BEIRUT — U.S.-backed forces have begun the “long and difficult” battle to capture the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital, the U.S.-led coalition fighting the extremist group said Tuesday.
Kurdish-led militants began laying the groundwork for the offensive in November, edging through the surrounding province and cutting supply lines into the city. But a showdown for the city itself will prove a major test for the coalition, with the potential for high civilian casualties.
“The fight for Raqqa will be long and difficult,” Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the coalition’s commanding general, said in a statement. In northeastern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a group dominated by Syrian Kurdish militants, announced that a “great battle” had begun.