The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched an offensive on May 24th to liberate the northern countryside of al-Raqa province from the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).
Backed by the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG and YPJ) and coalition airstrikes, the SDF have been able to advance on more than one front and liberate a number of villages and towns.
"We launch this campaign with the aim of stopping the attacks on our people," SDF commander Rojda Felat said in a statement.
"We call on everyone to back the offensive and support it," she said.
The SDF was formed in October 2015 as an alliance between the Kurdish YPG and YPJ and other opposition groups, including Arab, Assyrian and other militias.
Coalition warplanes on May 24th carried out dozens of airstrikes north of the city of al-Raqa, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Targeting ISIL-controlled areas
"The ongoing military offensive aims primarily to liberate the entire northern al-Raqa area from ISIL elements, which would clear the way for future operations in other areas, including al-Raqa city, Manbij and al-Bab," SDF spokesman Talal Sello told Al-Shorfa.
"The decision has been made to target any area in which the group has a presence," he said.
Meanwhile, the SDF continues to press an offensive to capture the strategic city of Manbij with the help of coalition airstrikes.
SDF fighters were 10 kilometres outside Manbij on Thursday (June 2nd), the Observatory said, and had seized 20 villages outside the city.
Al-Raqa residents have been warned to stay away from combat zones to avoid being used by the group as human shields "as has happened in the past", Sello said.
Some of the liberation operations have been delayed for this very reason, he said, noting that a large number of civilians have managed to escape from ISIL-controlled areas.
Al-Mabrouka area in the al-Hawl region where those displaced are being sheltered has been secured and efforts are underway to provide them with basic services, including tents, food and medical supplies.
Attacks from 3 fronts
The SDF comprise fighters of all components that make up the fabric of the region, Sello said, noting the recent graduation of a large number of fighters of Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian and other ethnicities.
Thirty-one different factions that represent all ethnic and religious components of Syrian society are fighting under the banner of the SDF, Syriac Military Council unit commander Aram Chamoun told Al-Shorfa.
Military operations in northern al-Raqa were launched on three fronts starting from the town of Ain Issa, which lies 50 kilometres south of Kobani, he said.
Al-Fatisa was the first village to be liberated from ISIL, followed by Kartaja Farms, al-Wasta, Nimrudiyah and Mutamashrij, he said.
ISIL elements were seen "burning houses and agricultural fields in the villages they withdrew from to disguise their retreat", Chamoun said.
"Liberating the northern rural area is very important in terms of cutting off the routes linking the areas controlled by the group and the roads it used to funnel elements from and to Syria by smuggling them across the border," he said.
"The area also is the midpoint between all the areas the group controls," he added, noting that liberating it would provide access to al-Raqa, Manbij, al-Bab, rural Deir Ezzor and rural Aleppo.
Regaining control over northern al-Raqa would also secure Kobani against infiltration attempts by ISIL, he added.
Residents welcome military offensive
The ongoing offensive "has brought joy to the hearts of the people of al-Raqa", said al-Raqa salesman Abdulkadir Yahya, who asked to use a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.
"It made them realise that they are not alone and the day of their liberation is near," he told Al-Shorfa.
Yahya expressed his hope that the battles in the northern rural areas will end quickly so the battle for al-Raqa city could begin as soon as possible.
"People are fearful of vengeance by the group’s elements against them," he said.
"[ISIL elements] have been perpetrating their crimes against us in normal times; what do you think they will do to us if they lose their main gateway -- the rural areas?" he said.
The situation in the city and nearby villages is "highly tense" and the streets are almost devoid of civilian presence out of fear of being targeted by ISIL, he said.
Mosque imams have been saying in their sermons that Kurdish forces want to occupy al-Raqa "to punish Muslims and expel them from their lands", Yahya said.
However, the people of al-Raqa are well aware of who is fighting and what their objective is, he said, adding that the forces involved in the operations consist of fighters from the region and from al-Raqa itself.
"Their only goal is to banish the ISIL nightmare and restore life to these areas that have worn black since ISIL seized control of them," he added.