The Kurdish-Syrian alliance battling to recapture Raqa from Daish has now seized about 45 per cent of the radicals’ Syria stronghold, a top US official said.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militia (SDF) began a campaign to capture Raqa from Daish last year, slowly encircling the city before breaking into it for the first time in June.
“As of today, the SDF has seized about 45 per cent,” of Raqa, said Brett McGurk, the senior US envoy to the international coalition fighting Daish in Iraq and Syria.
The recapture of Raqa would mark a major milestone in the three-year effort to defeat Daish.
The radicals were ousted from their main Iraqi bastion of Mosul last month.
Still, the Raqa battle is far from over, with thousands of Daish rebels remaining.
“I’m always hesitant to give numbers like that because this is an inexact science, but we think there’s about 2,000 fighters left in Raqa — and they most likely will die in Raqa,” McGurk said.
The United Nations estimates between 20,000 to 50,000 civilians may still be in the city, though other estimates are lower.
Separately, the Lebanese army source has said on Saturday that it will not coordinate with the Syrian army to fight against Daish in the Lebanese-Syrian border zone, rejecting a local media report of direct military cooperation between the two.
The source said the Lebanese army had the military capability to confront and defeat the group without any regional or international support.
The presence of Daish and Nusra Front militants in pockets on Lebanon’s border is the biggest military spillover into the country from Syria’s civil war.
An offensive launched last month by Lebanon’s Hezbollah – a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad – forced Nusra Front militants to leave for a rebel-held area in northwest Syria under an evacuation deal.
The Lebanese army did not take part in that offensive, but has been widely expected to lead an attack against the Daish pocket.
On Friday Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said an assault on Daish in the border zone would begin in a few days.
He said the Lebanese army would attack Daish from the Lebanese side of the border while Hezbollah and the Syrian army would simultaneously attack from the Syrian side.
Hezbollah has been fighting alongside the Syrian army against rebels including hardline radicals in Syria.
On Saturday Lebanese newspaper Al Joumhouria reported from sources that direct military coordination had occurred between the Syrian and Lebanese armies regarding the upcoming offensive against Islamic State.
The military source said the Lebanese army had been attacking Daish for some time, by preventing it spreading further and cutting supply routes.