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Middle East

US backs Kurdish-led offensive to liberate Raqqa

Washington will support an operation that aims to oust the "Islamic State" from Raqqa, a US official said. But Turkey has warned of sectarian clashes after the announcement of a Kurdish-led campaign to reclaim the city.

The US will provide aerial support for the campaign to retake Raqqa, the "Islamic State's" de facto capital in Syria, an American official told reporters in Amman on Sunday.

Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama's envoy for the US-led coalition against the militant group, said that the "initial phase" to liberate the city had begun after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the campaign earlier Sunday.

"The Raqqa campaign will proceed in phases, deliberate phases, there is an isolation phase which began today and subsequent phases to ensure we kick out Daesh out of Raqqa," McGurk said, referring to the group by its Arabic acronym.

He added that Washington is in "close, close contact" with its ally Turkey, which views the Syrian Kurdish fighters as a terrorist organization.

The US views the SDF, also comprising Syrian Arab groups, as the most effective force to countering the militant group.

"When it comes to Raqqa, we want a force that ultimately liberates Raqqa that is primarily from the local area, Arabs from the area, and so we have trained many of these fighters, and that force will continue to grow as we get to the subsequent phases of the campaign," McGurk added.

Turkey's chief of general staff Hulusi Akar said he met with his American counterpart Joseph Dunford following the SDF's announcement.

"Joint combat methods against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, namely al-Bab and Raqqa, were discussed for the coming days," Akar said in a statement.

But the alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters said it rejected Turkish involvement in the operation.

UK joins 'Raqqa operation'

Meanwhile, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon said the Royal Air Force "will support the Raqqa operation as it develops," adding that it would provide "sophisticated" aerial surveillance for the campaign.

The operation to liberate Raqqa coincides with an Iraqi military campaign to recapture Mosul from the militant group, which seized the country's third-largest city in 2014.

More than 250,000 people have been killed and half the population displaced since 2011, when Syrian government forces launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The conflict has evolved into a multifaceted battle that has led to the "Islamic State" acquiring large swathes of territory during its violent offensive in 2014.

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ls/rc (AP, Reuters)

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