE 24.05.2016: Northern Raqqa liberation campaign" (Tweet) via Twitter.
  9. "IN PHOTOS: U.S. Special Forces operating against ISIS in Syria's Raqqa". Haaretz. 26 May 2016.
  10. 1 2 "Fake Caliphate: Loss of Raqqa Will 'End Sponsors From Foreign Nations'". Sputnik News.
  11. 1 2 "ISIL loses ground to Kurd-led fighters in Syria". World Bulletin.
  12. "Exclusive: U.S.-backed Syria forces launch offensive for Manbij pocket - U.S. officials". Reuters. 1 June 2016.
  13. "As US, YPG-dominated SDF hit Raqqa, 300,000 Syrians flee". DailySabah. 26 May 2016. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  14. 1 2 "U.S.-backed Syrian alliance launches new attack near Islamic State capital". Reuters. 24 May 2016.
  15. Chris Tomson (1 April 2016). "Kurdish fighters gather for offensive to capture Raqqa city – PYD leader". Al-Masdar News.
  16. "U.S.-backed Syrian alliance launches new attack near Islamic State capital". Reuters.
  17. "Ahead of Kurdish Offensive, ISIS Bans Residents for Leaving Raqqa City".
  18. 1 2 "Isis using 'civilians as human shields' in Raqqa as US-backed Kurdish offensive launched". International Business Times UK.
  19. 1 2 3 4 "Kurdish-led SDF launches offensive on Syria's Raqqa". Al Jazeera.
  20. "Coalition drops leaflets over Raqqa telling residents to flee ahead of offensive". The Telegraph. 20 May 2016.
  21. "Retaking Raqqa From the Islamic State". Stratfor. 24 May 2016.
  22. "Kurd-Arab alliance launches offensive to 'liberate' IS-held Raqqa". Middle East Eye.
  23. "US refuses to cooperate with Russia in Raqqa campaign, says its forces only work with SDF in anti-ISIS operations". ARA News. 26 May 2016.
  24. "US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces expel ISIS from village near Raqqa". ARA News. 21 May 2016.
  25. "Syrian Democratic Forces launch operation for Raqqa countryside". ARA News. 25 May 2016.
  26. "Syria: Kurdish-led forces advance in Raqqa offensive". Al-Jazeera. 26 May 2016. Retrieved 26 May 2016.
  27. "Western-backed SDF troops report new gains in anti-ISIS campaign north Raqqa". ARA News. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  28. "al-Raqqa province: Military operations... - Syrian Observatory for Human Rights - Facebook". Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  29. "Islamic State using civilians as human shields to impede SDF advance in Raqqa". ARA News. 30 May 2016.
  30. "Kurdish-led SDF troops liberate nine villages from ISIS northern Raqqa". ARA News. 31 May 2016.
  31. "Kurdish YPG forces release Yezidi family from ISIS detention in Raqqa". ARA News. 4 June 2016.

Coordinates: 35°57′00″N 39°01′00″E / 35.9500°N 39.0167°E / 35.9500; 39.0167

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